Thursday, June 30, 2016

Evelyn J. Cameron: Rugged Outdoors-woman and Photographer

Evelyn J. Cameron
ca. 1921
Terry, Montana Website
Evelyn J. Cameron was a pioneer photographer and rancher who lived in eastern Montana during the early years of the twentieth century. An rancher and rugged outdoors-woman, Cameron photographed documentary images and portraits of life, acquaintances, and family near her ranch from 1894 until her death .A witness to the end of the open range and the height of the railroad, her photographs are a highlight of Western photography and a window into life in the West during that period. 

Evelyn J. Cameron
Heading Flax
ca. 1913
Terry, Montana Website
Evelyn Jephson Flower was born August 26, 1868, near Streatham, England. The Flower family was tied to England's elite--her half brother Cyril Flower became Lord Battersea in 1892. Ewen Somerled Cameron was born in 1854 in Scotland, to a genteel, but penniless family. Evelyn married Ewen in the fall of 1889 and they spent their honeymoon in Montana. The couple relocated to the state in 1893 to breed and train polo ponies which, unfortunately, was an unsuccessful venture. She and her husband were part of small British group of colonists looking to prosper from ranch life. Cameron enjoyed the rugged Western lifestyle and its demands. Her chores included milking cows, churning butter, cooking meals, raising pet coyotes and wolves, laundry, and gardening (a potato harvest would weigh in at 2000 pounds). She broke horses, went on two-month hunting trips in the winter, butchered game, and pursued photography. 

Evelyn J. Cameron
Ewen Cameron with pet wolves
ca. 1908
In addition to the polo pony business, Ewen Cameron was interested in Montana wildlife, especially birds. He became a noted ornithologist, published several articles in various British science magazines and spent many years on a book describing birds of the western United States. Evelyn Cameron photographed wildlife and birds in addition to illustrating her husband's articles on birding and outdoor life. She photographed the badlands and bluffs of eastern Montana, but is best known for her straightforward and authentic views of ranch life. 
Evelyn J. Cameron with wolf pup
Montana Historical Society
Photography helped to relieve some of the loneliness of living on the plains. It provided much needed income, allowed Evelyn to work with Ewen on his wildlife studies and provided an opportunity for meeting and learning about her neighbors. Her photographs captured the experiences of men and women on the plains of Eastern Montana in starkly vivid and candid terms. Cowboys, women, ranchers, farmers, children, itinerant workers, sheep herders, and the stark landscape all found their way into her photos. Her work was carried in magazines throughout the country. 

Evelyn J. Cameron
1928 Diary Page
Montana Memory Project
Cameron kept a series of diaries (35 in total) that chronicle her daily life including the books she read, chores, lists of letters both written and received, local and national events, photographs taken, social activities,verbatim copies of special letters, and weather. The diaries also include minutiae that reveal not only the fabric of her own life but that of many women living in eastern Montana at the time.  For example, her diaries include bits of information such as the number of eggs gathered and chickens killed per month; notes on the amount of butter she churned; methods of skinning a coyote and  breaking a horse; accounts of money made from her photos and garden produce; lists of supplies; and Evelyn’s favorite poems and quotes. 
Evelyn J. Cameron
ca. n.d.
Terry, Montana Website
In 1914, Ewen became ill and had to be taken to Pasadena, California, to receive treatment for cancer. He died the following year and was buried in California. Evelyn, contrary to the requests of her family, returned to Fallon to run the ranch by herself where she continued her photography for the remainder of her life. She died in 1928 at age 60 following an operation for appendicitis. Evelyn Cameron is buried in Terry, Montana.

Opportunties to see more of Evelyn J. Cameron's work can be found at the Prairie County Museum and Evelyn Cameron Gallery, 101 S. Logan Ave., Terry, MT and the Evelyn Cameron Heritage Center, 204 Laundre Ave., Terry, MT 

Montana Memory Project, Evelyn Cameron Diaries,, retrieved June 30, 2016.
Terry, Montana,, retrieved June 30, 2016.
Archives West: Orbis Cascade Alliance, Evelyn J. Cameron and Ewen S. Cameron Papers, 1893-1929,, retrieved June 30, 2016.

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