Tells of the disappearance of historical photos at the death of the photographer
Frontier Photographer—Ridgway Glover
A Century & A Half Mystery
Ridgway Glover, a Quaker gentleman, was born on May 29, 1831 to James Glover and Elizabeth Lewis Glover. Ridgway was a descendant of Richard Glover of England who came to these shores back in the early 18th century. Family tradition says Richard was a weaver, of some notoriety, by trade, who settled first in Pennsylvania. Notable contemporaries of this family include Giles’s, Thorne’s, Clarke’s, Hinchman’s and Olden’s. These ancestral families were affluent, educated, influential Puritans and Quakers.
Ridgway Glover was part of the 6th generation of Glover’s to live and prosper in America. He was born in New Jersey and was one of seven children, only four living to adulthood. His siblings were Joseph, John Thorne, Lydia, Maria, James Jones & James.
Little is known of Ridgway’s early years but the Glover family were extensive land owners in the Haddon Heights and Mt Ephraim area of New Jersey. They farmed and operated a fulling mill that had been built prior to the revolutionary war. It remained in operation until the latter part of the 19th century.
We might safely assume that he was well educated, like his ancestors and family contemporaries. He was reputed to be “comfortable in his finances” at a relatively young age. This allowed him the independence to develop his interest in the new and exciting technology of photography, which began in 1840. I do not know how his skill developed and what instructions or instructors affected his art. Family lore has him studying under a famous Civil War photographer. Lore, being the definitive word, as to historical value.
There is ample evidence that he did work for “Frank Leslie’s Illustrated" by his early thirties. But, his blinding ambition was to go west and photograph the Indians and the frontier west, to the Pacific Coast. To achieve that end, he launched a campaign, through correspondence, with the director of the Smithsonian to obtain their sponsorship. He asked no salary, only the opportunity to go west under their prestige and patronage. He arranged to have his photographs sent back to Wenderoth, Taylor & Brown in Philadelphia for publication and sale.
After finally winning Smithsonian approval, Ridgway went west to Indiana to await the formation of the expedition. While there, visiting with his mother’s relatives in Madison County, he practiced his art and took numerous photos. These Indiana relatives were prosperous Quakers from Chester, Montgomery and Delaware Counties in Pennsylvania. He visited his grandfather Joseph Lewis as well as uncles, aunts and cousins.
After he left Indiana, he was next documented in Omaha, Nebraska, on May 14, 1866. A local paper featured an article about Ridgway’s arrival and his association with the Smithsonian. It also names Leslie’s Illustrated as an additional sponsor. The article establishes his intent to take pictures of Indians at Fort Laramie’s upcoming peace conference.
Ridgway's journal entries during this time period tell of his intent to continue west to Virginia City, in the Montana territory, where gold fever runs like buffalo across the plains. Ridgway tells of his longing to photograph the great Rocky Mountains. He writes with great detail of the problems he is having developing his pictures, among but not limited to the lack of some good, clean, water sources. He goes to great effort to experiment with his art, until he solves some of the problems. Out of 50 photographs taken, he has 22 suitable for publication, which he indicated would be sent back to Philadelphia, by couriers.
His journey’s next destination was Fort Phil Kearney on the infamous Bozeman trail. This trail had varied routes but basically ran from Ft. Laramie to the Montana gold fields by way of the Powder River Basin. This was all part of the Dakota territory. Accounts of the trip describe their party being attacked by Indians. During this raid Ridgway approaches the commanding officer and wants to go out and take pictures of the circling warriors. His request was quickly denied. A journal entry by Colonel Carrington, commander of Fort Phil Kearny, amply depicts Ridgway’s nature as follows; “a queer genius by the name of Glover”.
Fort Phil Kearny and all the outposts along the Bozeman trail were hated by the Northern Plains Indians. There were daily clashes between the white men and the Indian. Whether it was Glover’s faith or foolhardiness, he considered himself invincible to Indian violence. He verbalized this idea to different associates on several occasions. Even after he had witness raids and ambushes on a regular basis, he disregarded all the wiser, level headed advice to not wander out of the Fort unarmed or alone.
His journals back to Philadelphia describe his awe with the beautiful, spacious wildness. He describes the abundant wildlife. He even described an encounter with a grizzly bear. In today’s terms Ridgway would have been considered an environmentalist and naturalist which was a common traits among his Quaker relatives. When someone would accompany him on his wilderness treks, he would quickly get discouraged with their lack of enthusiasm and disruptive, noisy, deportment. He would then continue on his own, staying in the wilderness days at a time.
Then his disregard for his safety finally caught up with him on September 16th, 1866 when he was found a short distance from the Fort, his long flowing hair totally removed, he lay face down on the path. His back was split by a tomahawk.
Various coeval accounts give multiple descriptions of the death scene. Even as time passes some of these become additionally disturbing, in the telling of the tale. He probably was tortured and certainly didn’t experience a good death. Whether the Indians who did kill him were aware of his profession, is unknown to this author. Many Indians viewed photography as bad medicine.
It is sad that this unusual and talented man did not have the opportunity to continue his journey west and create a pictorial journal of his life and times.
Interestingly those 22 photographs that were to go back to Philadelphia by courier, were never found. These photographs included the only pictures taken of that treaty conference held in 1866 at Ft. Laramie. They were not mentioned among any of his belongings, which were few. It had even been rumored that these photographs were buried with Ridgway but historians find this to be doubtful. Perhaps they are in some attic or even a scrapbook somewhere and the owner has no idea of their historical value.
Ridgway is again in the news as the Fort Phil Kearny cemetery and another frontier cemetery lay on Chevron land that has been put up for sale. Historians, Fort curator, local residents and the state of Wyoming are negotiating a deal to turn over cemetery land to include in the Fort Phil Kearny historical site. Some or all of the Fort cemetery interments were moved to the National cemetery at Big Horn. Current opinions vary and some say that only the soldiers remains were removed and civilians like Ridgway, remain in the Fort Phil Kearny cemetery.
Copyright --Sept 27, 2004--Judy Stevens
If you want to learn more about this period of American History way, go to the Ft Phil Kearny site at http://www.philkearny.vcn.com/. Check out Paula Fleming of the Smithsonian’s collection of his work. Paula Fleming is reputed to be releasing a book which includes Ridgway. Paul also owns the copyright on a self portrait photo of Ridgway that she found at an estate sale in Canada, several years ago. The Indiana Historical Society also has some of Ridgway’s photographs available.