University of Texas, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

W. D. Smithers:

A Preliminary Inventory of His Collection of Photographs at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator: Smithers, W.D., 1895-1981
Title: W.D. Smithers Collection of Photographs
Dates: 1910-1968
Abstract: The collection of photographs taken by Smithers consists primarily of images representing the Texas borderlands and peoples and military camps and forts. Images of Mexico, Utah, New Mexico and other western states are present in the collection. Also included are photographs of early aviators and airplanes, images of schools and universities in Texas and Mexico, newsworthy events, and religous subjects.
Extent: 85 boxes (9000 items) 87 boxes (9060 items) nitrate negs.?
Repository: Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

Wilfred Dudley Smithers was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, August 31, 1895, where his father was employed as a bookkeeper for the American Mine and Smelting Company. When he was 10, his family moved to San Antonio, Texas. He started his career in commercial photography in 1910, taking pictures at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio of pioneer aviation. He became an aerial photographer for the U.S. Army Aviation Service during World War I and he worked with the Army Civil Service as a wagon master, until his retirement shortly before the outbreak of World War II.

Between 1935-1939, under a contract with the International Boundary and Water Commission, Smithers photographed the entire U.S.-Mexican Border from Brownsville, Texas to San Diego, California. During the 1930s, while living in El Paso, he also took photographs for the U.S. Border Patrol. He had opened a commercial photography shop in San Antonio in the 1920s and after his retirement from the Army, moved the shop to Alpine, Texas, where he operated it for another 30 years. While living in Alpine, Smithers wrote articles for the El Paso Times, Sul Ross Quarterly, and Western Horseman. In 1974, he moved back to El Paso from Alpine and remained there until his death.

Shortly before his death in 1964, Smithers' book "Circuit Riders of the Big Bend" was published by Texas Western Press, the University of Texas at El Paso, as part of the Southwestern Studies Series.

Scope and Contents

The Smithers collection comprises primarily photographs of the Texas borderlands and peoples, and military camps and forts. Most of the photographs were taken in Texas but there are also images of Mexico, Utah, New Mexico and other western states. Other subject matter that is of note are photographs of early aviators and airplanes, as well as the Nature's Pharmacy Series which details uses for several herbs and plants as used by the native peoples of the region. Other series include those of images of schools and universities in Texas and Mexico, newsworthy events, such as a trainwreck and construction of the McDonald Observatory and Telescope, and religous subjects, such as iconography and architecutre, Mexican religious festivities, and even the Mormon Church. The dates of the photographs range from 1910 to 1968.

The collection is arranged according to the notes, written by Smithers, that accompanied the photographs. These extensive notations on each photograph are housed in a set of 3-ring binders in the Photography Department's Reference Room. The photographs are boxed and numbered according to Smithers' arrangement which has been preserved in this finding aid. They are grouped by subject matter which are not in chronological order from series to series. Almost the entire collection of prints is 20.2 x 25.5 cm, with the exception of the last box of miscellaneous prints which are not listed in Smithers' inventory and range from snapshots to a print to be used for a lampshade. In addition, some newspaper clippings and other print items have been removed from the photograph collection and housed in the Smithers' Manuscript Collection, also at the HRHRC.



Open for research

Administrative Information


Purchase, 1982

Processed by:

Teresa J. Bogar and Rebecca Altermatt, 1997

W. D. Smithers--Container List

Images of airplanes (Wright models, Model Curtiss, DeHaviland, Vin-viz); air pilots (Marjorie and Katherine Stinson, Charles Lindbergh, Glenn H. Curtiss, Ruth Law, James H. Doolittle, Frank P. Lahm, Gen. William Mitchell); air bases (Ellington, Kelly, Marfa, and Maneuver Fields in Texas, Rockwell Field in California); aerial photography of Big Bend area and the Mexican border; also features the Border Air Patrol, the Globe Flyers, and newspaper articles from the San Antonio Times and the El Paso Times.
1 [1 - 100]
2 [101 - 200]
3 [201 - 300]
4 [301 - 362 / 501 - 541]
5 [542 - 642]
6 [643 - 743]
7 [744 - 844]
8 [845 - 954]

Series II. Nature's pharmacy, 1966-68

Images of numerous varieties of cactus, aloe vera, chia, herbs, chiles, and plant life, taken in Texas, New Mexico, and Mexico. The captions describe locale, what the medicinal uses are, and any unique properties of the specimen. Many of the plants featured are used in treatments by curanderos.
9 [1001 - 1101]
10 [1102 - 1202]
11 [1203 - 1303]
12 [1394 - 1335]

