Photographers behind Ozark County’s earliest images capture snap shots of life

Photography in its early stages relied on very still subjects, as the camera’s shutter remained open for several seconds. Any movement could cause blurriness. The students at the Locust School in Ozark County must have remained very still while posing for this 1913 photo. At the time, it was common for some children to wear shoes to school and others to go to class barefoot.

This photo of the Sycamore Store, shared recently by the Ozark County Historium, shows the common practice of photographing large groups of people in front of buildings. This type of group photo was potentially more profitable for the photographer, as one photograph cost the same whether it had one or 10 people in it. However, each person in the picture might wish to purchase a copy, multiplying the photographer’s earnings.

This photo shows Kitty Ledbetter’s great-grandmother Laura Hicks, great-grandfather Thomas Hicks and her grandfather Clarence Hicks. Pictured on the stairs are Laura and Thomas Hicks. Their children stand next to them, pictured from left, back row: Clyde, Clarence, Lettie and Elza. Front row: Fred, Hattie, Vernie and Leeman.

The photo, labeled “Romance Band - 1915” is thought to have been taken in the year it was labeled. The stern expressions on the faces of those photographed was common for subjects of photos at the time. It wasn’t until the 1920s that the practice of smiling for photographs became standard.

This photo of the children of the Harlin family was taken during the 1906 family reunion hosted by W. T. Harlin in Gainesville. The caption identifies the children as, “from left: Lucille, Gertrude, Elizabeth, Mearle, Amond, Mildred, Gail, Lois, Eleanore, Bob, Annie, Greta, Amos, Doris, and Madge (foreground) holding baby Duff. Parents and relatives look on approvingly from the porch.”

Another photo of the Harlin Family shows eight Harlin brothers. An Ozark County Times article on June 15, 1906, notes that John C. and Clara Harlin hosted dinner at their house for the entire family and "a number of relatives.

This photo of the Benjamin Jones family in Theodosia. Jones was Kitty Ledbetter’s great-great-grandfather.

Reprinted in May 26, 1916 Ozark County Times.

Reprinted from the March 6, 1903 Ozark County Times.

Have you ever wondered why your ancestors look so grim in those old, brown photographs taken at the turn of the 20th century? It’s not because of bad dentistry, nor because they’re unhappy or prudish. It’s because they’re trying to be still.

Camera shutter speeds were slow and had to remain open at least several seconds or the photo would be blurry. Some photographers would even attach braces to clients to keep their necks from moving. OK, maybe Great-Great-Grandma really was unhappy.

All discomfort aside, ancestors who invested a few pennies in a professional photographer were making an immortal image for us. 

If we’re lucky, we have a few of these stashed in boxes somewhere. If not, the Ozark County Historium can probably help you out.


People needed shoes more than they needed a Kodak

George Eastman introduced the Kodak box camera in 1888. By 1898, an estimated 1.5 million “Kodakers” owned cameras. But I’m going to guess that few people in the Ozarks could afford one. Stories from Grandma Ledbetter suggest that many people needed shoes more than they needed a Kodak.

Fortunately, people will always love the idea of capturing special moments, and itinerant - or traveling - photographers journeyed from town to town seeking these opportunities. Other photographers set up permanent studios in promising locations such as Gainesville.

Some of your keepsakes may be portraits taken in photography studios, but most will be group photos of at least 10 people standing or sitting in front of a store or homestead structure. Itinerant photographers specialized in these because they were potentially more profitable. One photograph cost the same whether it had one or ten people in it. However, each person in the picture might wish to purchase a copy, multiplying the photographer’s earnings.


Thomas Glass advertisements

The Ozark County News in Gainesville ran ads and announcements about times, days and places itinerant photographers would bring their tent studios to town. They might stay for a few days or even a few months before moving on to the next town.

From 1891 to 1912 at least 10 itinerant photographers purchased advertising in the Ozark County News.

On May 28, 1891, Thomas Glass tried his hand at hard-sell marketing with this ad in the Ozark County News (as printed): “Don’t forget you can have a large Family groop taken at the photograph gallery, Thos. Glass Photographer. I am here and intend to remain a short time, all wanting Photographs should come at once. I garntee satisfaction.” I assume copy editing wasn’t very important at the News in those days.

Glass tried another approach on June 11: “What makes the people stand back when they can get a first class Photograph taken at the gallery.” On July 2 Glass reports: “I must leave just after the 4th, all parties wanting Photographs had better call at my gallery at once.” A follow-up item on July 27 informed readers that Glass “has moved his tent back to Ava. Those who were so unfortunate as not to get their shadows made, must be content to look in the mirior.”


A rough, profitable and competitive business

It was undoubtedly a rough life hauling camera equipment and camping supplies on the rugged roads that traced the Ozarks hills. A notice in the Ozark County News on March 22, 1894, reported that “The recent high waters caused our photographer, Mr. Lell DeBurger, to move his gallery to a higher and dryer place. He says taking pictures with the water up to his neck doesn’t pay.”

