Transcript for Charles R. Savage, "A Photographic Tour of Nearly 9,000 Miles," Philadelphia Photographer, Volume 4, 1867, 288-9 and 313-16

One of the objects of my visit eastward was to obtain a wagon suited for taking a series of views on the overland route on my return trip. By Mr. Rech, Girard Avenue, Philadelphia, I had a wagon made suitable for the purpose, and shipped by rail and steamboat to Nebraska City. With the exception of being a little too heavy, it answers pretty well; but, like every other thing, it can be improved upon. It is about nine feet long and six feet high in the darkroom, leaving three feet of space in front for carrying a seat and provisions. The sides are filled with grooved drawers, for the different sized negatives, and proper receptacles for the different cameras, chemicals, &c., forming a very complete outdoor darkroom. The principal objection I have to it is, that it will get too hot in the summertime. I propose this year to cover it with white muslin two inches from the outside, so as to keep it cooler; the sides are of sheet iron, for lightness and to obviate shrinking; the body rests upon the best platform springs.

Provided with Globes, Dallmeyer Triplets, American Optical Company's thirds, chemicals, and everything to suit, I reluctantly left the land of photographic wonders, and followed the iron horse to St. Joseph, thence by river to Nebraska City. I did not fail to take a peep at the galleries in the river towns. I am sorry to admit that matters are at a low ebb at most points on the Missouri River. The classical term of "one-horse galleries," will apply to the palaces of art on the "Great Muddy." I distributed some of your Journals, and hope they have taken root and borne a hundred-fold. So very few men seem inspired with ambition to do something extra, that the art is almost dormant with them. I scarcely found a room that possessed a View lens; most photographers find such an article a good investment. It is surprising that so many do not see it. I found some men that know it all; of course they have stopped learning. I asked one of them how the carbon prints were made? He blandly told me that they were produced by subjecting the sensistized plates to the fumes of carbonic acid gas! Whenever I find a man that has got anything to learn, I know he will be somebody some day.

With two span of mules and provisions for two months, I joined a Mormon train which left Nebraska City for Salt Lake about the 8th of July. As the Mormon trains are all well armed and completely organized, I found it a great advantage, rather than attempt the trip alone, which, by the way, our kind Uncle will not allow any one to do beyond Fort Kearney.

We move slowly the first few days, and gradually increase our pace until we make about twenty-five miles a day. The modus operandi of managing a train is as follows: About five o'clock the bugle or reveille is sounded to call up the passengers to prepare their breakfast. About six o'clock all hands are called for prayers; that duty over, preparations are then made to roll out; the caravan then travels until about half past eleven or twelve o'clock, then dinner is prepared, and at two P.M. the journey is resumed, and another camp is made about 6 o'clock. The night-herders then take charge of the herd, and drive them to a good feeding-ground for the night; supper is then prepared, then prayers by the night campfires, and the orders for the next day's travel are given by the captain, which winds up the day's journey; guards are then placed around the camp, who are expected to keep a sharp lookout for any sneaking red-skins.

The road from Nebraska City to Fort Kearney presents but few objects of special interest to the photographer. I secured negatives of one or two of the overland stations, and a few rural scenes not remarkable for any particular features different from the same genre of subjects elsewhere. When we reached Fort Kearney it was blowing a gale of wind, but, in spite of that, I made a desperate effort to take the Fort, with indifferent success.

From Fort Kearney on to the crossing of the South Platte, near the present terminus of the U.P.R.R., the road follows the Platt[e] Valley, and a more uninteresting road can hardly be found. Very few trees to be seen, and what with the swarms of green flies and mosquitos, and the strong wind that blows regularly every day, your photographic enthusiasm gets cooled down so much that you see nothing worth taking under the circumstances of such a trip. Added to this, you are never free from Indian attacks, for, at the time of our passing along that route, the few settlers on the mail-road were almost scared out of their wits from rumors of Indian troubles.

Now to photograph successfully on the Plains, you must be perfectly safe from Indians, as on two or three occasions in our efforts to secure some views, we found ourselves alone several miles from the train, and run one or two risks of being gobbled up by a few stray rascals who are always on the look-out for a weak party, and generally manage to pounce down upon a few defenceless wagons that happen to be passing. The sad fate of your former correspondent, Mr. Glover, shows how uncertain is life in such a place, and the wisdom of keeping a good look-out. The necessary conditions for success under such circumstances are, that you must have plenty of time at your disposal, a strong party well armed with good Henry rifles, and good animals. A company of men could manage to do something. As it was, I did but little, for, on several occasions, when I reached a place of interest, it sometimes blew a gale, or we had a thunderstorm, or it was the middle of the day, and too hot for working; rarely were the circumstances favorable for producing fine views.

