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Monday, April 3, 2017

Pioneer Photographer Preserves History.......by Gail L. Jenner


Louis Herman Heller, Pioneer Photographer, Preserves Local and Regional History

Although he was not as well known as many early, historic photographers, Louis Herman Heller was significant to early photography taken during the latter days of the gold rush in the "northern mines" of Northern California and Southern Oregon. He later became more important for his photographs taken during the Modoc War, the "last" Indian War in the West.

In our "neck of the woods," Heller was also important because his studio was located in Siskiyou County, and many of my husband's family were photographed by Heller. This is a photo of my husband's great grandmother, Mary "Muzzy" Wagner Jenner, c. 1886.
Louis Herman Heller emigrated from Germany in 1839 then moved from New York to California in 1862, after a brother died in the Civil War. A lithographer, he had assisted Julius Bien, a fellow German immigrant, in producing the chromolithographic edition of Audubon’s famous BOOK OF BIRDS. 

Heller settled in Yreka, California, where he set up a photographic studio in May 1863. The studio was located on Miner Street, one door west of the Yreka Brewery.

For several years, Heller traveled around the region, including Happy Camp, Rough and Ready (present-day Etna), Sawyer’s Bar, Callahan, and Fort Jones.  Heller traveled extensively, carrying his “gallery” all over the back country. Many of his studio prints remain as part of local family histories and a number of them have found their way into the local museums.  One massive chair, ornately carved, was often used in his studio portraits. In addition, Heller photographed the region’s emerging towns and communities, including  Black Bear Mine on the Salmon River, one of the region's most important and productive gold mines.

Heller is most noted for his photographs of the Modoc War, although he received only modest recognition because he sold his images to Carleton Watkins, who was credited for them when they appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper.   

The terrain of the lava beds was so rough and hard to map that the military called in the Corps of Engineers to photograph the topography and make maps and sketches. Heller was called in to photograph and do the sketches. Heller was also the first one on the scene to photograph the captured Modoc warriors, although Eadweard Muybridge, a San Francisco photographer, came later and received greater recognition than Heller.

Louis Heller was once called "the indefatigable photographer of the Modoc War." Of the nearly 100 images that exist of the infamous Modoc War, a set of Keller’s original 24 stereographs are kept at the University of Oregon, and a number of his over-sized photographs of the Modoc warriors are held at the National Anthropological Archives. 
According to the Yreka Journal:

            “Louis Heller returned from lava bed last week, and is now busy finishing up some beautiful and accurate views of the country in that section, including pictures of Jack's cave, Scarfaced Charley's hole, groups of Warm Spring Indians (scouts), soldiers camps, Tule Lake, and the lava bed in sections and in full..." This photo shows Schonchin and Jack. "Captain Jack" (Kientpoos) was the leader of the Modocs; originally for peace, he was hung. Truly, the Modoc War was a tragic event for all.

Again, according to the news article, regarding Heller: "Mr. Heller intends getting a copyright for his [Modoc] views, which cannot be excelled for beauty, shade and artistic finish, he being one of the most accurate and ingenious photographers on this coast. When they are ready for sale, they will undoubtedly sell with a rush, as everyone wants to see what the lava bed looks like, and to form an idea of the hard place soldiers have been obliged to fight the Indians[Yreka Journal, May 14, 1873]. Heller’s photographs were then mass-produced at Watkins' Gallery in San Francisco where". . . 20 women and a number of  'Chinamen' (are) being kept constantly at work" (Yreka Journal, June 25, 1873).  The photographic postcards sold for $4 per dozen. Today these are important historic relics.

After the Modoc War of 1872-73, Heller returned to Scott Valley and his private studio. This photo of a young boy comes from Fort Jones, but there is no identification. Notice the elaborate "setting" or vignette Heller created for his subjects.

Heller continued to travel all over Siskiyou County and beyond, but he also served as a justice of the peace for the valley from 1878-79 and as postmaster for Fort Jones from 1894-98. A long-time bachelor, he eventually married Alice Daggett, the sister of John Daggett (owner of the Black Bear Mine who also served as CA lieutenant governor and Superintendent of the Mint in San Francisco).  Heller opened a pharmacy in Fort Jones, alongside his studio, nothing that he had been “a thorough druggist of many years experiences previous to locating in Fort Jones.”

