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F. Jay Haynes

William Henry Jackson might have gotten to Yellowstone with his camera first, but Frank Jay Haynes followed soon after and stayed much longer.

Photography: Courtesy Montana Historical Society

His name was Frank Jay Haynes, but only his wife called him Frank. Everyone else on the old Northwest frontier knew him as F. Jay, or Professor, not that he possessed a college degree, or expertise in any subject except taking photographs and finding ways to sell them. He thought of himself as a business entrepreneur in the new field of photography, but he was also an artist, a meticulous craftsman, and an adventurous forerunner of the modern photojournalist.

Haynes is best remembered today for his hauntingly beautiful images of geysers and waterfalls in Yellowstone National Park, but over the course of his career he photographed some 36,000 different subjects outside the park, and his early work provides an astonishingly rich record of frontier life. He took memorable portraits of Sitting Bull, Chief Joseph, Shoshone chiefs proudly displaying their new umbrellas, and the last hostile Sioux in Canada. He photographed the first miners and cowboys in Idaho and Montana,  early bonanza wheat harvests in the Dakotas, boomtowns, and ghost towns. In 1880, he became the first photographer to make the 3,000-mile steamboat trip up the Missouri River to Fort Benton and Great Falls, Montana, and he floated all the way back down with his precious negatives in a flimsy flat-bottomed mackinaw.

Photography: Courtesy nps.gov

He stood about 5 foot 10, with a wiry build, a bristly black mustache, and an air of restless intensity. Normally taciturn and reserved, he was capable of spectacular outbursts of profanity, which turned heads in the roughest of company. Born in 1853 in Saline, Michigan, Haynes learned his trade at a photo-graphic studio in Wisconsin and then built a studio of his own in Moorhead, Minnesota, just behind the advancing frontier. He met his wife, Lily, there but was in the field photographing so much of the time during the first years of their marriage that they communicated mainly by letter and telegram.

Haynes had barely finished nailing together his studio when he hopped on a stagecoach and rode 400 miles to the Black Hills. This was 1877, and Custer’s bloody defeat was still fresh in the nation’s mind. The Little Bighorn battlefield proved too featureless to photograph, but Haynes took a fine portrait of the only surviving member of Custer’s forces, a horse named Comanche, who had been made an honorary officer. He went on to Deadwood, South Dakota, and photographed the diggings, the chaotic streets and hastily erected buildings, the tombstone statue of freshly murdered Wild Bill Hickok, and he sold the images to the curious public back east. He produced them as “stereoviews,” the most popular photographic medium of the day, in which the viewer fitted two images of the same object into a hand-held device called a stereoscope to produce the illusion of a three-dimensional picture.

In 1880, Haynes got himself appointed as the official photographer of the Northern Pacific Railroad and sank all his earnings and savings into a luxury Pullman car, which he converted into a mobile photographic studio and darkroom. Accompanied by an enthusiastic, multitalented black porter named Jeeter, the Professor rolled from town to town taking portraits of paying customers and photographing wheat harvests, cattle ranges, newly minted towns, and scenic wonders, with a view to encouraging investors, settlers, and tourists to come to the area.

Northern Pacific, sensing the potential of Yellowstone as a tourist destination, arranged for Haynes to visit the park in 1881. He was overwhelmed by its grandeur and beauty, and spent two months there with his cameras. He returned in 1883 as the official photographer for President Chester A. Arthur’s recuperative six-week fishing trip to Yellowstone, and thereafter Haynes started thinking of Yellowstone as his home ground, the place he wanted to live and photograph for the rest of his life.

Originally led by Arctic explorer Lt. Frederick Schwatka, F. Jay Haynes’ 1887 photographic expedition barely survived their 29-day, 200-mile trek around Yellowstone. The remaining members are shown here at Yancey’s Pleasant Valley Hotel before embarking on the final leg.

Photography: Courtesy Montana Historical Society

In 1884, he became the unofficial photographer of the park, with his own studio and concession stand, and three years later he became the first man to photograph Yellowstone in winter. The expedition was led by the famous Arctic explorer Lt. Frederick Schwatka, who collapsed exhausted and hemorrhaging after three days of pulling heavy toboggans through deep snow in temperatures of 30 and 40 below zero. Haynes skied on with three other men, taking only one camera and stripping down the rest of the gear to bare essentials.

Photography: Courtesy Montana Historical Society

When they reached the geysers, immense columns of vapor were rising into the frozen air. Then, as if on cue, Old Faithful, Giantess, Grand, Beehive, and Castle suddenly erupted at the same time. Haynes scrambled to photograph them all, but Grand had subsided by the time he got in position. The team went on to the frozen waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, where Haynes took seven magnificent pictures before clouds blotted out the light.

Despite the extreme cold, they were in good spirits, able to shelter in park buildings on some nights. Then came a whiteout blizzard that caught them high on the flanks of Mount Washburn. It kept them there for more than two days in bitterly cold temperatures. They wandered disoriented as avalanches thundered past them, trying to stay awake to avoid hypothermia. They ended up hallucinating, half-starved and exhausted. Finally, the weather cleared, and they staggered into Yancey’s Pleasant Valley Hotel. After a day of rest, they went on to Mammoth, thereby completing a 29-day, 200-mile circuit of the park on skis.

Photography: Courtesy Library of Congress

Haynes spent 32 years photographing Yellowstone. He visited the park every summer, helped run its first transportation system, published the Haynes Guide to the park’s scenic wonders, and sold tens of thousands of hand-tinted postcards from his studio and photo shops.

The photographer died in March 1921, at the age of 68, at his winter home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Officials at Yellowstone shipped a huge boulder from the park to rest on his grave, and a high peak in Madison Canyon was named Mount Haynes in his honor. His son Jack E. Haynes, who worked in the photo shops from the age of 12, took over the family business in 1916 and kept it going for the next 45 years, selling more than 50 million Haynes postcards.

VISIT THE NEW OLD FAITHFUL HAYNES PHOTO SHOP IN YELLOWSTONE >>

 

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