Wisconsin's Frontier Photographer, David Frances Barry
David Frances Barry Timeline and Relevant Experiences Drawn from the book, “The Little Shadow Catcher” by
Thomas Heski, “Indian Notes on the Custer Battle”
by David Barry and edited by Usher L. Burdick, and numerous newspaper
clippings supplied by the Research Librarian, Teddie Meronek,
Superior Public Library. Compiled by Gary John Gresl, 2005
He was called the “Little Shadow Catcher” by the Indians,
due to his 5’ 5” height and his miraculous ability
to capture images on paper. Some whites called Barry the “Sioux
Charmer”, due to his friendly relations with many Natives,
especially those of historical and topical importance.
1847 Edmund Barry, a young Irishman, migrated with wife to Honeoye
Falls, New York state.
David born March 6, 1854 in New York. Middle name Frances in honor
of his mother’s father.
1861 family settled in Otsego, WI, near Portage. (Misspelled Ostego
Edmund was a shoemaker, and moved the family to Columbus, WI in
1862. The Civil War was on and Edmund took on odd jobs.
David helped an itinerant photographer who had an upstairs gallery
in Columbus. This was Orlando Scott Goff, who worked out of Portage,
and who was making his way Westward.
In 1871 Goff moved to Yangton, Dakota Territory, with the first
photographic studio in Yankton.
He set up a studio in Bismarck in Oct. 1873.
1878 is the earliest “discovered” mention of Barry
in Dakota, and Goff may have contacted Barry to assist him in
the previous year, 1877. However, there is a photograph of General
Armstrong Custer bearing Barry’s signature, although Custer
died at Little Big Horn in 1876. There is another photo of Tom
Custer, brother, who also died in the battle. Did Barry use two
images that Goff had captured? Goff had been close to the so called
“Custer Clan” and when Barry took over some of the
operation he might have gained rights to these photos, and therefore
The period between 1870 and 78 is an empty hole regarding Barry.
If the Custer photos are by his own hand, he had to be in the
Dakotas before June of 1876, prior to Custer’s battle. This
would require considerable research in archives in the Dakotas,
and perhaps elsewhere, attempting to find proof that Barry was
up that way prior to 78.
Goff and Barry worked together in the 70’s and 80’s.
Goff had a gallery that was affixed to a wagon. Barry decided
to make a portable gallery as well, but one that was fabricated
so it could be put up and taken down at any location. It was sometimes
transported on a steamboat and undoubtedly railroad. It once was
reported to have been unwillingly transported by a windstorm,
never to have been seen again. The photography at the time was
a rigorous endeavor. It employed glass plates and heavy equipment,
often transported by wagon and/or horse, and photographers had
to be hearty individuals.
Barry became the proprietor of Goff’s Bismarck studio and
was thereafter largely on his own.
Introduction of Rain-In-The-Face, Barry’s Good Friend
It has been suggested that a better translation from Sioux to
English would be “His Face is Like a Storm”, but Barry
and his contemporaries knew him as Rain in the Face.
1874 General George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry were
ordered to conduct a reconnaissance on the Black Hills. They found
fine timber, good soil, water and plenty of grass, as well as
gold…leading to a gold rush that was supposedly contained
by the military.
On one excursion Custer was near the Yellowstone River with his
regiment in 1874. Two of his men lagged behind as they stopped
to pick up mineral specimens, moss agate and petrified wood. While
they did this well out of sight of the regiment, as a continuing
act of war between the military and the Natives, and an Indian
named Rain in the Face used a rifle to kill both these men, Dr.
Holzinger and Mr. Balarian. The horses of these men eventually
made their way to the balance of the regiment, and a returning
search party found the bodies…but no information about the
A year later (1875) a war dance was given at Standing Rock Agency.
During an intermission some the Indians advanced to the center
of the arena and related their brave deeds, receiving applause
from the audience of Natives. Present in the crowd was Charlie
Reynolds, one of Custer’s scouts, also known as Lonesome
Charlie. He was later killed in the Battle of Little Big Horn.
