Among the riches of the historical photograph collections of the University of Idaho Library is an oversize portfolio of eighty, original Carleton E. Watkins photographs donated to the library by Cort Conley. Long considered lost - the collection was found in a basement in San Francisco after having survived the 1906 earthquake - these photographs, taken in 1890, depict the interiors of four Anaconda Mining Company mines in Butte, Montana. Watkins is best known for his scenic, large-plate photographs of the West, but his more commercial photography, exemplified by these mining scenes, is becoming increasingly valued for its documentation and design.
Watkins was hired to photograph the Anaconda copper mine in Butte by James Ben Ali Haggin in 1889. Haggin's company, Hearst, Haggin, Tevis and Co. which was headed by fellow capitalists Lloyd Tevis and George Hearst, owned the Anaconda Mining Company, along with several other mines. Haggin and his partners had purchased majority shares in the Anaconda mine from Marcus Daly in 1881 and gradually transformed it into one of the largest copper producing mines in the world.
Watkins was hired to document the mines so that Haggin could present, later that year, "visually persuasive evidence of the mine's present success and future prospects" to European copper mining syndicates (including the Rothschild family) with whom the American copper mining interests were competing (Hult-Lewis, 247). The photographs served as a threat to the Eurpoeans, indicating that Haggin's mines could produce and distribute such a large quantity of copper that the market value of the metal would be drastically diminished. The threat worked: the Europoean syndicates and the Americans both promised to limit production to better guarantee the market.
As his letters from Butte attest, Watkins time in Montana was anything but comfortable. Living out of his railroad car, Watkins dealt with howling winds, rain, snow, fires, personal health issues (bad toe, bad hip, vertigo) and terrible lighting and breathing conditions in the mine itself. Meanwhile, back in San Francisco, his wife, their two children, and his sister were dealing with their own health and money issues, having to stave off creditors and the 'wolf' of hunger at the same time. Lonely, weakened by a poor diet, and pining for his family, Watkins nevertheless managed to produce captivating photographs of the working mines—some as deep as 1,000 feet—by using a combination of electric and flash lighting.
For a more detailed look at the mining photography of Carleton Watkins, and for more information on these photographs in particular, we recommend the recent dissertation of Christine A. Hult-Lewis, The Mining Photographs of Carelton Watkins, 1858-1891, and the Origins of Corporate Photography. Hult-Lewis contextualizes these photographs among the large body of mining photography Watkins created during his lifetime, describing these late photographs of Watkins as breaks from his usual style:
In Montana, the otherworldly, claustrophobic underground pictures represent a marked depature from his usual expansive, open-ended style and presented views that challenged the prevailing landscape aesthetic of the day — an aesthetic that he himself was instrumental in crafting (226).
Watkins' non-mining photographs are astounding as well, and are definitely worth perusing. A few collections are listed below. We also carry several books at the library containing his photographs, including Photographs of the Columbia River and Oregon, Carleton E. Watkins : photographs, 1861-1874, and Carleton E. Watkins, photographer of the American West.
At the age of fifty, Carleton Watkins married 22-year-old Frances ('Frankie') Henrietta Sneed in 1879 and proceeded to have two children, Collis Potter and Julia Caroline. Watkins wrote to his new wife consistently during his travels, and some of his letters to her have survived, being deposited at The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, in 1967. These were then converted into a gift in 1978 by Professor Joe Johnson — Carleton E. Watkins letters (Banc Mss 78/92 c).
Letters from this collection pertinent to Watkins time in the Anaconda mines are reproduced here, with the kind permission of The Bancroft Library.
Hult-Lewis, Christine. The Mining Photographs of Carleton Watkins, 1858-1891, and the Origins of Corporate Photography. 2011.
Watkins, Carleton E, and Amy Rule. Carleton Watkins: Selected Texts and Bibliography. Boston, Mass: G.K. Hall, 1993. Print.
Anaconda, Saturday, 5 July 
Yesterday, the "glorious fourth", I started in to do some work and did do some although the day was not satisfactory and today it is cloudy and raining. You can imagine in what humor I am in. Nearly a month gone and nothing done. The oldest inhabitant here never saw anything like it but those that are not so old say the rainy season generally lasts until the 4th of July. This year is certainly no exception. If it was good weather, I should have a tough job ahead of me and as it is it makes me pretty nearly sick and there is provocation enough without the weather. I am in constant pain with my hip and have to limp in walking. Sometimes it seems as if I could not stand it, but I have to. Went up to Butte last week and tried making views in the mine with a combination of electric and flash light and it didn't work worth a damn, but it got it "all the same." Telegraphed to New York for three more lights. When they come that part of the work won't be much of a picnic.
I am getting thin and no wonder. Of all the places I ever struck to get anything good to eat this is the worst. If you ever see me again you may expect to behold a skelating [sic]. Yesterday I had a nice lunch at Mrs. Tunny's. Besides getting a nice lunch I got the Fitz for not coming oftener. Only been once before. She says, oh! if you had only come along what a splen did time you and she would have had. They seem to be nicely fixed and will as usual have some good prospects. She wishes to be remembered and says she is going to write. People always are. Letters don't come very thick from Home when you consider there are three to write them. I don't think any of the three need stand on ceremony about getting answers. Should like to know how things are getting on. Sent a dispatch to San Rafael a few days ago to have the man pay up. Did he do so? And if he did not, how do you stand off the wolf?
Tell Juju Papa was very much pleased with her letter and would like some more. Helena all the same. And when I am not so D----- blue, will answer them.
Am going across the creek to rustle for grub and my stomach kicks before [illegible]. Hope I shall have some more pleasant news to write soon.
