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May 11: Photographer D.F. Barry

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Grave of photographer D.F. Barry in Greenwood Cemetery near Superior, Wisconsin.
Photo by Jack Dura
Dakota Datebook
Grave of photographer D.F. Barry in Greenwood Cemetery near Superior, Wisconsin.

Bismarck was home to a number of historical characters in its early years. One of them was photographer D.F. Barry. He is remembered for his photography of Native Americans, frontier forts, battlefields and military officers. His subjects included Sitting Bull, Gall, Rain-in-the-Face, Red Cloud, Buffalo Bill Cody, Annie Oakley and General George Crook.

David Francis Barry was born in 1854 in New York. His family moved in 1861 to Wisconsin. In 1878, photographer Orlando Scott Goff hired Barry to help in his gallery in Bismarck. Barry honed his skills under Goff as his apprentice, employee and business partner. For several years, Barry traveled to locations like Fort Buford, Fort Yates and other forts in the region, bringing with him a portable photography studio. His photographs are considered classics of the American West.

In 1884, Barry took over Goff’s studio in Bismarck. Barry befriended Buffalo Bill Cody, and photographed the folks Cody’s Wild West Show. The Lakota gave Barry the nickname “Little Shadow Catcher.” An advertisement for Barry’s studio in 1889 boasted of the “largest collection of Indian photographs in the world.”

Barry had also made several visits to the site of Custer’s Last Stand, the 1876 battle where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer and the Seventh Cavalry met their fate in present-day Montana. His advertising claimed his photos of the site were the only correct set of views ever taken.

Around this date in 1890, Barry was loading his goods to leave Bismarck, due to faded interest in his photographs. He set up shop in booming Superior, Wisconsin. He moved New York in 1897, but missed the west and his old friends. He returned to Superior, and in 1934 he died at age 80. His headstone reads: “The Little Shadow Catcher - Celebrated Photographer of Famous Indians.”

In 1934, the Denver Public Library purchased Barry’s collection of more than 1,000 original glass negatives. His images are now available on the library’s website.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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