Reprinted with permission from Home Town History,
Hometown magazine, September 1990, copyright Ohnick Enterprises
F.M. Steele, Photo Artist
By Nancy Ohnick
It seems that every time I turn around lately I come across
the subject of this issue’s history lesson, Francis Marion Steele. I have taken
note when I have seen the name because of his connections with the old covered
wagon in the courtyard at the Dalton Gang Hideout. An old newspaper clipping
from the early days of the hideout reveals that “the wagon belonged to F.M.
Steele, and he used it in his quest to capture the American cowboy and his
cattle drives in photographs.” (After visiting with James Hoy, an authority on
F.M. Steele, it may have more likely been the wagon he used
in Dodge City where he had a tourism photography business at
Boot Hill later in life. )
Francis Marion Steele started to work and learn the
photographic business at the age of thirteen, under G.T. Atkinson of Kansas
City, Missouri. Referring to himself as a “tourist photographer and artist,” he
spent fifteen years of his life roaming around the Great Plains taking
In Dodge City he established his career as a traveling
photographer in 1890. A genius with the camera, he made a living traveling
around southwest Kansas, Oklahoma Territory, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado,
taking shots of cattle drives, ranch life and farming operations from 1891 to
Steele first came to Meade around August, 1894, touring the
whole area, taking pictures. His interest was in cowboys and people at work. A
buggy rigged to carry his camera and developing equipment transported him as he
followed the round-ups.
It was while touring the area the he met Pink Fletcher who
was teaching school east of Meade at the time. Pink was the daughter of Crocker
Francis Marion Steel (1866-1936)
photos courtesy of
Emporia State University
Francis "Frank" M. Steel - c. 1900
Mr. Steele advertised in the Meade Globe newspaper that he
has the newest equipment for taking flash light photos and in his studio he had
an exhibit on display of at least fifty ranches and farms south of Meade. He
guaranteed his work, which he claimed to be first class. Steele had “a specialty
of crayons, pastels and a copying machine as well as a camera that would take
good pictures on cloudy or clear days.” He guaranteed that his photos wouldn’t
He rented the old Mosser Gallery in Meade, and furnished it
with exquisite taste. He papered, carpeted and fixed it up in the latest style
with fine backgrounds, swings, rustic chairs, fences and the necessary
paraphernalia for taking fancy as well as plain photographs. He was prepared to
do all classes of work that completed with that done in large cities.
All negatives were sent to Kansas City to an expert artist,
who did touching up in the most scientific and careful manner and any little
defects that may have appeared were carefully and skillfully remedied.
The artist’s gallery provided a convenient toilet room, so
patrons could arrange their cloths and hair.
On May, 26, 1995, Francis married Pink Fletcher in the home
of the bride.
While Francis continued his traveling photography in and
around the area, Pink Steele went to live and work for a doctor in Liberal, and
later after the birth of their daughter she returned to Meade and taught at the
Lakeview School for several years.
Francis set up a studio on the Fletcher farm for several
months in 1896, and advertised a large spot light which had been added to his
equipment. In 1887, another daughter was born, Just two months later Pink Steele
divorced Francis and he moved on to purchase a studio in Bucklin, Kansas.
Stelle re-married in 1900,
to a woman by the name of Sarah "Sadie" Harp from
Mullinville. He was a Rock Island special
photographer in Greenburg, and started touring the country again in 1903, taking
photos of the bumper wheat crop. That year he advertised photographs in natural
color. He added an improved telephoto camera designed to make objects appear
closer for the photographer. In 1906, Steele purchased a gallery in Dodge City.
He also had a studio in Hutchinson where he continued to work until 1920, when
he moved to McCook, Nebraska for 10 years.
He finally returned to Meade in 1935, where, after 35
years, he saw his daughter Edith Sutherland and met his four grandchildren for
the first time. That summer Francis showed pictures and paintings at the Boy
Scout Building at the park for the Old Settler’s Reunion in Meade where his
granddaughters helped him set up his exhibit.