A young Indian stepped into the arena and related how he had killed
the two men at the Yellowstone River. This was Rain in the Face,
and this episode was the flint that struck the spark leading to
the Custer Battle.
Charlie Reynolds went to Fort Lincoln, headquarters of the Seventh
Cavalry, and reported to General George Armstrong Custer what
he had heard. Two weeks later Custer sent a hundred soldiers in
the command of his brother, Captain Thomas Custer to arrest Rain
in the Face.
On what was called ration day Rain in the Face appeared in the
trader’s store at Standing Rock to receive his rations.
Waiting for him was Tom Custer, who with other soldiers captured
him. Apparently Tom Custer himself grabbed Rain in the Face’s
arms from behind preventing him from escape.
At Fort Lincoln Rain in the Face was placed in the guard house
to await the Federal court’s spring term and a trial for
murdering the two whites. Rain in the face managed to escape as
a result of two grain thieves finding a means of egress and motioning
for him to follow them. After traveling two nights he reached
Standing Rock and joined his people. It appears that he and other
Indians, who we might term as renegades, began to gather in increasing
numbers to prepare for battle with the whites. Eventually this
size of this force reached in the number of 3,000 or more. It
was this force of several tribes and several chiefs that discovered
Custer and other forces at or near the Little Big Horn on June
25th, 1876. Rain in the Face’s actions are sometimes considered
the events that led to the great battle.
Rain in the Face was maligned for his actions, and it was reported
that he specifically sought out Tom Custer on the battlefield
to exact revenge on the man he believed to be a coward. In fact
Tom Custer’s body was found to be terribly mutilated beyond
a normal battlefield condition. It was reported as well that his
heart had been cut out, but that was later refuted by a Dr. Porter
and others who witnessed the body. Barry made a point of making
it clear that these actions were conducted in a time of warfare,
and that Rain in the Face did what a warrior was expected to do.
According to Barry’s own accounts Rain in the Face and himself
had a relationship that evolved into a very warm and meaningful
one. Barry always spoke highly of the Indian’s character,
honesty and trustworthiness. Rain in the Face posed often for
Barry, receiving in turn trades of objects or cash. He especially
liked white shirts and apparently Barry kept him supplied with
an ample amount.
This account is a quote from the scarce publication, “David
F. Barry’s Indian Notes on ‘The Custer Battle’”,
edited by Usher L. Burdick, 1937. In Barry’s words, “It
is not my intention to show Rain in the Face as a brave hero,
but with all his savage nature, he possessed a good heart and
valued a true friend…This cruel savage, as he was called,
when I left the West, took his moccasins off his feet and gave
them to me, requesting me to keep them as long as I lived, and
when I looked at them to think of him. When he shook hands and
said goodbye, he said: ‘My heart is on the ground.’”
Rain in the Face died on September 12th, 1905, and minutes before
his demise he is said to have requested that Barry be told that
he would do what he could for Barry on the other side. Barry is
further quoted as saying, “One of the most savage and treacherous
of the Sioux Indians was the truest friend I ever had, either
white or red man.”
Chief Gall and Barry
On the ten year anniversary of the battle, the acknowledged military
leader of the Indians that day, Chief Gall, (1840-1894) was asked
to relate at the actual site the movements and events of that
fateful battle. Present was David Barry, acting as official photographer
of the anniversary event, and no more than 7 other whites. It
is related in some accounts that Barry could speak the Native
language and acted as interpreter that day. It is also noted in
some literature that it was Barry who persuaded Gall to participate
in the anniversary event. The whites present were General E. S.
Godfrey, General Benteen, Captain McDougall, Captain Edgerly,
Dr. Porter, Colonel Partello, Colonel Slocum. Among the natives
were Two Moons, White Bull, Crow King and Curley, the surviving
Custer scout who wisely ran from the battle and survived.
