by Paula Bosse
Below is a photograph I stumbled across several years ago. It shows what appears to be an interracial couple in a family portrait, with two children, taken in Nowata, Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). It would have been taken sometime between 1889, around the time when the town of Nowata was named, and 1907, when Oklahoma gained statehood.
The photographer was Illinois-born Oscar Drum (1860-1936), a traveling or itinerant photographer who, according to some sources, worked alongside his wife and mother. His home base was most often Kansas or, later, Oklahoma, but he traveled throughout nearby states and, often, into Indian Territory where he would set up a temporary studio in a rented building, a railroad car (his “photo car” which would be parked on a siding), or even a tent. His later days were spent in Bartlesville, Oklahoma.
The photo above is intriguing, and it’s hard not to try to imagine the story behind the man and the woman sitting for what looks like a family portrait — but we may never know anything about who these people were or what their story was.
Drum’s bread and butter was made with traditional portraits of white Midwesterners and Oklahomans, but he also photographed Native Americans. One of his advertisements read: “We have for sale the Finest Collection of Indian Photos and Scenery in the Territory. Pictures of Warriors, Chiefs, Squaws and Papooses.”
In 1893 he advertised that his “photo tent” price in Longton, Kansas was $1.50 for a dozen copies of a photo of one person standing or $2.00 a dozen for a cabinet card bust or for a group of people. (According to the Inflation Calculator, that would be the equivalent in today’s money of about $42 and $56, respectively.) And no haggling!
All of the above appeared in the March 10, 1893 edition of the Longton (KS) Gleaner.
Below, notice that Drum was about to be heading to Indian Territory: “All those desirous of having their pictures taken would do well to call on him immediately, for a delay may cause a disappointment.”
He also employed use of a “photo car,” a temporary studio set up in a railroad car, parked on a siding for several days or a few weeks. The photo cars were popular studios for traveling photographers. (Read more about these special railroad cars — and see photos of the cars as well as the those who patronized them — here and here.)
Oscar Drum eventually settled in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and seems to have had a thriving business, part of which was employing and mentoring young photographers who would go on to carve out their own successful careers. Below is a photo of Drum as well as photo of his studio in Bartlesville (both photos are from the book Bartlesville, Oklahoma by Karen Smith Woods).
From Bartlesville, Oklahoma by Karen Smith Woods
An example of his work photographing Native Americans is seen in this striking photograph I found on eBay. The subjects are identified on the back (seen here) as “Osage Indians, Nov. 3, 1911.”
SOURCES & NOTES
I came across the photo at the top somewhere online a few years ago but neglected to note the source.
Sources of clippings and other images noted, if known.
More information on Oscar Drum, his wife Lottie Drum, and his mother Harriet Drum as well as many examples of their photos can be found at the Cabinet Card Photographers blog here.
The question “What would people in the 1800’s (1840’s to 1890’s) think of a Native American-white couple?” was asked on Quora, and the answers are very interesting. Read the discussion here.
Click pictures to see larger images.
Copyright © 2018 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.