An Inventory of the Owen Wister Photograph Collection at the Texas State Archives, 1893, undated
Owen Wister was born in Germantown (now part of Philadelphia), Pennsylvania, on July 14, 1860 to a distinguished family. His father, Dr. Owen Jones Wister, was a physician, and his mother, Sarah Butler, was a magazine writer. His mother was the daughter of English actress, Fanny Kemble, and Pierce Butler, who was a descendant of the Butlers of South Carolina who signed the Constitution of the United States. An only child, Wister studied at boarding schools in New England and Switzerland before enrolling in St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire in 1873. He entered Harvard in 1878, where he developed a reputation for musical composition and dramatic writing. Wister also made lifelong friends at Harvard, most prominently future President Theodore Roosevelt, future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, and future Senator Henry Cabot Lodge. He graduated in 1882, and spent a year studying music and trying for a career as a composer in Paris. He returned home in 1883 to take a position at the Union Safe Deposit Vault computing interest. A year later, he returned to Harvard for a law degree and graduated in 1888. He was admitted to the Philadelphia Bar and briefly practiced law at Francis Rawle's law firm.
In 1885, he suffered an illness and was advised by his doctor, Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, to travel west to restore his health. He traveled to Wyoming and spent the summer at the V.R. Ranch of Major Frank Wolcott. He began to regain his health and became interested in the American West. Wister made five trips to the West between 1885 and 1891. He kept an account of his observations and interactions in diaries, which provided material for his western works. In 1891, Owen Wister wrote his first two western short stories: Hank's Woman and How Lin McLean Went East. Both of these stories appeared in Harper's Weekly. Encouraged by the success of these stories, he gave up law and became a full-time writer in 1893. In February 1893, Wister and a friend, Harry C. Groome, made a trip to Texas, where they remained till the latter part of March. They were met at Brownwood, Texas, by Wister's friends from Philadelphia, Fitzhugh Savage and Frank Conover. From Brownwood, they drove to Brady City (now Brady), and from there to Savage's ranch, Seven Springs. Though the trip was for pleasure, Wister spent considerable time riding about the country, talking to old cowhands and compiling a dictionary of Texas vocabulary. In addition, he took pictures of life on the Savage, Conover and Colton ranches, polo ponies, polo players and games, the cowboy bachelor experience, informal portraits, the landscape of neighboring areas, and several San Antonio missions.
He began work on his novel The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains, in 1901. It is believed that at least one chapter of this book came directly from a tale about baby swapping told to him by a Texas cowboy during his Texas trip. The book, published in 1902, sold nearly 200,000 copies its first year. Wister also adapted it successfully for Broadway. At least five movies and one television series have since been made, and the book has never been out of print. His novel is believed by some to be the template on which every western since has been cut. Wister had a prolific literary career but had other interests as well. In 1908, he unsuccessfully ran for a seat on the Philadelphia City Council. He was a member of Harvard University's Board of Overseers and president of both the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Club. He also received honorary degrees from the University of Pennsylvania (1907), Williams College (1912), and Duke University (1915).
Wister married his second cousin, Mary Channing, in 1898. His wife was a member of the Philadelphia board of education, a founder of the Civic Club of Philadelphia, and defender of women's rights. They had six children. She died in 1913. Wister died at his summer home in Saunderstown, Rhode Island on July 21, 1938.
(Sources include: Freeman, Castle Jr. "Owen Wister: Brief life of a Western mythmaker: 1860-1938,"Harvard Magazine (July-August 2002): 42-43, http://harvardmag.com/pdf/2002/07-pdfs/0702-42.pdf; Grimes, Jack. "Owen Wister: Photographer,"Texas Libraries 31, no. 3 (1969): 130-133; Jalowitz, Alan. "Owen Wister: Biography." The Pennsylvania Center for the Book, http://pabook.libraries.psu.edu/palitmap/bios/Wister__Owen.html; Howard Payne Yellow Jacket (Brownwood, Texas). "Where the Twain Met." January 21, 1937, http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth102318/m1/4/zoom/; Wister, Fanny Kemble, ed. Owen Wister Out West: His Journals and Letters. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958; all websites viewed on July 20, 2012.)
Owen Wister (1860-1938) was a prominent American writer during the late 1800s and early 1900s. He is best known for his western stories, particularly his novel The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains (1902). The collection comprises 115 images taken by Wister during his trip to Texas in 1893. Dates covered are 1893, undated. The collection was presented to the State Archives by his daughter, Mrs. (Walter) Frances Kemble Wister Stokes, in 1969 in two batches. The first batch included 91 mounted vintage snapshot pictures, and reflect titles and numbers provided by Wister in his own handwriting. Supplementary information has been added in brackets. The second originally comprised of 24 cellulose nitrate negatives exposed by Wister during his travels to Texas, the West and Southwest. Modern prints were made from the negatives by the State Archives' contract photographer, Bill Malone. The prints also include three duplicates of images from the first batch. Copy negatives have since been made from the modern prints. Prominent in the collection are Texas ranch scenes from the Savage, Colton and Conover ranches, and the San Antonio missions of Concepción de Acuña and San José. Subjects covered include cowboys, horses, polo ponies, polo players and games, stables, architecture, the San Fernando cathedral in San Antonio, towns, residents, and landscape. A large part of the landscape pictures are believed to have been taken in Texas, while the rest depicting more mountainous terrain could have been taken in either Arizona or Wyoming. While in Texas, Wister stayed at the Seven Springs ranch near Brady City that belonged to his friend from Philadelphia, Fitzhugh Savage.
Images from the collection will be added to the forthcoming prints and photographs database, which will soon be available on the Texas State Library and Archives Commission website. An internal list of the images is available from the State Archives until the images are online.
Restrictions on Access
Materials do not circulate, but may be used in the State Archives research room. Materials will be retrieved from and returned to storage areas by staff members.
Restrictions on Use
The researcher is responsible for complying with U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17 U.S.C.).
Researchers are required to use gloves provided by the State Archives when reviewing photographic material.
(Identify the item), Owen Wister photograph collection. Archives and Information Services Division, Texas State Library and Archives Commission.
Accession numbers: 1969/072, 1969/097
These records were transferred to the Archives and Information Services Division of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission by Mrs. (Walter) Frances Kemble Wister Stokes.
Preliminary inventory and notes by John Anderson in May 1989
Scanning and data entry of images into database by John Anderson and Russell Holley-Hurt in July 2012
EAD finding aid prepared by Aditi Worcester in July 2012
Detailed Description of the Records