Item #7672 [Bitter Creek Valley, Wyoming]. A. J. Russell, photog.

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[Bitter Creek Valley, Wyoming].

1869. Original albumen print, 8.2” x 11.2”, mounted on modern paper. CONDITION: Very good, strong tonality, a few tiny stains to the upper portion of the image.

A rare and evocative photo juxtaposing gritty laborers in the foreground with the transcontinental railroad in the distance at Bitter Creek Valley, Wyoming.

This captivating image shows five railroad construction workers or possibly miners beside a wheelbarrow loaded with rock situated on a pathway cutting across a mountainside. In the distance, a train on the Union Pacific Railroad has stopped at Point of Rocks, a former stage station, a few buildings of which can be discerned on the opposite side of the train. A portion of Bitter Creek, an eighty mile long stream that runs for much of its course along the Union Pacific, is visible at middle-left.

The Point of Rocks Stage Station, also known as Almond Station, was built in 1862 after Native American raids prompted stagecoach owner Ben Holladay to move his overland stage line south from the Oregon Trail-South Pass route to the Overland Trail route across present-day southern Wyoming. From 1862 to 1868, the station served coaches of Holladay’s Overland Stage Co. and later Wells, Fargo and Co., after the latter purchased the OSC. During the Civil War, Point of Rocks was the scene of much conflict between whites and Native Americans. The Union Pacific R.R. reached Point of Rocks in the summer of 1868, the stage station then becoming a station on railroad.

Born in New Hampshire, Andrew J. Russell (1830–1902) became a photographer during the Civil War, and in 1863 was appointed government photographer. To encourage settlement and investment in the West after the war, the vice president of the Union Pacific Railroad, Thomas Durant, commissioned Russell to document the construction of the transcontinental railroad. During 1868 Russell lived in construction camps and sent his negatives east for printing. He returned to New York later that year and in 1869 published The Great West Illustrated (New York: The Union Pacific Railroad Co.). On his second trip west, he photographed Omaha and a number of growing Nebraska towns on his way to the joining of the rails at Promontory, Utah in 1869. Thousands of readers of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated viewed wood engravings based on his photographs of the ceremony, including his iconic image, “Joining of the Rails.” Following this event, Russell traveled to California and then returned to New York in late 1869. Here Russell established the Decoration and Designing Co. and worked as a photojournalist for Frank Leslie. He died in Brooklyn in 1902. Illuminating important themes in U.S. history, Russell’s work brought the railroad and the West to a mass audience, capturing the grand scale of western lands, railroad construction, frontier boomtowns, and the effects of railroads on Native Americans.

REFERENCES: “Andrew J. Russell” at Oakland Museum of California online; “Point of Rocks Stage Station” at Wyo History online (Wyoming State Historical Society); “Russell, Andrew J. (1829-1902)” at Encyclopedia of the Great Plains online; “View near Point of Rocks” at Digital Collections of Yale Library.

Item #7672

Price: $2,750.00

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