Solomon DeVore Butcher, 1856-1927 [RG2608.AM]


RG2608.AM: Solomon DeVore Butcher, 1856-1927

Papers, research materials: 1885-1926, n.d.; 1977-1985
Custer County and Kearney, Buffalo County, Neb.: Photographer
Size: 1.0 cu.ft.; 2 boxes


Solomon Butcher was born January 25, 1856 in Burtion, West Virginia. In 1859 the Butcher family moved to Winona, Illinois and 21 years later removed to Nebraska. Mr. Butcher took a claim 22 miles north of Broken Bow near the place upon which his father had located. At a later time, Mr. Butcher relinquished his homestead and returned east. In the fall of 1881 and spring of 1882, he was enrolled in the Minnesota Medical College and Hospital in Minneapolis. In October of 1882 he returned with his wife to Custer County where he started the first photographic studio in the county. In the autumn of 1883 he enlarged his studio with a living room also made of sod. It was in 1886 that Butcher first planned his history of Custer County. He spent seven years in preparation, making 1535 farm views and sketches of settlers. A fire destroyed the sketches, but Butcher continued to write and published the history in 1901. He also wrote a book called “Sod House.” After living in Greeley, Colorado for about a year, Solomon Butcher died on May 18, 1927. He was survived by his second wife; a step-daughter, Ruby S. Nation; a son, Capt. J. L. Butcher; and a daughter, Mrs. Will Russo.

A more detailed biography can be found in Solomon D. Butcher: Photographing the American Dream by John E. Carter.


This collection consists of two boxes of manuscript material arranged in five series: 1) Correspondence, 1911-1916, 1926, and undated; 2) Business Records, 1903-1912 and undated; 3) Cataloging Records, 1885-1911 and 1926; 4) Research Materials, 1977-1985; and 5) Miscellany. This material relates to the career of Solomon D. Butcher as an itinerant photographer in the Nebraska sandhills and the photographic record that he left behind, which is now part of the collections of the Nebraska State Historical Society.

Note: The Butcher collection of 4000 prints and negatives is available in the Nebraska State Historical Society’s photograph collections. It is also available on-line through the Library of Congress via their American Memory website.

The Correspondence, 1911-1916, 1926, and undated, of Series 1 relates primarily to the purchase of Solomon D. Butcher’s photograph and manuscript collection by the State of Nebraska for retention at the Nebraska State Historical Society. Letters between Butcher and the Society’s director, A.E. Sheldon, reflect problems Sheldon faced in receiving state appropriation for the purchase. The 1926 letters from Butcher are typescript copies. Included in this series are copies of the contract, 1911, between Butcher and Sheldon for transfer of the Butcher collection to the Society, 1911.

The Business Records of Series 2 include receipt books, 1903-1904, for orders placed with Butcher for his Dawson and Buffalo County histories. Of particular interest is the biographical information on each purchased written on the bottom half of the order blanks. This series also includes Butcher’s Photograph Record Book, 1912, which numbers and describes scenes that he photographed in various Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Montana towns. A Biographical Notebook and an Order Book, both undated, also record information on purchasers and scenes photographed.

Series 3 consists of Cataloging Records listing materials sent by Butcher to the Nebraska State Historical Society. The inventory of negatives pertains to photographic work done by Butcher during the years 1885-1911. Also included in this series is an inventory of materials sent to the Society in 1926; a listing of negatives taken in states other than Nebraska; and a catalog of half tone pictures from Butcher’s Pioneer History of Custer County.

Series 4 is comprised of the Research Materials gathered by John E. Carter for his authoritative work on Butcher, Solomon D. Butcher: Photographing the American Dream. Included are files on Butcher family history, biographical materials on Butcher, and a correspondence file compiled by Carter as his research progressed.

The Miscellany of Series 5 includes an autobiographical sketch by Butcher, biographical notes, advertisements, and an exhibit catalog featuring a Butcher photograph.


Series 1 – Correspondence, 1911-1916, 1926, and undated

Box 1

  1. 1911-1916, 1926, and undated

Series 2 – Business Records, 1903-1912 and undated

  1. Receipt Book, 1903
  2. Receipt Book, 1904
  3. Photo Record Book, 1912
  4. Biographical Notebook and Order Book, undated

Series 3 – Cataloging Records, 1885-1911, 1926

  1. Catalog of Negatives of Nebraska, 1885-1911
  2. Negatives of Which Prints Have Been Made, #1-#862
  3. Negatives of Which Prints Have Not Been Made, #900-#2508
  4. Negatives, #2910-#3318
    Inventory of Items Received from Franklin, NE, 1926
    Negatives from Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, South Dakota
    Half tone pictures from Butcher’s Pioneer History of Custer County

Series 4 – Research Materials, 1977-1985

  1. Biographical Material
  2. Butcher Family
  3. Politics
  4. Census Data

Box 2

  1. Correspondence
  2. Jefferson Post Office
  3. Maps
  4. Minneapolis Medical College
  5. News Articles
  6. Obituaries
  7. Sale of Negatives
  8. Secondary Sources
  9. Secondary Sources
  10. Secondary Sources
  11. Walworth, Nebraska
  12. Harry E. Chrisman Collection

Series 5 – Miscellany

  1. Autobiographical sketch
    Biographical notes
    Exhibit catalog featuring Butcher photograph

Subject headings:

Butcher, Solomon DeVore, 1856-1927
Carter, John Edward, 1950-
Custer County (Neb.) — History
Photographers — Nebraska
Photography — Nebraska
Sandhills (Neb.)
Sod houses — Nebraska

DDM/pmc 10-1985
AIP/ksa 01-1990
03-04-2010 Revised TMM

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