Shortly after this, at the age of sixty-seven, Steele moved
back to Dodge City where he started selling pictures and postcards from a chuck
wagon at Boot Hill. Later he went to work for the Aiken Studio and died an
accentual death in 1936.
Francis Marion Steele left behind a legacy of an entire
“way of life” captured on film. Often touted around Meade as, “a no-good bum who
wouldn’t even stay put and take care of his family,” Steele must have seemed
eccentric to the ordinary people in the 1890’s. But, one only has to look at his
photographs of a time lost forever to appreciate the passion he had for his
craft, and the sacrifices he made to pursue it.
|Sadie Harp Steele, F.M. Steele's
||Jane Poteet Harp, Frank and Sadie Steele.
||(photos courtesy of Lynnmarie Fancher)
County Historical Society put together a book of Steele’s photos titled “Kings
and Queens of the Range.” Don Goodnight shared his copy with me as I wrote this
story years ago. I have since obtained my own copy and have made it a mission to
collect as many Steele photos as possible and digitally scan them for posterity.
If you have a Steel photo you would like to share, I can scan it and promptly
return it to you, click the "about us" button for contact information. View my
entire collection of Steele photographs (so far) on the "index of photos"
The following are all the articles I could find on Steele in our local
Meade County Globe:
August 16, 1894
F.M Steele, the scenic artist, was in town Wednesday with a
number of photographs of the various places and persons in this county. He had
two pictures of the recent picnic at the grove, one in their calm and sober
moments and the other while at dinner. It makes one laugh and also hungry to see
them gloating over fried chicken and ice cream with their mouths awry—being to
busy to stop chewing when the “button” was pressed. The work and scenic effect
is excellent and all that it lacks of being perfect is that it hasn’t the
editor’s propitious phiz to add tone and dignity.
Two pictures Mr. Steele, the photographer, has of Geo.
Edwards’ residence also of Mr. Eliasons’, Mr. Brannon’s, and Mr. Steele’s are
fine and extremely natural and homelike. He also had a picture of Mr. Bunyan’s
residence and the family along with Mr. Sweet’s family and Mrs. Maffitt and some
of the neighbors that was taken the day before the recent tragedy at that place.
The work is exceptionally good and he is meeting with a large sale. Mr. Steele
will be in our city about the last of the moth for cabinet work.
August 30, 1894
Mr. Steele, the photographer, was in town Friday and had
some printing done to advertise his work. He is doing the whole country and
turning out many fine pictures of men, farms and ranches.
December 13, 1894
Steele, the artist, will take a spot light photograph of
the masquerade ball on Christmas. Everyone that wants to see themselves at their
prettiest and that want a picture should be there.
Mr. Steele, the artist, is in town with a smile and a five
bushel box of pictures that he has to deliver all over the south and east. It is
a general remark by our people, “just see what a pile of pictures, “ and these
pictures speak form themselves as to his work, as our people are not slow to
recognize a thing of beauty and when they see it they want it and they surely
get it from Mr. Steele. The Globe man was looking over some of his work at the
Osgood House Monday and he has made fine photographs of at least 50 ranches and
farms south of this city in the county and strip. R. K. Perry has several fine
views of his pasture and cattle and ranch houses, and his mess wagon all so
natural and true to life that it makes one feel that he is right on the spot.
Fred Taintor has at least a dozen different pictures of his ranch, one being a
panoramic view that is fine in its effects. The photograph of R. K Perry’s
cattle in the Cimarron River is artistic in the extreme and shows to a splendid
advantage. Henry Brinkman, Claus Berger, Com. Cordes, and other in the south
part of the county are among the pictures that we gazed upon with great
satisfaction. Were we to say something about all of the photographs we saw it
would fill a column or more and it is enough to say that Mr. Steele’s work is
all first class and warranted to please and the large and numerous orders that
he receives from the people everywhere is a guarantee that his work pleases and
satisfies the artistic taste of our citizens. In another place in this paper Mr.
