Pioneer Big Bend photographer dies

June 24th, 1981

On this day in 1981, photographer W. D. Smithers died in Albuquerque at the age of eighty-five. Smithers was born in Mexico, where his father was the bookkeeper for an American mining company. The family moved to San Antonio in 1905. Smithers dropped out of high school and learned photography through a volunteer apprenticeship at a local studio. In the course of his career, most of which he spent in West Texas, Smithers took more than 9,000 photographs of a wide range of subjects, including such notables as Katherine Stinson, Pancho Villa, and Will Rogers; mining in Terlingua; border skirmishes between the United States cavalry and Mexican raiders; the attempts of the Texas Rangers to control smuggling; and the wildlife and landscape of the Big Bend. His best work documents Mexican-American culture in the Big Bend region. Smithers viewed his camera not as a creative tool, but as an instrument to document the events he witnessed and the people he met. He summarized his goals as a photographer in his 1976 autobiography, Chronicles of the Big Bend: A Photographic Memoir of Life on the Border. Most of his original negatives and prints are in the Photography Collection of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Pioneer Big Bend photographer dies

June 24th, 1981

On this day in 1981, photographer W. D. Smithers died in Albuquerque at the age of eighty-five. Smithers was born in Mexico, where his father was the bookkeeper for an American mining company. The family moved to San Antonio in 1905. Smithers dropped out of high school and learned photography through a volunteer apprenticeship at a local studio. In the course of his career, most of which he spent in West Texas, Smithers took more than 9,000 photographs of a wide range of subjects, including such notables as Katherine Stinson, Pancho Villa, and Will Rogers; mining in Terlingua; border skirmishes between the United States cavalry and Mexican raiders; the attempts of the Texas Rangers to control smuggling; and the wildlife and landscape of the Big Bend. His best work documents Mexican-American culture in the Big Bend region. Smithers viewed his camera not as a creative tool, but as an instrument to document the events he witnessed and the people he met. He summarized his goals as a photographer in his 1976 autobiography, Chronicles of the Big Bend: A Photographic Memoir of Life on the Border. Most of his original negatives and prints are in the Photography Collection of the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

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Related Handbook of Texas Articles

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With more than 27,000 articles about Texas history, the Texas State Historical Association's Handbook of Texas is the largest online encyclopedia about all things Texas. Now you can celebrate the history of Texas every day by activating your free subscription to Texas Day by Day. Each day's email tells a little bit more of the story of Texas and links to our collection of more than 27,000 articles. It's one of the best ways to learn more about Texas history — in only 15 minutes a day!

Activate your free subscription to Texas Day by Day and you can:

  • Explore Texas history each day in bite-sized pieces conveniently delivered to your inbox each morning
  • Astound your friends with your Texas history prowess
  • Get in-depth looks at some of the overlooked events and landmarks in Texas history
  • Discover new places to explore in the Lone Star State
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