- Historic Sites
Into The Face Of History
Starting with a single, haunting battlefield image, an amateur photo detective managed to reconstruct a forgotten photographer’s life and uncover a treasure of Indian portraits.
November 1992 | Volume 43, Issue 7
I learned that Fouch had photographic studios in a number of locations in the Minneapolis area. Later he owned a photo supply store, which he eventually sold to Kodak, and then he left the photography business. He became a real estate agent after arriving in Los Angeles. The last picture I have of John Fouch was taken on his eighty-fourth birthday. In addition to a splendid mustache, he sports a camera slung around his neck. He died in Glendale, California, on August 7, 1933.
Many puzzle pieces are still missing, and many questions remain unanswered. But John Fouch’s work speaks for itself. He was an excellent photographer, who went into the wilderness when danger still abounded and with his sensitive portraits and landscapes captured the closing chapter of the long struggle for domination of the Great Plains. Yet it seems that his frontier efforts were not commercially successful. Photographs like his are rare because few were produced and sold in the first place. His grandson recalls his saying that he “couldn’t make any money out there selling pictures to the Indians.”
My researches did reveal that John H. Fouch was not totally unknown. The Smithsonian and the Montana Historical Society have several of his images. A few of his photographs have been published over the years but usually without attribution and in some cases bearing the credit of another photographer.
But, so far at least, history has not been especially kind to John Fouch. It still amazes me that a pioneer photographer responsible for such important images could be virtually unknown, and that so many of his photographs could remain so long undiscovered. I am happy to have a hand in correcting that.
Facts (and photographs) are all too easily misplaced or forgotten and, once lost, are very hard to retrieve. But that challenge makes for great rewards, and it’s all a lot of fun. So on I go. John Fouch took two views of the Custer Battlefield, and I found only one. The other is still out there.