Author Paul Horsted, of Custer, brought a fascinating then-and-now comparison of historical and modern photographs of parts of the Black Hills, to the Fort Pierre Moose Club’s “Tales on the River,” on Thursday, August 8. The presentation was sponsored by the Short Grass Arts Council and the South Dakota Humanities Council, and based on Horsted’s book, “Black Hills Yesterday and Today.”
What Horsted showed the audience gathered at the Moose Club was a series of photos comparing Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s 1874 Black Hills Expedition (illegal at the time because this was still part of the Great Sioux Reservation) photos with modern photos taken at the exact same locations.
The resulting then-and-now images reveal an insight into the history, development and ecology of the region. Horsted put the photos side-by-side, emulating the 1874 method of a stereoscope, a way to add three-dimensional viewing to the flat images of the time.
“Do you remember the kids’ toy Viewmaster? Kind of like that,” Horsted explained.
Custer’s expedition incorporated a 1,000-plus person “small town on wheels,” that began July 2, from Fort Abraham Lincoln in the Dakota Territory, near Bismarck, North Dakota.
The expedition spent two months scouting for the possibility of gold mining, fort locations and a route into the southwest. The expedition, including the 7th Cavalry, arrived in the Black Hills on July 22, and remained there for about three weeks, Horsted said, including a two-day stop on land in the present-day town of Custer, and a five-day stop (the longest) about three miles east of Custer on French Creek.
“This 1874 expedition went by a half mile from a lot of today’s people’s houses,” said Horsted.
Guided by Indian scouts (Arikara, Ree and Sioux), the group included five newspaper reporters who did “almost an hour-by-hour reporting.” A team of mapmakers, even men who made up a 16-piece brass band, and a photographer were also part of the expedition.
Since 1874, three diaries have been found and added to the historical accounting Horsted said. “We know there are more old diaries out there, we just don’t know where,” said Horsted.
The expedition was also documented photographically by William H. Illingworth, a British photographer who was selected by the Captain William Ludlow, the expedition’s engineer and lead mapmaker. Ludlow financed Illingworth’s photography and paid him $30 per month as a teamster to provide photographic plates for the U.S. Army.
Illingworth produced about 70 glass plates of landscapes and portraits of expedition members. After the expedition, Illingworth did not give Ludlow the six sets of plates as agreed, only one partial set.
Later, Ludlow discovered that a photographic firm was offering for sale complete sets of Illingworth’s images of the expedition. Ludlow escaped embezzlement charges on a legal technicality, and the negatives stayed in Illingworth’s possession until his death.
During his life, Illingworth produced approximately 1,600 negatives of the West and Midwest.
Many of these photos still exist in collections due to Illingworth’s son, who found the negatives in an attic, and later sold his father’s collection to a Mr. Bromley, who in 1919 sold the Black Hills images for $60 to the South Dakota State Historical Society.
Because of Illingworth’s work, historians know the exact boundaries and layouts of some of the Black Hills Expedition’s camps, the condition of the Black Hills forests and streams, and the appearance of many of the soldiers and civilians who were on the expedition.
The free weekly ‘Tales on the River’ programs start at 7 p.m. and last about an hour. A light supper is available, starting at 6:15 p.m.
For more information, call Barb Wood at 567-3597.