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Ft. Keogh, Miles City, Montana

Two portraits, taken roughly 40 years apart, of L. A. Huffman.

Laton Alton Huffman (1854-1951) was born in Iowa and learned the craft of photography from his father. In the summer of 1878 he apprenticed at Moorhead, Minnesota with the later famous Yellowstone Park photographer F. Jay Haynes. By December 1878 Huffman obtained his first professional appointment as a civilian post photographer at Fort Keogh, Montana Territory, near Miles City. This position gave him his start on what turned out to be a lifetime project, that of photographing eastern Montana and northern Wyoming during the last two decades of the western frontier. Most of Huffman's pictures were taken out on the range, where he carried his cameras on horseback, along with the chemicals and glass plates needed to create permanent images. This mobility distinguished him from a mere studio photographer and enabled him to capture authentic action photographs. His studies of ranch life, cattle drives wild horse roundups, herds of sheep, and other facets of western ranching came to influence other photographers who followed in his footsteps.

Huffman became well acquainted with the Northern Plains Indians, and in particular with the Northern Cheyenne. Sometimes he managed to obtain portraits of Native Americans visiting at Fort Keogh and sometimes he traveled out to meet them at their villages. Prominent among his Cheyenne friends and acquaintances were Two Moons, American Horse, and Young Plenty Bird. As for his pictures of the ranchmen, his photographs of American Indians went beyond portraiture to include scenes of family life and traditional activities.

In 1882 he traveled to Yellowstone National Park and with a stereoscopic camera took a series of images of geological wonders. A page from his 1883 catalogue lists fifty-eight captioned photos taken in Yellowstone National Park. Appreciative of his environment, he included landscapes and wild animals among his specialties. His pictures of the last of the buffalo in Montana Territory, both alive and as being shot and skinned by professional hunters, are the only ones of their kind, as later photographers simply were not able to recreate pictures of the buffalo hide hunting business. Watching the destruction of the herds may have also kindled in him an interest in wildlife conservation, as he later become good friends with William T. Hornaday, orator of the New York Zoological Park and founder of the American Bison Society. Within the Huffman collection, much correspondence exists between these two men.

In the early 1880s Huffman left Fort Keogh and established his own business in Miles City in a studio he built from lumber salvaged from a steamboat. By 1885 he was using a single-lens glass-plate camera that he constructed from parts ordered from a catalog and built himself. He operated this first Miles City studio until 1890 For the next few years he traveled within the United States, then returned to Montana and was elected to the Montana House of Representatives for Custer County in 1893. In 1896 he opened a studio in Billings, ran it there for a few years, then closed it to reopen a new studio in Miles City. Huffman shifted his emphasis from new photography and largely concentrated on selling prints made from his stockpile of glass plate negatives after about 1905.

358-Our Hunting Party Clark's Fork Canon.

Huffman’s "Northern Pacific Views" did contain some views in and around Yellowstone. This scene shows men in Clark Fork Canon northeast of the park.

255-Terraces Mammoth Hot Springs and Sheep Eater Cliff.

Huffman’s more common "Miles City" mount. He produced many Yellowstone views of this style.

301-"Beautiful Grotto."

Another of Huffman’s "Miles City" mounts. This scene shows an unusual angle of Grotto Geyser Cone at Upper Geyser Basin.


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