Series III. U. S. - Mexico boundary, 1932-65

Aerial photographs of the South Texas and Mexico border, including numerous Forts (Brown, Bliss, Ringgold, McIntosh), Johnson's Ranch, and International Boundary Monuments.
12 [2001 - 2070]
13 [2071 - 2150 / 2151-A - 2193-A]

Series IV. Goat herders, 1924-40

Images of Mexican goat herders and their dogs, seen out on the range and in local communities where they live. Many of these herders, known as El Pastores, are also curanderos. These pictures are significant because there are very few goat herders left in Mexico today.
14 [2151 - 2251]

Series V. Curanderos, 1924-68

These images form a subseries to Nature's Pharmacy, depicting various plants, herbs and flowers in the Big Bend region. Also included are portraits of herb vendors (yerberos) and their apothecaries, Indians, snake catchers and charmers, and some wildlife such as roadrunners.
15 [2302 - 2484]
16 [2394 - 2484]

Series VI. Santa Helena Trail & canyon, 1920-65

Aerial views of Santa Helena Mountains, canyons and mines, with captions detailing the historical significance of the region.
17 [2501 - 2590]

Series VII. Freight wagons, 1913-35

Images of Cargueros (packers), pack trains, mule rides, wagons, burros (donkeys), and social life and customs along the Mexican border.
18 [2601 - 2670]

Series VIII. Border homes & mines, 1916-65

Images of Mexican homes made from adobe bricks and cliff dwellers who construct homes from boulders and adobe. Several mines are shown, including the Chisos mines near Terlingua, the Rainbow mines in Study Butte, Waldron mine, and various images of Mexican miners and tram cars.
18 [2700 - 2731]
19 [2732 - 2776]

Series IX. Avisadores / border events, 1915-66

Images of Mexican Avisadores, or messengers, sending avisos using mirror flashes, arms, hands and hat, to relay signals. Ben Cobos is the first avisodore who agreed to be photographed; many of these messages pertained to warnings of the U. S. Cavalry Patrol raids. Photocopies of Senate documents, Vol. I about Mexican affairs 1919-20 depict testimonies of witnesses, mainly by Judge John I. Kleiber.
19 [2800 - 2870]
20 [2871 - 2892]

Series X. Mule trains, 1917-29

Images of pack wagon trains, packmasters, army wagons, cavalry men, the twenty mule Borax team of Death Valley, California and other less infamous teams, plus drawings and sketches of types of hitches (e. g. diamond, double diamond).
20 [2901 - 2980]
21 [2981 - 3042]

Series XI. Glenn Springs wax factories, 1917-37

Images of the wax refinery and equipment, Candelilla plants, and El Canyon de los Muertos.
21 [3052 - 3092]
22 [3093 - 3127]

Series XII. Cave dwellers, 1920-35

Images of caves, cliffs, bluffs and mountains in Big Bend and New Mexico, Montezuma National Monument, in addition to Mexican Basket Makers who are known as the cave dwellers.
22 [3151 - 3197]

Series XIII. Mexican archaeology, 1935-68

Numerous images illustrating Mexico's history: pyramids (Cuicuilco, Tenayuca), Aztec temples and ruins, lava bluffs, Zopotec Indians, assorted altars, carvings, idols and jewelry, chiefly from Mexico City and Oaxaca.
23 [3200 - 3300]
24 [3301 - 3400]
25 [3401 - 3500]
26 [3501 - 3600]
27 [3601 - 3700-A]
28 [3701-A - 3801-A]
29 [3802-A - 3901-A]
30 [3902-A - 4002-A]
31 [4003-A - 4102-A]
32 [4103-A - 4207-A]

Series XIV. National Guard & Army cooks, 1916-22

Images of Army camps in Big Bend area with captions detailing their historical context.
33 [3651-B - 3698-B]

Series XV. Border training posts, 1924-32

Images of life along the Mexican border, shown are burros loaded with merchandise, wagon trains, fur traders, the Johnson Trading Post and the Castalon Post, aerial views of the Rio Grande, and Mexican families divided by the border.
33 [3702-B - 3751-B]

