William Henry Jackson was an explorer, photographer, and artist. He is also one of those most often overlooked figures of the American West. His larger claim to fame involves his repeated forays into the western lands of nineteenth-century America as a photographer. Jackson’s life spanned multiple incarnations of the American West. In a sense, he played a singular role in revealing the West to eastern Americans. While others opened the frontier with the axe and the rifle, Jackson did so with his collection of cameras. He dispelled the geological myths through a lens no one could deny or match. His wet plate collodion prints not only helped to reframe the nation’s image of the West, but they also enticed businessmen, investors, scientists, and even tourists to venture into the western regions of the United States. Prior to Jackson’s widely circulated photographs, the American West was little understood and unmapped—mysterious lands that required a camera and a cameraman to reveal their secrets and, ultimately, provide the first photographic record of such exotic destinations as Yellowstone, Mesa Verde, and the Rocky Mountains.
Jackson’s story was long and his life full, as he lived to the enviable age of 99. This biography presents the good, bad, and ugly of Jackson’s life, both personal and professional, through the use primary source materials, including Jackson’s autobiographies, letters, and government reports on the Hayden Surveys.
Tim McNeese, PhD, is a professor of history at York University in Nebraska, where he has taught for 30 years. Over the past 30 years, Dr. McNeese has published more than 130 titles on subjects ranging from the building of the Great Wall of China to 19th century stagecoaches. Dr. McNeese received the 2022 Nebraska Book Award for nonfiction biography.
In addition to Dr. McNeese’s publications, he also has film credits to his name. In 2005, he was the consulting historian for a History Channel program titled Risk Takers, History Makers: John Wesley Powell and the Grand Canyon. He has also made multiple appearances on the American Heroes Channel series, America: Facts vs. Fiction; worked on a documentary on the life of General Pershing (Blackjack Pershing: Love and War); and in 2019 he appeared as an on-screen historian for the Discovery CuriosityStream series American Icons. He lives in York, Nebraska.