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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 in places.)

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 signed them.

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 perpetrators.

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 himself.

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 country?”

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’s Popularity:

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 6, 1854
Family moved to Otsego, WI, 1861
Family moved to Columbus, WI, 1862
David met photographer Orlando Goff in or around Columbus, circa late 1860’s
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, 1300 Broadway.
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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