We followed the old road after crossing the South Platte at Fremont's Springs, and kept up on the south side of the North Platte; there we found abundance of wild game, such as antelope, deer, prairie fowl, sage hens, &c.; from Ash Hollow on to Laramie the scenery increases in interest and there are many fine subjects for the camera and pencil. Scott's Bluff, Castle Rock, and Chimney Rock, are fine subjects, and relieve the tedium of the trip considerably. I secured a view of Chimney Rock and Castle Rock, but could not do anything with Scott's Bluff, on account of arriving there in the middle of the day, for our wagon got so hot that we could only work in the morning or in the evening.

After leaving Fort Laramie we strike the Black Hills, and from this point to Salt Lake City we have a succession of scenes of great interest and beauty, if we follow the old emigrant route via the North Platte bridge, Independence Rock, Devil's Gate, and the Sweetwater country, to the South Pass. The last-mentioned point is the dividing ridge for the whole trip. Here we have a fine view of the Wind River Mountains, clad in eternal snow. West of the Pass we strike Pacific Creek, whose waters, after uniting with the Sandy, flow into Green River, and finally into the Colorado and the Gulf of California. A drive of about one hundred miles brings us to Fort Bridger. From there to Salt Lake City the road winds through can[y]ons and valleys, and offers many features of great interest to the tourist photographer.

There is a certain monotony connected with the overland route, and the more one sees of it the less he will admire it. It is in the neighborhood of Salt Lake City that the principal interest of the whole route is centred. The Wahsatch [Wasatch] Mountains, the Great Salt Lake, the City and Valley, the Hot Springs, the orchards, gardens, &c., offering such a great contrast to the sterility of one thousand miles, that the traveler is lost in astonishment at what he sees. You can readily imagine it was with a feeling of pleasure that we arrived home to the land of apricots, peaches, and every kind of fruit, after the bacon and beans of the Plains, and exchanged the unceasing watchfulness for the quiet and peace of home, for on the Plains no man can feel truly safe at any time.

The reader, by this time, will readily see that photographing in the circumstances under which we traveled, is work; what with the care of animals, and standing guard at nights, and having no time to spare, it was a scramble to photograph anything, and unless a man can travel with art companions he can do but little.


To photograph successfully on the Plains and Mountains, you must be well prepared, and, as you will not care to try a view over again after you have once passed the same place, by all means stick to the wet process. After having two or three samples of collodion made expressly for the trip, including an alcoholic collodion, I found the ordinary samples, properly diluted, to do as well as any, and herein lies the principal difficulty, for everything evaporates at a fearful rate, and you must watch your collodion very closely. The cameras of all the makers shrink in this country. The plate-holders go first, fortunately. In New York I saw one made of rosewood that had been in use for two or three years, apparently just as good as new. I took the hint and had some made, and pronounce them the ne plus ultra for dry latitudes, as the silver solution does not seem to act upon them at all. I have a pile of ordinary holders all shrunken and useless. The rosewood holders have not changed. The American Optical Company's cameras stand pretty well, but the wood and brass-work do not work well together. They seem the best we have. For baths, I use the solid glass in wooden cases; and for dippers, I prefer those made of whalebone. I used Mr. H. T. Anthony's tanno-gelatine developer, and, on account of its keeping qualities, it is first rate.

Now, if a dozen photographers and painters will unite in one company, and come to the end of the U.P.R.R., from there get two or three mule-teams with light wagons, and any of your portable tents for photographing, proper negative boxes, and every arrangement complete for packing chemicals (always preparing for an UPSET in crossing the Plains), provisions, and other necessities, a Ballard, or a Henry rifle to each man; water-proof coat and blanket; two pair of good boots (one water-proof); one or two suits of good strong clothes; hams, crackers, yeast powders, dried apples, beans, preserved milk, canned fruits, sardines, and other chemicals, I can promise them as a good a time as they ever had in their lives. Prepare to wait one or two days at a point to get good pictures, make up their minds not to be in a hurry, and a series of views can be got that will repay the trouble of producing them. And when they get to the City of Saints, let them call upon Savage & Ottinger, and we will give them the best we have in the shop. Or, should any person or persons wish any information about photographing on the Great Plains, it will be cheerfully given by their humble servant,
C.R. Savage.

Great Salt Lake City,
August 1867.