Series XVI. Mexican Revolution / border troubles, 1912-26

Images of Mexican revolutionists, prisoners and jails. Included are numerous photographs of Pancho Villa and his troop. Photocopies of Miss Lucy Smithers diary in Mexico City, and of testimonies from the Investigation of Mexican Affairs, 1919-20. Additional photographers credited in this series are W. H. Horne and Aultman.
34 [3751-C - 3843-C]
35 [3844-C - 3949-C]
36 [3950-C - 4023-C]

Series XVII. San Carlos - Lajitas, 1948-65

Aerial views of the Texas and Mexico border including many trading posts.
37 [4001-D - 4019-D]

Series XVIII. Cavalry & aviation medics, 1918-29

Images of camps, field hospitals, wards, medics, nurses, ambulances, and horses. Camp Marfa, Texas figures predominantly.
37 [4052-E - 4101-E]

Series XIX. Indian pueblos, 1934

Images taken in New Mexico of rock mesas, Isleta mission, Acoma Indians and their homes and churches.
38 [4151-F - 4277-F]

Series XX. Spanish missions, 1934-68

These images depict a variety of Spanish influence. Churches shown include Guadeloupe Cathedral in Juarez, San Antonio de Ysleta Mission in Texas, Gran Qivira in New Mexico, and San Xavier in Arizona. Villages, Acoma Pueblos and numerous altars are also contained in this series. Padre Kino is a notable figure.
39 [4301 - 4400]
40 [4401 - 4519-A]

Series XXI. News events, 1921-68

Images of a Southern Pacific Railroad wreck in 1921, construction by the Texas Highway Department, construction of the McDonald observatory and telescope (the 1942 image used in the General Electric calendar) with some including Dr. George Van Biesbrook, and aerial views of Mount Locke.
41 [4451-B - 4520-B]

Series XXII. Colleges & schools, 1919-68

Images of colleges and universities in Texas and Mexico. Aerial views of The University of Texas at Austin and the surrounding area, featuring the Tower, football stadium, State Capitol, Miller Dam and Lake Austin. Other schools include A & M, Agricultural and Mechanical College, Southern Methodist University, Baylor, University of Houston, Texas Christian University, Sul Ross State College, and University of Mexico.
42 [4501-C - 4628]

Series XXIII. Big Bend scenes, 1919-68

Images of Big Bend National Park (1935), Davis Mountains State Park, Pinto and Boquillas canyons, Johnson's ranch, pioneers and ranch men (Tom Miller the one-armed Texas Ranger), cowboys doing round-ups, Indian villages, and U. S. horse cavalry posts (1916-30).
43 [4651 - 4764]
44 [4765 - 4878]
45 [4879 - 4991]

Series XXIV. U. S. Cavalry Army posts, 1915-1930

Images of troops and outposts along the Mexican border, including the Pershing Expedition, 1917, withdrawn from Mexico in its pursuit of Pancho Villa in New Mexico. Photograph of Buffalo Bill (William F. Cody), Indian scout, at Fort Bliss in 1915. Other notable figures found in this series are Generals John J. Pershing and George S. Patton.
46 [5000 - 5118]
47 [5119 - 5237]
48 [5238 - 5356]
49 [5357 - 5460]
50 [5461 - 5589]

Series XXV. Trucks, trains & tractors, 1916-23

Images of early trucks, trains and tractors around Army posts in the Big Bend region with captions describing the cargo, routes and historical contexts. Names include Motor Truck Company, Nash, White, Packard, Dodge, and Holt. Also contains some road scenes, mechanics and operating crews.
51 [6001 - 6058]

Series XXVI. Texas Rangers & border patrol, 1916-1943

Group portraits of Texas Rangers in their offices around Lajitas and Del Rio, Texas. Images from the Prohibition period such as liquor smugglers; also U. S. Surveyors, train robbers, steam engines and coaches, Border Patrol, and Yaqui Indians.
52 [6077 - 6193]

Series XXVII. Early Texas ranches / cattle drives, 1914-40

Portraits of early Texas ranchers, notably Captain Richard King and Mrs. King of King Ranch; others ranches include Brown, Burke, Wilson and Rancho Escondido. Cowboy images of Will Rogers, John Blocker (of `Blocker Loop' fame) roping cattle, and assorted rodeo shots. Also found are views of livestock such as bulls, buffalo, longhorn (#6357), cattle, horses and sheep.
53 [6203 - 6303]
54 [6304 - 6404]
55 [6405 - 6505]
56 [6506 - 6606]
57 [6607 - 6705]

