Prescott’s Pioneering Photographers

By Brenda Taylor

Prescott photographer Erwin Baer standing next to his camera, 1884 (SHMRC 1700.1883.0001)

As the early pioneers established settlements, and towns began dotting the deserts and forests of the Southwest, a specialized group of frontiersmen began arriving in these newly formed places. These were not your ordinary pioneers; they were part artist, part technician and part chemist,  documenting the landscapes, contemporary Native American cultures and prehistoric ruins, miners and mines, shipping and freighting industries, businesses, townspeople and the population springing up around them. Some established photographic studios in burgeoning communities, and others were itinerant photographers who wandered through the deserts and woodlands documenting a fast-changing territory.

The earliest-known reference to a photographer in the Prescott area was Francis A. Cook in 1864. In 1869, Cook and his partner Nathan Pierce opened the first photographic gallery in Prescott and the Arizona Territory. This studio became very important in documenting early Prescott history and was subsequently owned or used by E.M. Jennings, William McKenna and William Williscraft.

Prescott’s first photographic studio, established by Francis Cook and Nathan Pierce (SHMRC 1400.8133.0000)

From the 1870s through the 1890s, Jennings advertised as a Prescott photographer offering views of most points of interest in central and northern Arizona. He produced a photo catalog, enabling the public and other photographers to order images. Williscraft installed an “optical solar enlarger,” or large window, to increase the amount of sunlight coming into the studio. During this period, the gallery produced mostly tintypes and stereograph cards.

In 1877, after Prescott became the capital of the Territory for the second time, Williscraft renamed his studio the “Capital Art Gallery.”  Soon after, another photographer, Daniel Francis “Frank” Mitchell, arrived in Prescott to meet up with his parents, Daniel and Angeline Mitchell, who arrived with the Callen Party in 1875. Frank set down roots and became one of the main photographers and studio owners for many years. In January 1884, Mitchell partnered with Erwin Baer, and together they documented and created some of the most indelible images of Prescott. In 1903, Baer became a member of the Arizona Photographic Company, the first multifaceted photographic partnership in Arizona.

Itinerant photographer Clarence H. Shaw standing next to his photo wagon near the Grand Canyon (SHMRC 1095.0149.0001)

This partnership included: confectionary store owner, part-time photographer, and mining specialist Percival Armitage; Civil War veteran and gallery owner Erwin Baer; newspaper and portrait photographer Thomas Bate; A.E. Suppiger, a St. Louis photographer who sent photographs of Arizona to the St. Louis and Portland Expositions, and California commercial photographer W.R. Humphries, who was also the organizer and promoter of the group. Humphries was hired by the Development Company of America (DCA) to photograph various mines around the state for use in mining prospectuses, company reports, and brochures. These men offered photographs pertaining to studio portraits, landscapes, local businesses, ranches, military forts, pack trains, wagons, railroads, and of course, images of mills, hoists, mines and miners. Local newspapers, such as the Prescott Courier, also printed the Arizona Photograph Company’s images to promote the region, showcase Prescott, and entice mine investors and industries to the area.

In addition, during the 1890s, itinerant photographer and later friend of Sharlot Hall, Clarence Shaw, was wandering through Northern Arizona’s forests with his wagon packed with photo equipment, chemicals and glass plates shooting the land, streams, mountains, plants, as well as breathtaking images showing the pristine vistas of the Grand Canyon and Hopi Tribe mesas.

The work of these pioneering photographers is represented in the Sharlot Hall Museum Archives. Anyone interested in viewing the images of these early-day photographers is welcome to visit the SHM Research Center website ( or contact us via email ( or phone to set up an appointment.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( This and other Days Past articles are also available at The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at for information or assistance with photo requests.

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