Yet it was evidently worth the trip, sometimes repeated trips. In April 1895, a Mr. Coffman of Coffman & Adams from Mountain Grove came to Gainesville for two days “soliciting work among our citizens.” He took a few photographs and returned to Mountain Grove to finish them. Since business was promising on this trip, Coffman returned in June just in time for seasonal events.

S. E. Dollarhide of Protem planned to set up a permanent jeweler/photographer business in Gainesville, according to the Ozark County News in 1900: “He has rented a house and will soon move his family and make this place his permanent home. Gainesville needs more business enterprises and we welcome Mr. Dollarhide as such into our midst.” Mr. Dollarhide evidently changed his mind, for I find no more mentions of him in the News.

Perhaps competition from a photographer named Walter Nunn deterred Dollarhide from moving to town. The News office announced that Nunn ordered a large amount of printing from the paper: “Note heads, envelopes, and his business card on the face of several hundred photo mounts of many different styles.” The items suggest that Nunn, like Dollarhide, anticipated big business in town.


John S. Hogard, a successful photographer here

Announcements and advertisements give evidence of many other roaming photographers that traveled through Ozark County, including Walter F. Sharp, J. R. Cutting, Virgil McMurtrey, Mr. Eberhart, J. Brooks (“the photographer of Caney”) and the Henderson Brothers.

John S. Hogard was probably the most successful photographer in Ozark County from 1900-1915. His grandfather was John A. Hogard, who came from Tennessee with his family and homesteaded east of Gainesville near Sallee Cemetery in 1875. John S. Hogard’s father was Byas Hogard, who owned three hotels in Gainesville, the Ozark House in 1883, the Central Hotel in 1886 and the Hogard Hotel in 1906.

Young John Hogard had a farm to manage, but he started up a photography business to make ends meet. On Nov. 16, 1899 the Ozark County News reported that “our Photographer” is in West Plains, indicating that he is either known to Gainesville citizens as their local photographer or he had reached an agreement with the Gainesville newspaper to take pictures for them.

However, his commitment to newspaper and farm work was interrupted by life on the road as a traveling photographer. On March 1, 1900, he “has been located at Lutie with his picture gallery, has moved to Theodosia and is doing a big buisness at that place.” On March 14, 1901, the paper announced a new partner for Hogard’s business, his brother-in-law John Schevalley from Oakland, Arkansas.

By 1901, Hogard and his partner could settle in a permanent studio over the newspaper office, now called the Ozark County Times. One of his ads in the Times reads: “Your photograph will be the best you ever saw if you come here. Our work continues to please more people every day. Glad to have you come up at any time and see our work.”

A later announcement indicates that his business was expanding from taking photos described as “Portraits from life in Platnum or Gloss surface paper” to “copying and enlarging. Stamps and Buttons.”

Hogard used the latest technology for his work, including the flash lamp. Invented in 1899 as a way to take photographs in poor lighting, the flash lamp was very dangerous. The photographer would fill a pan with flash powder and ignite the powder, causing a small explosion that would lead to a quick flash of light. Photographers were sometimes killed or injured in the process. Hogard used the process to photograph a church children’s choir after Easter services. All survived, and the congregation was dismissed.

On Sunday, June 9, 1906, Hogard attended a huge family reunion at the home of W. T. Harlin. The event was in honor of Harlin’s mother, Mrs. H. T. King. All of her eight Harlin sons, “all grown up businessmen,” and their families were present on that day.

The group assembled for dinner on the ground at a ball field north of Gainesville, followed by “a few snap-shots” from John Hogard.

Apparently being the busiest photographer in Ozark County wasn’t enough. From 1904 to 1913 he and his father also started and managed an independent telephone company connecting Gainesville with West Plains.


An invaluable gift to generations to come

The only people who didn’t benefit from photography were criminals. Police learned that photos taken by a photographer could be cheaply reproduced and issued to lawmen all over the country. According to the Feb. 8, 1894, Ozark County News: “A criminal once in the toils, and photographed for police purposes, may count his career practically ended. Every police and detective agency in the country and every penetentiary warden or prison governor is supplied with a copy of it. He is taken in on suspicion on the strength of his features made familiar.”

When World War I seemed unavoidable, photography became important to families as young men started enlisting. On Aug. 16, 1917, photographer Eberhart published urgent appeals to his customers: “Do you realize that many of your loved ones will leave for the war? Will you have anything but a memory of them when they are gone? Better than that is to have a photograph, which will keep a likeness with you for all time. Eberhart, the Photographer, is ready to serve you.” Tent studios continued to serve the needs of people who could not afford to travel because of time or money. It was a thriving business well into the 1940s. 

The photographs that were produced through those early means are now invaluable, allowing us to reach back more than a century to understand the past in a way that no other medium allows. Photos give us a glimpse into the story of those who came before us in a way that words cannot, and sometimes, as shown here, the story of the person behind the camera is just as interesting as those who sat in front of it.

Ozark County Times

504 Third Steet
PO Box 188
Gainesville, MO 65655

Phone: (417) 679-4641
Fax: (417) 679-3423