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By Marian Albright Schenk

By Dean Knudsen

Primary Themes of Jackson's Art

Paintings of the Oregon Trail

Historic Scenes From the West


Scotts Bluff
Scotts Bluff National Monument is located 1 mile west of Gering, Nebraska on State Highway 92. Established in 1919, the monument consists of 3,000 acres of prairie and scenic sandstone bluffs, and is dedicated to preserving the legacy of America's westward movement. Vestiges of the old trail can still be seen, and the Oregon Trail Museum offers a variety of exhibits that tell the stories of early pioneers.

An Eye for History


William Henry Jackson was a man driven to record the world around him. He is best known as a pioneering photographer, who captured the first images of Yellowstone, The Tetons, and Mesa Verde. Jackson was an active professional photographer for almost 50 years, and in that time he amassed a huge body of work. However, his efforts to document important events in American history did not end with his camera.

Jackson also kept journals in which he recorded his impressions of the American West when he first saw it in 1866, as well as his experiences in the West with the U.S. Geological Survey from 1869 until 1878. But it is as an artist that Jackson first began to record the things he saw. As a soldier in the Union's Army of the Potomac, Private Jackson sketched his comrades and surroundings, and in the process left a marvelous account of the everyday camplife experienced by a Civil War soldier.

After the war, Jackson sought to escape the confines of society by seeking his fortune in the West. His sketches of his experiences as a freight-hauling bullwhacker bound for the mines of Montana are a fascinating glimpse into life on the frontier before it was changed forever by the coming of the railroads. Jackson never found any silver or gold, but he did find his life's calling. His distinctive photographs reveal an affection for the land as well as a 19th century man's faith in progress and technology.

After a lifetime devoted to photography and approaching the age of 90, Jackson picked up a paintbrush and produced a series of paintings to illustrate books on the American West. These paintings are impressive enough for their attention to detail and the telltale photographer's eye for perspective and composition, but they are all the more remarkable since Jackson had no formal training as an artist.

William Henry Jackson died on April 23, 1942, at the age of 99. A few years after his death, his good friend, Howard Driggs, began to search for a suitable home for the Jackson art work that had been left to him. Due to Jackson's connection with the overland trails and the Far West, Scotts Bluff National Monument was chosen as a repository. A new wing was built onto the Oregon Trail Museum, and the William Henry Jackson Collection found a new home.

Several other museums and private individuals around the country own works by Jackson, but Scotts Bluff National Monument has the largest single holding of Jackson paintings, and it is this collection that is the focus of this book. Over the years, Jackson's artwork has become increasingly popular as illustrative material for books, magazines, and video documentaries and as such has generated renewed interest among the general public.

This book was written with the dual purposes of showcasing what has become the centerpiece of the Scotts Bluff museum collection, while at the same time making more of the William Henry Jackson Collection available to the general public. In so doing, we are able to tell not only the story of Jackson's long and productive life, but also the history and development of the American West.

Dean Knudsen
Scotts Bluff National Monument

Dedicated to the memory of Merrill J. Mattes
Friend, Historian, and Inspiration

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Last Updated: 14-Apr-2006