Steele has a word to our readers, see what he says and take advantage of the
golden opportunity to get photographs of yourselves and your children.
Ad in the January 10, 1895 issue:
Special Notice to the Lovers of Fine Art
A cordial invitation is extended to every one to call and
examine my work, if suited, will do my best to please you. I will guarantee the
finest of work in every respect and I will make a specialty on crayon pastels
and copying. I will also carry a large line of frames at a reasonable price.
Picture frames also made to order. May studio will be open from January 1st,
1895 until March 20th, 1895. Do not delay having your pictures taken.
Remember if I do not get you a picture as fine as the best, no charge will be
made, this I will back with my work. My studio will be warm the coldest day so
you need not fear the cold. Remember that this is the first chance you have ever
had of getting work that is satisfactory. You do not pay me one cent until you
get your work, all I ask of you is to make a deposit at the bank. I am very
thankful to the people of this country for their past favors and will be pleased
to have you all call and see me, even if you have no work made. I also guarantee
as find work in cloudy weather as clear. Do not put off coming until the last
day as I do not want to have to send any work back, so if I deliver your work
personally and if you have any kick to make make it to me, not someone else. May
studio will be closed on Sunday, unless it is for parties that live a long
distance away, as I think everyone should observe the Sabbath. If you wish
pictures of your places when the snow is on notify me. I am your obedient
servant, F.M. Steele
January 3, 1895
Capt. Steele, the artist, has the old Mosser gallery
furnished with exquisite taste and elegance and is prepared to do the finest
work ever turned out in southwestern Kansas. Our people should extend to Mr.
Steele a liberal patronage in return for his enterprise. He is prepared to do
all classes of work and guarantees work that compares with that done in large
cities. It will pay you to stop in and see him when in the city, look at his
samples and arrange for work.
Ad, same issue:
Where to Go
Have you been to see Steele, the artist, in his new and
elegantly furnished quarters at the old east side gallery which he has papered
and carpeted and fixed up in the latest style with the back rounds, swings, rustic
chairs, fences and all the necessary paraphernalia for taking fancy as well as
plain pictures. Go and see what fine facilities he has for work and the
opportunity that you now have to get first class work. You need not put off any
longer getting a photograph of yourself or any member of the family or the usual
reason that you cannot get a good picture outside of our large cities, as he has
every modern convenience and facility for doing the best work. All his negatives
are sent to Kansas City to an expert artist who does the retouching to the most
scientific and careful manner and any little defects that may appear are
carefully and skillfully remedied. In fact you get only first class
work—something that suits and pleases and you will not be ashamed to send to
your friends in the east or put in your album at home. Bring in your babies and
whole family to have pictures either single or in groups. Nothing is nicer than
a good picture of your baby that will show the little tot as he was when young.
Where is there a lady who would not be pleased to see a good picture when she
was, as Shakespeare says, “ a mawling and pukeing infant.” Such a picture will
show how you have changed in looks either for better or worse—or in other words
see how much prettier you are now than when you were a “kid.” The gallery is
provided with a convenient toilet room so you can arrange your dress and hair
and put on these little finishing touches that are so essential in the general
make-up. Come in and see styles of pictures and learn prices, decide on what you
want, and we will show you a proof of the picture before you leave town.
F.M. Steele, the artist, and Miss Pink Fletcher, daughter
of C.P. Fletcher of Logan township, were married at the home of the bride last
Sunday evening by Rev. Votaws. A number of relatives were present to witness the
ceremony and bid the happy couple bon voyage. Mr. Steele is an old acquaintance
of the bride having been a play mate back in old Missouri some years ago and
last summer when he was “viewing” the country with his country he renewed the
old friendship that ripened into marriage. Both parties are held in high esteem
by our people, the groom is knows as a skillful artist and has done a great deal
of work in this community that speaks for his proficiency in his profession,
Miss Pink, the bride, is a lovely lady and one who will bless and grace the
position of wife. The Globe congratulates Mr. and Mrs. Steele and hopes
for them lives of usefulness and power.