Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) was an American photographer best known for his portraits of President Abraham Lincoln, his American Civil War photographs, and his photographs of American Indian delegations. In 1867, Gardner also served as the chief photographer for the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division (renamed the Kansas Pacific Railway in 1868). The survey team led by General William Jackson Palmer (1836-1909) traveled from St. Louis, Missouri to San Francisco, Calif. to determine the best railroad route. They passed through Kansas, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona enroute to California. He later compiled these images into the books entitled, Across the Continent on the Kansas Pacific Railroad (Route of the 35th Parallel) and Across the Continent on the Union Pacific Railway, Eastern Division.
|Laying Track in Kansas, 300 Miles West of Missouri River, October 19, 1867. Photograph by Alexander Gardner. [P10134] William T. Sherman collection of Alexander Gardner photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.|
While in Kansas, Gardner photographed between Kansas City to Fort Wallace, resulting in some of the earliest images shot in the state. In this photo, Gardner captured railroad workers laying down tracks outside Hays City, Kansas for the new line. His photographs documented a time of considerable transition in the U.S. as people had more mobility and options for transportation around the country. Many western states and territories after the Civil War, experienced similar transitions when railroad construction enabled a greater influx of people into and through the area, increasing pressure on Native American lands, and transitioning the area to farming, ranching, and resource extraction.
|United States Overland Stage starting for Denver from Hays City, Kansas, 289 miles west of Missouri River, 1867.Photograph by Alexander Gardner. [P10133] William T. Sherman collection of Alexander Gardner photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.|
This photo shot by Gardner depicts the U.S. Overland Stage couch with soldiers, including Buffalo Soldiers, departing from Kansas for Denver, Colorado. Once the railway was established, fewer stage couches made this trek.
|Mushroom Rock on Alum Creek, Kansas, 211 miles west of Missouri River, 1867. Photograph by Alexander Gardner. [P10132] William T. Sherman collection of Alexander Gardner photographs, National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center, Smithsonian Institution.|
Moreover, photographs depicting unique western landscapes played a major role in increased tourism to the region. In this photo, Gardner himself poses on the far right next to a rock formation named ‘Mushroom Rock’ on Alum Creek in Kansas. While Gardner is credited as the photographer, this image many have been shot by one of the other photographers on the expedition including Dr. William A. Bell (1841-1921), William Redish Pywell, and Lawrence Gardner (Alexander Gardner's son).
The Kansas Pacific Railroad photographs are just a small portion of the Gardner collection at NMAI. To learn more about Gardner and see all the photographs from this collection, head over to the Smithsonian Online Virtual Archives (SOVA) where the full collection is now viewable online.
Emily Moazami, Assistant Head Archivist
National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center