More than one eminent photographer sat up shop in or around Dodge City in the late 19th century.
In addition to William S. Soule, who I wrote about earlier, is F.M. Steele who lived, worked and died in Dodge City. He is famous for the pastoral farm scenes and individual portraits he photographed in southwest Kansas.
Francis Marion Steele was born in Stanton, Illinois, on September 14, 1866. F.M. Steele got his start in the photography vocation at age of 13 while working for G.T. Atkinson of Kansas City, MO.
In 1890 he came to Dodge City as a traveling photographer with a covered wagon. Referring to himself as a "tourist photographer and artist," he spent the next 15 years making a living by trekking throughout southwest Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. While documenting the expansion of the western frontier, he took breathtaking photographs of cattle drives, round ups, railroads, ranching, farming, settlers and towns, and special events.
In August1894, he toured the Meade area concentrating on cowboys and people at work. He followed various round-ups in a buggy which carried his photographic supplies. He advertised in the Meade Globe his work was guaranteed and that he had the latest equipment for taking flash photography. He displayed at least 50 ranch and farm photos taken south of Meade in the old Mosser Gallery which he rented and converted into a beautiful studio. The facility had a toilet room where his customers could fix their hair and clothing.
Steele specialized in touching up his photographs with crayons and pastels, and had a copy machine in addition to a camera which could take good pictures on clear or cloudy days. The results were comparable to those of studios in larger cities.
On May, 26, 1895, F.M. Steele married Pink Fletcher. As F.M. traveled throughout the area, Pink lived with and worked for a doctor in Liberal. After the birth of her daughter, she came back to Meade where she taught school.
Two months after giving birth to another daughter in 1897, Pink divorced F.M. who had purchased a studio in Bucklin. Steele did not stay unmarried for long. In 1900, he married Sadie Harp of Mullinville with whom he spent the rest of his life.
He worked for the Rock Island Railroad as a special photographer in Greensburg and begin traveling around the country on 1903 as he photographed the wheat crop. At that time he begin taking photographs in natural color and used a telephoto lens which made farther objects look closer.
In 1906, he bought a studio in Dodge City. At the same time, he had a studio in Hutchinson, which he operated until 1920 until he moved to McCook, Nebraska, for 10 years.
In 1935 he spent a brief time in Meade where he reunited with a daughter and met four grandchildren. He then returned to Dodge City where he spent the last months of his life selling photographs to tourists at Boot Hill Cemetery and working for Aiken Studio.
On January 2, 1936, F.M. and Sadie Steele died of asphyxiation when a boiling pot of water extinguished the flame on their gas stove in Dodge City. They are buried in Hillcrest Cemetery at Mullinville.
Steele’s photographs remain, documenting, and preserving in an artistic manner, a "way of life" that has since disappeared into the pages of time.
Kathie Bell is the curator of collections and education for Boot Hill Museum.