Series XXVIII. Mexican religion, 1935-68

Images pertaining to Mexican iconography and Church architecture. Pictured are numerous altars, paintings, stained glass, statues, and worshipers with their offerings. Views of Guadelupe Cathedral in Mexico City, San Cayetano in Valencia, San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato, among others. Many feast days and religious holidays are represented such as Guadelupe Day, Dios de los Muertos, Christmas and Easter. Images of Mexican people from daily life.
58 [8203 - 8303]
59 [8304 - 8405]
60 [8406 - 8505]
61 [8506 - 8607]
62 [8608 - 8709]
63 [8710 - 8810]
64 [8811 - 8911]
65 [8912 - 9012]
66 [9013 - 9114]
67 [9115 - 9215]
68 [9216 - 9316]
69 [9317 - 9419]
70 [9420 - 9525]
71 [9526 - 9626]
72 [9627 - 9728]
73 [9729 - 9832]

Series XXIX. Rural religion / camp meets, 1914-35

Group portraits of congregations and spectators at Baptist camp meetings, images of cowboy preachers and circuit riders, various services and pageants; also some Roman Catholic priests and churches.
74 [9904 - 9977]

Series XXX. Salt Lake City, UT - Mormons, 1950

Images from the Mormon religion: statues, monuments (Brigham Young), and The Great Temple.
74 [9978 - 10,012-A]

Series XXXI. Wildlife, 1924-45

Images of deer, elk, antelope, eagles, owl and rabbits. Views of trapping animals and of Game Wardens, namely Ray Williams of Big Bend.
75 [10,004-B - 10,085]

Series XXXII. Pioneer Texans / landmarks

Assorted images of courthouses, county fairs, local establishments (dry goods stores, homes), aerial views of the Pecos railroad, portraits of Judge Roy Bean (`law west of the Pecos'), and ranching history. Also found are images of the San Jacinto Monument and the Battleship Texas, The Alamo and downtown San Antonio, and San Jose Mission. There are production shots from Smithers' Photo Color Lamp Shades business, showing women workers coloring and lacing the lamp shades.
76 [10,104 - 10,205]
77 [10,206 - 10,310]
78 [10,311 - 10,412]
79 [10,413 - 10,520]
80 [10,521 - 10,620]
81 [10,621 - 10,650]

Series XXXIII. Unusual scenery, 1917-68

Images of cactus plants in the Big Bend region. Assorted images of National and State Parks in the Western United States, featuring Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Tetons, with views of landmarks such as Pike's Peak and Mount Rushmore. Photographs of Texas towns and rural life, some early circus images.
81 [10,604-A - 10,685]
82 [10,686 - 10,827]
83 [10,827-A - 10,950]
84 [10,951 - 11,050]

Series XXXIV. Miscellaneous, ca. 1900s-76

This series is made up of a box of photographs both of and by Smithers. In addition to the photographs in this series, there are also two albums, one titled "An Early History of Mexico" and the other containing images and captions of what appears to be a photojournal of military life and life on the plains in Texas. This second album has several empty pages.
85 Unnumbered

Series XXXV. Exhibit Photographs - Duplicates

This series contains two boxes of matted copy prints, used for exhibition, that are somewhat larger than the original prints in the collection. They are identified by number and by a caption used for the exhibit, the titles were most likely created by the exhibit staff.
86-87 Exhibition Prints - Duplicates

Series XXXVI. Nitrate Negatives, dates???

This series comprises 6 boxes of nitrate negatives. Many of these were made by Duncan. An inventory list of the contents follows at the end of this finding aid. For the most part, the negatives correspond to the prints in the Smithers' boxes in the collection, but some do not have identifying numbers and could be of prints not part of this particular group of images.
1-6 Nitrate Negatives

(W. D. Smithers)--Lamp Shades
1. Covered wagon shade - Smithers 12 (b&w)
2. Men in uniform (tinted)
3. Men in uniform, Merry Christmas inscription (tinted)
4. Sky and clouds, with metal fringe trim - 991:001:001
5. Aviation scenes (tinted)
6. Covered wagon shade with base - Smithers 9 (tinted)
7. Aviation / paratroopers (tinted)
8. Aviation / Stinson sisters (tinted)
9. Ranch life - Smithers 131 (b&w)
10. Rodeo scenes (tinted)
11. Aviation scenes (tinted)
12. Wagon trains and horse cavalry (tinted)
13. Aviation / paratroopers (tinted)