Gall reported that his men were aware of the movements of several
groups of the military, as Custer had split into four or more
units. One of these was commanded by General Crook who had witnessed
the mass of Natives on June 17th, and had acted judiciously in
retreating rather than engaging the huge numbers of Indians. As
it was, he still lost several men as he departed.
Gall and his men saw the largest dust cloud created by Custer
and his 200 plus men. They were not surprised by the arrival of
Custer and had been monitoring the movements of troops for several
days before. It is clear that Custer had an opportunity to, like
General Crook, retreat instead of throwing his men into a battle
with thousands of Indians. Somehow he chose the path leading to
the death of all living things in his regiment, save one horse…that
being Comanche, the horse of General Keogh. Comanche was treated
for wounds by the army, and served as an ambassador and touchstone
in relating the events of the Custer Massacre.
The battle, as related by Chief Gall, took about 35 minutes to
be over. He noted that the army fought bravely despite overwhelming
odds, but was no contest. Gall said to the assembly of that anniversary
day, when asked by Barry…”How many men did you have?”
Gall looked about picturing the scene in his mind, and replied
“We were as thick as the grass on the ground.”
Chief Gall and Sitting Bull were allies, potentially rivals as
they sought power for some different points of view. For example,
Sitting Bull remained more adamant and bellicose after it became
fairly clear that they could not defeat the whites. Gall and Sitting
Bull drew apart, with Gall accepting the role of schools for Indians
and other federal efforts to conform Natives. Some believe that
the three most influential Sioux leaders were Chief Gall, Sitting
Bull and Crazy Horse, all involved in the Battle of Little Big
Horn. Interestingly, Crazy Horse (1849-1877) never let himself
be photographed and resisted the white man’s ways until
his own death by bayonet as he struggled for his freedom while
being taken to a guard house where he was to be incarcerated due
to a misunderstanding of his intentions by General George Crook.,
After the Custer Battle, in fact in spring of 1881, Chief Gall
surrendered at Fort Buford. Barry went to the Fort in order to
secure a photograph of Gall. After much negotiation Gall consented
to have his picture taken, but for a fee that went from an original
$6 to $21, due to the malevolent actions of a described renegade
interpreter names Allison who was angry at not making any money
Gall chose to pose in his own manner not wishing to yield to any
instruction by Barry. But Barry apparently rearranged Gall’s
clothing in order to reveal more of him and snapped the picture.
The next day Gall demanded to see the image and then demanded
to take it. When Gall attempted to go past Barry in search for
the photographic plate Barry managed to shove him aside. Gall
drew a knife, Barry grabbed for his pistol that was nearby, and
Gall eyed the photographer ascertaining just how strong Barry
felt about his position. Gradually Gall backed away and left the
studio. As the presence of Gall at the anniversary event suggest,
when he retold the events of the Custer Battle, he and Barry had
become friends in the intervening years.
Sitting Bull and Barry
Sitting Bull is often remembered for being at the Battle of Little
Big Horn. Sitting Bull (1831-1890) was a medicine man, and in
that capacity an important leader. Sitting Bull had stated to
Chief Gall that he had shot many soldiers, but there are statements
in the record that in fact he arrived to the scene after the fighting
was over. For this he was sometimes made fun of. However, Sitting
Bull was a true warrior for his people with the authority of a
Chieftain. He was deemed a Disturber. In his role as medicine
man he called upon the Great Spirit to aid his people to defeat
the whites. He participated in the Ghost Dance and otherwise agitated
on behalf of his Indian nations. Statements on record prove he
was a wise and insightful man, disputing some of the public perceptions
about him. Here is a single quote suggesting his knowledge:
“Is it wrong for me to love my own? Is it wicked for me
because my skin is red? Because I am Sioux? Because I was born
where my father lived? Because I would die for my people and my
And this: “Now that we are poor, we are free. No white man
controls our footsteps. If we must die, we die defending our rights.”