To keep up with the times, he added several photographic services usually available only in metropolitan studios. One of these was the hand-painting of imperial-sized portraits.

Heller gave up photography in 1899, and in 1900, his home, studio, and private property, including his photographic equipment, were sold at public auction. His wife died before him and he spent his remaining years in the King’s Daughters’ Home in San Francisco, where he died in 1928.

The fact remains that Heller was the first to photograph the Modoc War, being the first to arrive at the lava beds with his camera, the first to publish Modoc imagery in a national publication, and the first to photograph the Modoc captives. In addition, he captured hundreds of family portraits that are an integral part of Siskiyou County and local history.

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Gail L. Jenner is a multi-published author of historical fiction, 
published by Prairie Rose Publications, as well as regional and local history, including ACROSS THE SWEET GRASS HILLS, Winner of the WILLA Literary Award, from Women Writing the West.


For more, visit: www.gailjenner.com or https://www.amazon.com/Gail-Fiorini-Jenner/e/B005GHR47O.

15 comments:

  1. What a great post, Gail. I enjoy learning more about the history of the northern part of California--it tends to get lost sometimes with so much focus on the San Francisco-Sacramento-southern gold fields history. Thank you for sharing.

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    1. Hi Robyn: Actually you are right....so much of this rich history in NORTHERN CA is often overlooked. Heller was significant but his name is rarely noted. We have lots of local family photos done by him. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. very interesting. I have some written stries, true, my Grandma took down in the early 1900's from Klamath and even possibly other tribes? I have some of the basket the gave her also. Grandma died at age 59(so young! of empheyma and didn't even smoke) on Easter Sunday 1962 before I was one year old. I was born 9/6/1961, her birthday is Setember 8th. She and I are always together, well I will write a novel telling you why and how lol! I would very much like for you to see these stories and other baskets and beadinging, and much other historical documentation, my Great Grandpa, Grandpa, and Dad were ALL career U.S. Forest Service ... my Dad and Grandpa both were Forest Supervisors on the Lassen Nation Forest, Shasta-Trinity NF, Grandpa on the Lassen, Klamath, San Bernardino. Both of them are WILLIAM V. JONES. My name is Valerie Franco I live in Redding, CA. My phone is (530)246-2769. email: valsawolverine@charter.net. If you are inclined! "no pressure or hurry, goodness, i take decades to get to things at times LOL!)

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    1. Hi Valerie! Sounds like you have a lot of stories to tell. A good thing -- don't let them go, for sure. We can stay in touch. My email: gfiorini@sisqtel.net. Thanks for stopping by and taking such an interest!! And don't let toooooo many decades go by ....

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    2. By the way, Valerie, our daughter and her family live in Redding!! Maybe we can take time to get together?

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  3. please forgive my horrid spelling and grammar! it is this small phone!! i swear!

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  4. I love the stories of the 'unsung' heroes and the people who never received the recognition in their field that others did. I'm thinking of Ansel Adams in particular. Such an interesting article. Thank you.

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    1. Hi Kaye... Yes, many of these folks get lost in the pages of history. Wonder how many are never 'discovered?' At least Ansel Adams has become much more of a household name in recent times! But such contributions!!! Thanks for stopping by. Cheers -

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  5. What a great story. Isn't that the way history is with the 'true' story coming to light after much research. Thank you for bringing this one to light. Doris

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    1. Hi Doris! Yes, so many of these stories are tucked away in old journals, etc. Around here, Heller is known, but he had a more far-reaching impact than just locally. I love digging up some of these old stories.

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  6. Thank you for this wonderful history lesson. I love learning this way.

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Savanna! I love learning this way, too.

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  7. What a shame that Heller didn't get the recognition he so deserved. I am amazed at the ruggedness of these early western photographers. I can only imagine how hard it must have been to get those pictures, but without them, we wouldn't have such a clear and vivid idea of how life really was for those adventurous men and women who traveled west.
    How very lucky you are to have your husband's family photographs made by Heller. I know they have got to be family treasures.
    This was a terrific piece, Gail. You definitely write the most interesting articles and I know you put a great deal of time and effort into them.

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    1. Hi Sarah:

      Thanks for stopping by. A lot of locals have photos done by Heller and our little Fort Jones museum has a number, too, although many are unidentified (sadly!!).

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