Click to Search the monument Art Collection:
Born in Keeseville, New York, on April 4, 1843, William Henry Jackson was a
self-taught artist who, at the age of 15, began working as a retoucher in a
photographer's studio. He was successful in this pursuit and later moved to a
more prosperous studio in Rutland, Vermont. He honed his artist's skills with
the retouching work, but also learned a great deal about the young art of
photography, a skill that would stand him in good stead later in life.
In 1862, with the onset of the Civil War, Jackson enlisted in the Union Army.
His unit spent most of its time on garrison duty. Though present at the battle
of Gettysburg, he was stationed in the rear areas guarding supply trains and saw
no action. Mustered out in 1863, he returned to Vermont where he went to work in
Style's Photographic Gallery in Burlington.
In the spring of 1866, Jackson, despondent after a broken engagement, decided
to follow Horace Greeley's advice to go west. In Nebraska City, Nebraska
Territory, he was hired to work as a bullwhacker for a freighting outfit bound
for the gold and silver mines of Montana. Along the old Oregon Trail, Jackson sketched the
landmarks and lifestyles that have become a large part of the American
experience. After his return from the west in 1868, Jackson opened a photographic studio
in Omaha, Nebraska.
During the summer of 1869, Jackson began photographing the construction of
the new Union Pacific Railroad. His work came to the attention of Ferdinand
Hayden who was organizing a geologic survey to explore the mysterious lands
known as Yellowstone, and he was asked to accompany the expedition. As a result,
William Henry Jackson became the first photographer to successfully capture the
wonders of Yellowstone on film. Jackson's photographs were an important factor
in convincing Congress to establish Yellowstone as our first national park in
For the next several years Jackson accompanied other geologic surveys of the
west and southwest. In 1879 he decided to open a new studio in Denver, Colorado,
where he spent a great deal of time photographing the railroads and the marvels
of engineering that made it possible for the trains to make their way through
the Rocky Mountains. He also became famous for photographing the Mount of the
Holy Cross - a place most people had thought existed only in legend.
At a time when most men consider a well-deserved retirement, Jackson
developed new interests. In 1894 he set out on a world tour that visited Europe,
Africa, India, Japan, and Russia. He wrote his autobiography, and
once again took up the paintbrush in an effort to depict the history of the west
that he had experienced firsthand. William Henry Jackson celebrated his 99th
birthday in 1942, and died two months later on June 30, 1942.
The long life of William Henry Jackson allowed him to witness many changes in
American life, and he used his artistic skills to document those changes for
succeeding generations. A wing of the visitor center at Scotts Bluff National
Monument is dedicated to the life and work of William Henry Jackson, and more
than 60 of his original paintings are a part of the park's collection, where they
are used to illustrate a vital part of our history.