Born on April 4, 1843, in Keeseville, New York, William Henry Jackson was an American painter, Civil War veteran, and renowned expeditionary photographer of the American West. He was the first of seven children born to George Hallock Jackson and Harriet Maria Allen, a graduate of the Troy Female Academy and watercolorist, of whom he credits for his early success.
Jackson began his artistic career at the age of fifteen in New York working as a retoucher in the evolving field of photography. At the age of nineteen, he enlisted in the Union Army’s 12th Infantry where he would, in his free time, sketch scenes of army life. Most of his military career was spent on garrison duty until 1863 when he fought in the Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War.
In 1866, Jackson decided to move to the American West. After losing his creative inspiration for painting and the breakoff of his engagement to Miss Carolina Eastman, he took the Union Pacific Railroad until he reached the end of the line in Nebraska. Jackson preferred to work outdoors and he eventually settled in Omaha where his photographs of the Osages, Otoes, Pawnees, Winnebagoes, and Omaha American Indians would eventually gain him recognition.
In 1869, he was recruited by Ferdinand Vandiveer Hayden to be the official photographer of the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories during the era of western expansion. Jackson captured images of the natural wonders of the west such as Old Faithful, the Colorado Rockies, and the Grand Tetons. He was the first to typographically photograph the region and his work played a vital role in the establishment of America’s first national park, Yellowstone.
By the 1890s, Jackson had produced hundreds of photos of the great American West and obtained a level of notoriety as one of America’s top photographers. He continued to travel photographing mythic landscapes and eventually transitioned into publishing with the Detroit Publishing Company. It was during this time that he was approached by Henry Flagler to photograph his landmark hotels in Saint Augustine. William Henry Jackson’s artistic oeuvre spans nearly eighty years. He was a pioneer and innovator as a commercial photographer.
Author: Kimberly Gross, Flagler College