Thomas J. Hine was a photographer who accompanied Captain John W. Barlow on the 1871 expedition of the Yellowstone country. Barlow was assigned by General Phil Sheridan to make a reconnaissance of the Yellowstone country at the same time as Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden's survey. Just as William Henry Jackson was Hayden's photographer, Hine was Barlow's. Unfortunately the bulk of Hine's photos were destroyed in the Chicago fire of October, 1871. Mr. Hine saved sixteen prints he had made a few days previously, but even those somehow disappeared. Around two hundred photos were destroyed including not only lake and mountain scenes but also many images of the largest Yellowstone geysers taken while they were in eruption. Had those photos survived, they would have vied with Jackson's for forefront prominence in the establishment of Yellowstone.
Hine was originally Mathew B. Brady’s assistant during the Civil War. A photographer with a penchant for travel, he was based in Chicago, headquarters of the army’s Division of the Missouri, commanded by Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan. When Sheridan ordered his chief engineer officer, Captain John Barlow, to lead the expedition and explore the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, Barlow selected a small team of five men, including Thomas Hine.
Hine produced two hundred glass plates that summer, which he took back to Chicago in the fall. From these he produced a few stereoviews that were shown locally. Then disaster struck. The Chicago fire of October 8-9, 1871, destroyed all of Hine’s Yellowstone negatives. Prints of only sixteen of his photographs were known to have escaped the blaze, but in a further irony, even the whereabouts of those have been heretofore unknown.
Over 125 years after they were taken, seven of Thomas J. Hine’s lost 1871 Yellowstone views were rediscovered. While researching an unrelated topic in the Print Room of the New-York Historical Society in April 1998, author James Brust reviewed its collection of Yellowstone stereoviews. A group of seven stood out. They were on identical yellow mounts and were marked "Copelin & Son, Photographers, 131 Lake Street, Chicago. Views in the Yellow Stone [sic] Valley, Montana, Wyoming." Inscribed on the reverse side of each, in the same handwriting, was "Col. Barlow."
Included among these images was the first-ever photograph of Old Faithful in eruption. Neither William Henry Jackson nor Joshua Crissman recorded an eruption of Old Faithful until 1872, a year after Hine’s August 1871 photograph. Because Augustus F. Thrasher’s summer 1871 geyser views cannot be located, we do not know if he photographed the now-famous landmark. It is clear, however, that Thrasher’s group did not reach the geyser basins until August 15, at least a week after Hine and Barlow had departed.
That a professional relationship existed between Copelin and Hine is supported by at least three important facts: In 1866-1867, Thomas Hine was listed in the Chicago city directory as a photographer at 131 Lake Street, the same address from which the recently discovered Copelin & Son Yellowstone stereos were issued; in 1870, the photo gallery of Copelin & Melander was at 131 Lake Street, and Hine was listed as "artist, [for] Copelin & Melander," making it probable that Hine took photographs that Copelin published from the same Lake Street address that appears on the Yellowstone stereos; and finally, some later Copelin & Son stereos carried the words "Negatives by T. Hine." Even more direct evidence of a Copelin-Hine partnership came with publication of certain stereographs in the aftermath of the 1871 Chicago fire. The mounts of three sets of these were marked "Copelin & Hine, Photographers, Chicago, Ill.," showing Copelin and Hine together in autumn 1871, when the sixteen Yellowstone stereos were made.
After 1871, Hine continued in photography, even traveling to the western frontier again. In 1873, just two years after the Yellowstone mishap, Hine served as photographer for an expedition into the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, led by Lieutenant Ernest H. Ruffner. The views he captured that summer were published on stereo cards bearing the mark of Copelin & Son, but this time with credit to Hine for having produced the negatives. In the late 1870s, Hine returned to Colorado to record views of Manitou Springs, which he issued under his own name.
The loss of Hine’s images has long left a gap in the story of early Yellowstone photography. This newly surfaced work is but a tiny fraction of what Hine’s contribution might have been, but the Old Faithful view alone should restore the name Thomas J. Hine to a prominent place in Yellowstone National Park history.
Great Falls of Yellowstone. 360 ft. high.
Old Faithful in Action Fire Hole Basin.