Portrait of a Cowboy as a Young Artist
ELDON S. BRANDA*
D O YOU REMEMBER A BOY AT BONHAM-ERWIN SMITH BY NAME-WHO
played cowboy all the time? He is making an artistic record with
the camera of cowboy life that I believe will be of prime value. I go up
to Boston-where he is now an art student-this week to go over his
Harry Peyton Steger, literary adviser for Doubleday, Page & Co. in
New York, was writing his friend back in Texas, Roy Bedichek, in
1908. Erwin Evans Smith had already gained some attention in the
East when, as a student in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, forty
enlargements of his photographs of the West were stopping crowds in
a downtown Boston exhibit. Two articles about the young cowboy
artist had already appeared, both written by Canadian born George
Pattullo, Sunday editor of the Boston Herald, who soon was to become
Smith's closest friend and partner.
Steger had grown up in the same town of Bonham, Texas, where
Erwin Smith, several years his junior, had lived. Steger had left Bon-
ham in 1897 at the age of fifteen to enter the University of Texas
where he became one of that institution's youngest and most lauded
graduates; after taking a Master's degree, he studied Sanscrit at Johns
Hopkins University, went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, traveled
extensively on the European continent, and finally settled in New
York with Doubleday, Page & Co." Worldly and sophisticated, he was
to interview the hometown boy "who played cowboy" back in the
non-cowboy town of Bonham.
The young man he saw in Boston was now a lean, rangy six-footer,
with the bronzed face and hard body of the outdoorsman. He was
indeed a cowboy, in his speech, his gait, his leathery appearance. There
was also a reticence in his grey eyes, in the sensitive face that gave a
lie to the stereotyped portrait of a gun-toting cowboy. Going through
*Mr. Branda is an editorial assistant on the staff of the Quarterly.
'Harry Peyton Steger to Roy Bedichek, October 21, 19o8, in Will C. Hogg, et al. (eds.),
The Letters of Harry Peyton Steger, 1899-1912 (Austin, 1915), 312-313.
sBoston Herald, January 12, 19o8; "Glimpses of Cowboy Life In Texas," Photo-Era,
XX (June, 19o8), 288-296.
"Hogg, et al. (eds.), The Letters of Harry Peyton Steger, ix-xv.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 71, July 1967 - April, 1968. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth117145/. Accessed May 3, 2015.