George Ben Wittick arrived in the Southwest in 1878 to work as a photographer documenting the progress of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad. He left behind a wife and six children in Moline, Illinois where he operated a photo studio following the Civil War. After his tour with the railroad he operated studios in Albuquerque (Wittick & Russell), Santa Fe and Gallup. His greatest success however came when he moved his studio to Fort Wingate, New Mexico. Born in Pennsylvania in 1845, Wittick was restless by nature and travelled extensively throughout the Southwest while based at Fort Wingate. He sought out remote Indian tribes, native leaders, secret ceremonies and the wildly beautiful scenery of the rugged Southwest in the process capturing the waning days of the frontier in the Southwest. He carried a large collection of props with him such as rifles, pistols, blankets, pottery, etc. some of which are in the collection at the photo archive. Most of his portraits were taken outside in the sunlight against carefully constructed backdrops. Because he had achieved a considerable rapport with his Indian subjects, he was allowed to take priceless images that other photographer might never have taken. There is some confusion over images attributed to or copyrighted by Wittick that may have been taken by his one time partner A. Frank Randall and vice versus. It is unclear how they actually worked together but it is believed they traded negatives resulting in similar backgrounds and settings. Wittick died of rattlesnake bite at Fort Wingate in 1903. Legend has it his death was foretold by a Hopi priest.
For information about using this collection contact the Palace of the Governors Photoarchives.