The Story of the Glass Negatives
By Lucille Glasgow

Aha! Here’s a puzzle that looks intriguing. Two years ago the Museum acquired from a collector, Mr. Dale Terry, a box of 5 x 7 glass plate negatives, the kind used in the old cameras atop a tripod behind which the photographer stood with his head under a black cloth. He fired a trough of magnesium flash powder to illumine his subject.

We have no identification on these negatives, only that the clothing and hair styles are of the late 19th and early 20th century vintage. All of our inquires about developing the negatives have led to nowhere. Museum curiosities? (Several years after this was written, the Clay Co. Leader editor, Phil Major, developed 2 of the negatives which seem to be Alice Snearly working on a painting beside a kerosene lamp. The method of enlarging photos then was for an artist to paint a larger picture of the photo, and Alice was an artist.

Then, this summer author Stanley Noyes of Santa Fe sent Bill Womack an autographed copy of his latest book, “The Comanches in the New West 1895-1908: Historic Photographs” because Bill’s wife, Louise Womack, had helped with the identification of her great uncle, Harrison Schwend , in a photo of him and a number of Indians ready for a parade in downtown Henrietta.

The book tells the story of the life of the Comanches and Kiowa Indians after they were driven off the plains of Texas to the reservations in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma.

A larger part of the book contains 32 historic photographs with accompanying information about the subjects and the two photographers from Henrietta who shot the pictures, Lon Kelley and his sister-in-law, Alice Snearly.

Mr. and Mrs. Kelley and Miss Alice lived in Duncan and photographed Quanah Parker, Geronimo and many of the other Indians on the reservation between 1895 and 1902.

After the deaths of the photographers, the glass plate negatives were sold at auction for $.25 in 1961. They were given to Ben Fish of Iowa Park. The Wichita papers printed some of the Indian photos and gave duplicates to the Ft. Sill Museum. Later most of the negatives of the Indians were bought from collector Dale Terry by novelist Larry McMurtry and presented to the University of Texas.

Now, in sorting out materials given to the Museum by the Eugene Hurn Estate, we have found a box of slides labeled “Oheim slides” whose images are the same as those in Mr. Noyes’ book. The slides and the photos in the book show evidence of cracks in the glass negatives.

We also discovered a file of correspondence between Mr. Hurn, Mr. Noyes and Mr. Terry. Mr. Hurn helped Mr. Noyes with historic photos and information about the Snearly and Kelley families and life in early Clay County.

So the trail has led right back to our box of glass plate negatives in the archives room. Now we know who snapped the pictures and that the subjects were probably from this general area, although there are no Indians included.

What fun it is to unravel a bit of the puzzles posed by the past!

By the way, I highly recommend the book as interesting and informative
reading and connected to Clay County.




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