Francis Marion Steele (1866-1936)
In 1890 F. M. “Frank” Steele arrived in Dodge City, outfitted a buggy with photographic
equipment, and headed out into the open ranges of southwest Kansas, southeast Colorado, northeast New Mexico, and the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma to photograph cowboys at work. Many of Steele’s iconic cowboy images can be found in books and articles about the cowboy and the West, but more often than not without attribution. By the turn of the twentieth century Steele had begun to broaden the scope of his subject matter. He also, in addition to his field photography, at one
time or another had studios in over a dozen towns in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Nebraska.
Steele considered himself an artist, and indeed his photographs are remarkable for their
composition and aesthetic quality, but today his work is undoubtedly more important for its documentary value. Over the course of his career, whether intentional or not, Steele documented nearly every facet of life in the southwestern plains. Steele’s photographs, for instance, clearly depict the transition from open-range ranching to crop
As of early 2009 the Center for Great Plains Studies at Emporia State University, in cooperation with the Kansas State Historical Society in Topeka, has located and digitized some 400 of the thousands and thousands of photographs that Steele took during his forty-five-year career, and we hope to be able to add to this total as new information arises. If you know of some Steele photographs, please contact the Center for Great Plains Studies at firstname.lastname@example.org or 620 341 5574.