He gained the ire as well as some respect from the whites for
his bold actions against them. After the particularly harsh winter
of 1881, Sitting Bull, and those of his group who were still with
him, finally gave themselves up to the American army. Sitting
Bull was held prisoner for two years before he was moved to the
Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. In 1885, officials
released him and he joined the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show which
toured in America and Europe
For a period of several years, perhaps five years or less between
85 and 90, Sitting Bull toured with the Buffalo Bill Wild West
Show. He proved to be a showman, also taking advantage of his
popularity by accepting cash for his numerous peace pipes and
other articles. He gave many such things away in trade, and was
often photographed by Barry, as well as others. While I find no
specific references suggesting great affection between the two
men, they obviously were cordial and shared significant time together.
On December 14, 1890, Sitting Bull was at his home at Grand River
in the Standing Rock Agency. By that time he had been living with
his family of two wives and several children. However, he was
going to leave the morning of the 15th, with his followers, to
go to Pine Ridge, Red Cloud Agency, to join the ghost dancers
in that agency. He was leaving the Standing Rock Agency without
a permit or pass. A Major McLaughlin ordered the Indian police
to go to Grand River and arrest him. As instructed the Indian
Police, including Policeman Bull Head, entered Sitting Bull’s
home. When Sitting Bull’s son, Crow Foot, taunted his father
about being resigned to the arrest, Sitting Bull pulled back.
Sitting Bull was forcefully taken out of the house, and other
Natives around them who were aware of the forced removal of Sitting
Bull may have fired some shots. One shot struck Bull Head who
turned and shot Sitting Bull, killing him. Crow Foot ran back
into the house, hid under the bed, and while Bull Head said that
he himself was dying from his wound, why were others letting Crow
Foot live. Crow Foot was dragged from under the bed and was shot.
It may be of interest to learn that it was reported that the evening
before his death, Sitting Bull had a vision from the Great Spirit
that he would soon die. He told his wives about this and they
reported it after the tragic event of his death.
Barry and Buffalo Bill
During the times Barry traveled with the show taking his photographs
he became very good friends with Buffalo Bill. They maintained
this friendship for decades, corresponding and sharing time together
when possible. Of course there were other photographers who also
photographed Buffalo Bill and his entourage, but this friendship
between Barry and Cody may have been strengthened due to Barry’s
intimate knowledge gathered during his experiences in the Dakotas
and his friendships with Natives. He would have gained the respect
of the experienced Bill Cody.
Bill Cody was born in LeClaire, Iowa in 1846, moving to Kansas
with his family as a child. He herded cattle, drove a wagon train,
crossed the Great Plains more than once, was a fur trapper and
gold miner, and joined the short lived Pony Express in 1860. He
became an army scout after the Civil War. In December of 1872,
in Chicago, at age 26, he began his entertainment career in a
stage drama titled “The Scouts of the Prairie”. Reviews
of his acting ability were mixed, but being a showman was something
he obviously loved.
The following season Cody organized his own troupe, the Buffalo
Bill Combination. The troupe’ show "Scouts of the Plains"
included Buffalo Bill, Texas Jack, and Cody’s old friend
"Wild Bill" Hickok. Wild Bill and Texas Jack eventually
left the show, but Cody continued staging a variety of plays until
1882. That year he conceived of his Wild West show called Buffalo
Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. It
was an outdoor spectacle, designed to both educate and entertain,
using a cast of hundreds as well as live buffalo, elk, cattle,
and other animals. In the future his exhibitions also became part
of and touring with the Sells’-Floto Circus…not an
agreement to his liking, but one that was coerced by a shady business
partner. He also appeared with the famous Pawnee Bill and his
extravaganza, Pawnee Bill also being photographed by Barry.
Buffalo Bill continued to have financial difficulties which kept
him performing with other Wild West shows. He died in Denver in
1917 while visiting a sister. He had chosen to be buried on Lookout
Mountain which overlooked nearby mountains and plains. The Buffalo
Bill Memorial Museum, begun in 1921 by Johnny Baker, Buffalo Bill's
foster son, illustrates the life, times, and legend of William
F. Cody. It includes exhibits about Buffalo Bill's life and the
Wild West shows, Indian artifacts, Western art and firearms.