1 Some personal pritns in box marked Personal made 12/87. Received after death.
20 folders:
Items: 4003C; Big Bend - Men on horses; Mexican Women; Mexcian family(personal neg in Personal Box); Old Freighters; San Pedro park 4/12/1924; WWI Vets; eagle attacking; Mexican Religions; street scene in Mexico; clavaryman with hourse, Tzarragna Fals, Mexico; Sanderson Texas- Saloon; Plant; Smithers' car; Dancers and Pirates; 1950 Oaxaco, Mex; Airforce Officer; Hotel Proscreso, Mex; Mex restaurant w/ppl; Michoacan Mex Water Falls; big bend - pple near car and truck

2 Taken from File drawer of original negs; 55 folders
Items: 623, 626, 639, 640, 641, 643, 644, 645, 829, 833- 842, 845-850; 853, 2255, 2565, 2612A, 3154-3156; 3703-B, 3705-B, 3705-B, 3709-B, 3729-B, 3730-B, 4783-4784, 6138, 6170, 6615-6615, 9973, 10,034, 10,039, 10,043, 10,044, 10,235, 10,500

3 Prints made from N. N some [all] made by Duncan's negs - some prints in Smithers boxes; 7 folders
1 #5559
2 1st Texas calvery leaving pinto canyon;
3 5558
4 Rance Scene Big Bend
5 Caterpillar Tractor Co, I - Pinto Canyon
6 1942 donkey in desert near Victorville, Cal.
7 army gear

4 NN most made by Duncan, given to Smithers 8 x 10 - 11 x 14 Master 1-20; Viewing 1-20; 21 folders
1 Calvery and civilians on donkeys
2 Calvery Troup
3 Calvery Group
4 5th Calvery #5562 - mess hall
5 5th Cavlery #5561 - mess hall
6 5th Clavery #5544 - mess hall, xmas
7 5th Calvery 5527
8 Man Fishing fromdyke
9 Pinto Canyon hear Wilson's Ranch
10 Big Bend scene - 2 men on horse
11 Big Bend scene - 2 men on horse
12 Old TImers Convention
13 Where T.E. …… ws born 1897 - illegible caption
14 Where T.E. ……. ws born 1897 - illegible caption
15 Paisano Pass near Marfa Texas
16 Along the Rio Grande Chesos Mt.
17 W.R. Ellis Candelaria Wax Factory, Glenn Springs, Texas
18 Holt Caterpillar tractor pulling 2,000,000 lbs. - heaviest and biggest us load - Marfa Texas
19 3 men near camp (tent)
20 Chinati Mnts. between Shafter and Indio, Texas
21 Mexican colony - Glenn Springs

5 NN by Duncan and Smithers; 26 folders
5 x 10 - 8
5 x 5 - 5
6-1/2 x 8 - 3
Big Bend Scenes - others some have copy prints in Box x of smithers
Big Bend Scenes 5557 - 8 5559, 5561-2, 5564,
1 coyote
2 Mexican wearing sombrero
3 car with back wheels off
4 close-up Johnson's patio
5 old Ft. Dan's bicyle
6 Big Bend Scene: 2 men on mtn ridge
7 Helen and Johnnie Rufus
8 Troops on horses near Devil's River Bridge
9 Juan Hinoja's family
10 Golden Wedding Celebration of Marathon Folks
11 Man on [jackrabbit or jackalope?]
12 Mrs. J. Marvin Hunter and daughter, Rachel with spinning wheel
13 Antelope and fawn - pc
14 Big Bend Scene
15 Mule team
16 Old couple on porch Bandera
17 School in Candaleria
18 Church in Candalaria
19 Oxen and wagon
20 Wagon train and man doing rope trick
21 Man on horse drinking
22 Cart and oxen - pulling
23 Male wtih gun
24 San Angelo Texas - 2nd train g robbery article

6 Panoramics made by Duncan [rolled in white paper]; see notebook for captions
Numbered Items:
144; 2986-2; 2986-1; 3043-4; 4451-B; 4991; 5017-1; 5025-1; 5032; 5203; 5225-1; 5256-1; 5300-1; 5414-1; 5417-1; 5482; 6191; 6362-1; 6453-1; 6649-1; 6676-1; 11051;
No numbers:
  • 1 - Mule team leveling road
  • 2 - Railroad transportation
  • 3 - Unidentified town
  • 4 - J.E. Wilson's Ranch (2)
  • 5 - Old train wreck
  • 6 - Prosperity train