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Photographer Frank Jay Haynes


Americans dreamed endlessly about a forthcoming day when they might strike it rich and gain both fame and fortune. For many, it remained just a fantasy beyond their wildest thoughts, but for a fortunate few, dreams became reality, and the American West became a gateway to an American Dream.

Frank Jay Haynes grasped the unpredictabilities of the West and wrestled them to the ground. In 1876, he journeyed to Fargo with nothing but a ten-cent piece in his pocket, and it was in Fargo that he made a name for himself.

Haynes took his camera and grew into the position of official photographer of the Northern Pacific Railway, as observers recognized that the quality of his photographs and stereoscopic views along the railway rivaled those of the best photographers in the East.

Haynes traversed westward towards Yellowstone Park in 1881 and headed through the Badlands area at Medora, a region along the Little Missouri River dubbed “Pyramid Park” by the railroad. His photos of buttes and winding trails became a foundational part of his collections.

Haynes especially loved Yellowstone National Park and built a photography studio within the park’s boundaries. As he captured the natural beauty of the curiosities around him, Haynes gained another position – as the official photographer for the park.

On this date, as published in the Bismarck Tribune in 1880, Haynes advertised his photo gallery in Fargo, offering a multitude of scenic stereoscopic views of Yellowstone Park and “all important places on the line of the Northern Pacific Railroad.” For only two dollars, a customer would get a dozen photos.

Mr. Haynes not only took photos, he also collected Western artifacts, and he displayed his treasures in his Fargo office. A piece of sulfur straight from the Badlands; a bit of glass formed naturally by a volcano in Yellowstone; and even a watch chain from the battlefield where Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer’s life was taken – all these were on exhibit.

An exaggerated Bismarck Tribune newspaper story claimed that Haynes owned a Yellowstone geyser laced with gold that gold-plated anything dipped in its spout – a metaphor for Haynes’s rise from humble beginnings in Fargo.

Frank Jay Haynes’s photo collection testified of his “Western grit,” for he traveled around the Great Northwest to find adventure and a measure of fame and fortune. His life showed the possibilities of the frontier for an enterprising soul.

Dakota Datebook written by Shelby Cossette and Dr. Steve Hoffbeck, History Department, MSU Moorhead.

Sources: “F. Jay Haynes: Official Photographer N.P.R.R.,” Bismarck Tribune, May 7, 1880, p. 8.

“A Valuable Cabinet,” Bismarck Tribune , November 9, 1883, p. 4.

“Gold Plate Geyser,” Bismarck Tribune , July 21, 1882, p. 8.

“Haynes’ Lucky Strike,” Bismarck Tribune , April 8, 1881, p. 1.

“Personal,” Bismarck Tribune , May 11, 1883, p. 8.

“Purely Personal,” Bismarck Tribune , June 25, 1880, p. 4.

“Pyramid Park,” The Wheeling Daily Intelligencer , August 20, 1883, p. 1.

“The Bad Lands,” Bismarck Tribune , October 6, 1882, p. 6.

“Artistic Productions,” Bismarck Tribune , September 17, 1880, p. 1.

“Mr. F. Jay Haynes returned last evening from his Yellowstone park trip,” Bismarck Tribune , October 21, 1881, p. 8.

“The National Park,” Bismarck Tribune , October 28, 1881, p. 1.