(It was Barry who persuaded the company of the Wild West Show
to come to the Superior area for two performances in mid-July
of 1926. This was the combined Sells Floto Circus and Buffalo
Bill Wild West Show and seems to have been arranged as part of
the fiftieth anniversary of the Custer Battle).
Barry had articles, images and quotes published in numerous publications,
including Leslie’s, the Literary Digest, Sports Afield,
The American Patriot, the book “Out Where the West Begins”
by Zena Irma Trinka. He was consultant to a movie reenacting the
Custer Battle, provided images for a book by screen actor William
S. Hart in a series called the Golden West Boys, furnished the
National Custer Memorial Association with the pictures used in
it national publicity campaign, furnished images for a book by
Usher L. Burdick as well as being the subject of a book by Burdick,
created articles for the “Texas Star” published by
the Texas Oil company, and had many dozens of articles written
about him in Superior area newspapers including the Superior Daily
Call, the Evening Telegram, Sunday Morning Leader, the Wisconsin
Sunday Times, the Bismarck daily Tribune He was reported on in
The Manchester England Geographical Society publication. He furnished
photos for Elizabeth Custer, widow of General Custer, with whom
he maintained correspondence and friendship as she wrote articles
and books. His photos appeared in “In a Sacred Manner I
live”, by Neil Phillip. There are quotes indicating that
his images and statements had appeared in publications world wide.
His reputation as a photographer and Indian expert and protagonist
was spread by his association with Buffalo Bill, by his repeated
contributions and attempts to keep the story about the Custer
Battle and personalities involved true to the reality as he had
heard and witnessed it, and by the contribution of his photographs
as both art objects and historical records in important museums
and collections. The Cody Museum in Cody Wyoming dedicated a bronze
tablet in the Barry room housing a collection of his photographs.
It is notable that during WWII, a “Victory Ship” was
named in his honor. It was built by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation
in Oregon, launched August 21, 1943.
His value as a historic figure is supported by his numerous public
statements about the nature of the Indian conflicts, his correction
of wrong reports of the battles and personalities, his being invited
to be part of the planning committee for the 50th anniversary
of the Custer Battle, the many articles and reports about or by
him during his life,
Barry’s Personal Life:
There is little information about Barry’s wife, Margaret
Young (Patti), who was born April 1, 1864. Her parent’s
home was in Quincy, IL. where she married David in March of 1884,
well after he had begun his photographic career in frontier of
the Dakotas and Wisconsin. It is stated that she occasionally
traveled with Barry on his excursions. She died on August 20th,
1932, and during the last couple of years of her life was an invalid.
It is noted that her illness had prevented from taking an active
part in the life of Superior, and that she was “a woman
of fine character and gentle nature. The couple had no children.
David himself had other misfortune later in life. He was seriously
injured in Duluth when an automobile crashed in the rear end of
a streetcar as he was stepping off the rear platform. In 1933
he sustained injury a leg due to a bad fall, which kept him primarily
confined to his studio with short local excursions.
His finances suffered in later years, and there were times he
had to sell parts of his renowned Native American artifact collection.
His brother in Illinois is known to receive artifacts for cash.
But Barry apparently was also prone to give parts of it away to
friends, and it was noted that “he was generous to a fault”.
That collection, which included objects once possessed by famous
Indian and white individuals, objects he purchased or was given
as well as some battlefield finds, was eventually procured by
the Douglas County Historical Society where it remained on display.
Unfortunately the collection suffered a loss by thieves in the
1970’s. It is reported by Teddie Meronek, Research Librarian
for the Superior Public Library, that that collection still contains
between 500 and 600 or Barry’s photographs.
David Frances Barry, one of the pioneers and documenters of Western
photography, was known by the Sioux and the “Little Shadow
Catcher”, and called by whites the “Sioux Charmer”.
All reports point to him as a man of outstanding character, honest
and true, and a friend to many…both famous and plain. Barry
died in Superior August 20th, 1934, on his 80th birthday.
