Author: Richard F. Selcer. First edition, Texas A&M University Press, 2019.
One of the most famous images in western history is a photograph of the Wild Bunch outlaw gang, also known as “The Fort Worth Five,” featuring Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid, and three other members of the gang dressed to the nines and posing in front of a studio backdrop. This picture, taken by John Swartz in his Fort Worth studio in November 1900, helped bring the gang down when distributed around the country by the Pinkerton Agency. It may be seen today as a prominent marketing image for the Sundance Square development in downtown Fort Worth.
John, David, and Charles Swartz, three brothers who moved from Virginia to Fort Worth in the late nineteenth century, captured not only the famous “Wild Bunch” image, but also a visual record of the people, places, and events that chronicles Fort Worth’s fin-de-siécle transformation from a frontier outpost to a bustling metropolis—the ingénue, the dashing young gentleman, the stern husband, the loving wife, the nuclear family, the solid businessman, and so on. Only occasionally does a hint of something different show up: an independent-looking woman, a spoiled child, a roguish male.
In Photographing Texas: The Swartz Brothers, 1880–1918, historian and scholar Richard Selcer gathers a collection of some of the Swartz brothers’ most important images from Fort Worth and elsewhere, few of which have ever been assembled in a single repository. He also offers the fruits of exhaustive research into the photographers’ backgrounds, careers, techniques, and place in Fort Worth society. The result is an illuminating and entertaining perspective on frontier photography, western history, and life in Fort Worth at the turn of the nineteenth-to-twentieth centuries.