Section 3: Historic Scenes from the West
THE HOLY CROSS
After spending a long cold night on an exposed mountain, dawn was welcomed by Jackson and his comrades. With the light, the photographers again began to make their way back up to the peak and were rewarded by an unobstructed view of the Mount of the Holy Cross. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. But there was one problem. There wasn't any water to be used to prepare the emulsion for the glass plate negatives!
After enduring the previous evening's hardships, Jackson was in no mood to allow a simple matter like that to keep him from the opportunity of a lifetime. After a short rime, the warmth of the sun began to melt the snow, and soon there was enough water to prepare eight of the delicate glass plates. Working quickly and confidently, Jackson set up his cameras and went to work.
Jackson was so confident of his work, and anxious to join the rest of the survey team that he uncharacteristically waited to complete the development process until after leaving the field. Jackson's efforts were rewarded with eight striking photographic images of the cross. He later wrote,
Photographing of the Mount of the Holy Cross was a pivotal moment in Jackson's life. Just as he had done with Yellowstone, William Henry Jackson used his skills as an intrepid photographer to prove the existence of a phenomenon that had generally been dismissed as mythical. The photographs and the exploit made him famous and it helped make him financially secure.
In August of 1893, twenty years after taking the first photographs of the Mount of the Holy Cross, Jackson returned to the site, accompanied by his son Clarence, to commemorate the occasion. Much later in life, Jackson used his artistic skills to tell the story of his excursions in the Colorado Rockies by combining images based on his original photographs with those from 1893 to compose these two paintings.3 The images on these final two pages are the only oil paintings in the William Henry Jackson collection at Scotts Bluff National Monument.
1. Jackson & Driggs, Pioneer Photographer, 186-187.
2. Jackson, Time Exposure, 218.
3. Clarence S. Jackson and Lawrence W. Marshall, Quest of the Holy Cross (Denver: University of Denver Press, 1952), 32f.