Barry’s Various Locations and Timeline:
David born to Irish immigrant parents in Honeoye Falls, NY, March
Family moved to Otsego, WI, 1861
Family moved to Columbus, WI, 1862
David met photographer Orlando Goff in or around Columbus, circa
Goff moves to Yangton, SD. by way of Sioux City, Iowa, in 1871,
and then to Bismarck in 1873.
Goff had a studio at Fort Lincoln which he closed around 1877.
Barry’s whereabouts are not known during this period of
1870-78, and he emerges in the literature as a photographer assisting
Goff in 1978.
Barry signed photographs of General George Armstrong Custer and
Tom Custer exist, which suggests one or two things: 1. Barry was
in the Dakotas before Armstrong was killed in June of 76 or 2.
Barry gained rights to put his name photos taken by Goff when
he took over some of Goff’s professional business.
Barry reported to be in Ft. McGinnis in Judith Mountains and Ft
Buford intermittently in 81-82.
1883 he was in Ft. Custer, Montana.
Feb. 22, 1889 the Dakota Territory became North and South Dakota.
It was in Ft. Buford that Barry photographed Chief Gall and had
the threatening encounter, and later became good friends with
him while at Standing Rock Agency.
1883 Barry was at Fort Custer, Montana, traveling to the Custer
Battlefield with his portable pre-fabricated gallery.
He marries Margaret (Patti) Young in Quincy, IL, in March of 1884.
He took over Goff’s Bismarck gallery in spring of 1884.
Barry and his wife left Bismarck for Superior, WI, May 15th, 1890.
He remained in Superior from 1890-1897.
Around January 15, 1897, the Barry’s moved to New York City,
In the summer of 1889 they returned to Superior, as NYC was not
providing the hoped for income.
Remained in Superior, taking part on the National Custer Committee
for the Fiftieth Anniversary in 1926, with events held at the
battlefield and in Billings, Montana.
In summer of 1926 the combined show of Sells-Floto and Buffalo
Bill’s Wild West Show put on two performances in Superior
as a result of being asked by and friendship with David Barry.
In 1928-29 Superior was dubbed “the summer capital of America.
Wife dies August 20th, 1932
Barry dies March 6th, 1934.
A Partial List of Collections Including David Barry Materials:
The Smithsonian Institution
Douglas County Historical Museum
North Dakota State Historical Society
Custer Battlefield Museum
Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming
W.S. Hart County Museum, Newhall, CA
D.F. Barry Collection of Photographs, Denver Public Library
McCracken Research Library
Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, U of Minnesota
National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD
Library of Congress
West Bend Art Museum, West Bend, WI
Denver Public Library
Special Note About Origins of the Barry 22 Photograph Collection
inspiring this research:
The Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in Bismarck from Fargo.
Family history states that on the railroad worked James Girouard,
which is corroborated by the Superior city directories…researched
by Teddie Meronik, Research Librarian, Superior Library. (2005).
James Girouard was the grandfather of Mary Giesen, who died in
2004 or 05. James is reported by the family to have met Barry
on the railroad, worked with Barry, even hand coloring some of
his images. He was the original owner of this group of Barry photos
that I acquired in May, 2005. There undoubtedly were more than
these 22 in Mary’s collection, but this amount is supposed
to be the balance remaining that was offered for sale. Mary and
her husband resided in Solo Springs, WI, near Superior. She was
active with the Lucius Woods Performing Arts Center, per Teddie
Meronik, research librarian in the Superior Public Library.
Mary’s widower arranged the sale of the 22 photographs I
acquired thru an intermediary dealer in Milwaukee. This dealer
had made the acquaintance of Mary some years before, and her spouse
found the correspondence after her death and contacted this go-between.
I was not the first person given the opportunity to purchase the
images, but I arrived on the scene at an opportune moment. Unfortunately
for me, the cost of the collection was substantial, and it is
necessary that I sell most of them to recoup my investment while
keeping some for my personal satisfaction, as well as withholding
some to be donated to the West Bend Art Museum.
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