The wind howls so I will stop. One is enough at a time. Hope Collis is a good boy and don't wheeze. Kiss them all and keep lots for yourself.
CITATION: Letter, July 5, 1890, from Carleton Emmons Watkins letters, 1880-1890, BANC MSS 78/92 c, the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Butte, Montana, Tuesday, 22 July 
Your letters have come along at intervals and yesterday I received Juju's last. Please give her papa's love. Tell her she is a nice girl and to keep on in the same way. I expect to hear from Helena and the package of views today as also from yourself.
I came up from Anaconda last week and here I have been sitting since trying to peer though the smoke which is thick enough to cut. There is no use to swear for I have xausted [sic] all of my vocabulary and that is a pretty good one as you know and it only makes more sulfur in this country where there is so much of it. It is hot and very little wind and I can do nothing but wait. Grin. And bear it.
I sent yesterday the document to Uncle Andrew that makes Somebody else administrator to an Estate that is not worth anything, and that is off my mind. I see by Juju's letter that you have something to eat once more and I am only sorry that it will last so little while. Hope you will enjoy it while it does last.
Tell Myra that yesterday I had two (2) "red headed snappers" and one I eat [sic]! and the other I don't seem to have any particular use for. And as she likes them she can have it if she wants it. Yesterday I went down to the city for my mail and my grub and on the bill of fare saw something that made me laugh. And I told the waiter that I would take some as my best girl said it was mighty good and he laughed. And it was good. Tell Myra I wish she could have some every day and I know you would like it. I hope she has gone to work and will make some trade and reduce the expenses.
The largest mine here, the "Anaconda" which is just across the road from my car is the one that caught fire last year and was flooded with water to put out the fire. They have been pumping for a long time and just before I came to Anaconda they took out 3 of the 5 men that were killed in the mine. This morning they are preparing to take out the other two that were found last night. The mine is full of bad air and as it is the one they want the most work done in I shall have to put it off until the last. I started in when I came up to do mine work with the flash lamps and in making preparations got hot. Caught cold in a wet room, and yesterday I was so "Bunged up" that I could scarcely move. Stiff today (not the vel-hand [sic]) but better. The job is going to be interminably long, but I must wait and do good work. I don't know when you will see me but it will surely be sometime. I hope the San Rafael man has been in and paid his bill. I cannot imagine what is the matter. Keep writing and have Helena and Juju do the same. Give them all lots of hugs and kisses and in the absence of Myras Fish be satisfied with the same yourself.
CITATION: Letter, July 22, 1890, from Carleton Emmons Watkins letters, 1880-1890, BANC MSS 78/92 c, the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Butte, Sunday, 27 [July 1890]
Read your letter of 22nd yesterday and if I wanted anything to make me cuss such a letter would be just the thing. Why don't you assert your independence enough to tell people to mind their own affairs and then mind yours.
I don't see why you should have told anybody about your money business and having it. And I don't see why you should go barefoot. And Helena, the great big slat-sided galoot setting up a cry because some other galoot takes her to task about her money. Its her own, ain't it? And she can do what she wants with it. Why the H--- don't she tell them so. I am sure the amount is not [so] large that she is likely to buy a farm with it every month if she did go bare x-ed. The fact is I am ugly as sin and I think your officious friends would shut up if they had me to talk with for a little while.
I have been up here more than a week and have worked two days in the mine. Nasty work, and I don't believe it will turn out worth a dam. Outside the climate is simply execrable. Hot, dusty, windy – a gale – and so smokey that from the Hill you can't see the town and from the town you can't see the Hill. It is very doubtful if I can do anything here to my satisfaction or anywhere near it. I am getting sick literally and figuratively.
I am very sorry that your mother is unwell and I think that you should go and take care of her. Why can't you leave Helena in the place. She can make some arrangements about the night trouble with some of her friends. Take what money you have left and go. I will try and make out about the rent and I think you would all be better for it if Helena don't kick. I am in anything but a mood for writing today and I have to take this a long way to mail it if it goes tonight and among my other troubles are my feet which are in a bad way. That crooked toe is making it very unpleasant for me and to walk is pretty near torture.
What is the matter of my Sweetheart and little girl and boy too that they can't write. I should like to hear from them all and often. The wind is howling. The dust is flying and it's Ott [sic]. But I will do this up and take my shanks down the Hill and I hope that when it reaches you that all of you will all be in a better humor, and if you are not, just imagine that I am hugging and kissing you until you are happy. God bless you.
CITATION: Letter, July 27, 1890, from Carleton Emmons Watkins letters, 1880-1890, BANC MSS 78/92 c, the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Anaconda, Friday, 5th [September 1890]
Dear Wife and Babies and Sweet Heart,
It rains blue blazes and the wind howls and it is as cold as Greenland or Montana and the day is generally "Dark and Dreary" but when one gets news even under such conditions from Wife and Babies and Sweetheart - all in a heap! he must be in a bad way indeed if his heart don't feel a little chirpy and his blood warm up if it is getting thin. I am glad that there is to be no more growling.
Myra is no doubt very inconsiderate about the money but that she purposely treats you mean is I think very absurd. What possible motive can she have for doing anything of the kind and how abundant are the reasons for her not doing so. Myra has her ways as we all have and I remember you did not like them so well before I left home. I hope you will get along without having a rumpus and you need not worry about the amount of saccharine matter in any letters that I may write. No more growls from me.
I was especially delighted with the letter from Collis and from Juju. I think "your boy" did splendidly for the first time and you tell him that I shall have to take him along in the car to write my letters for me. I hope he is well by this time and that he and Juju and all the cousins and uncles and aunts will have a good time during the blowout of the Native Sons and Daughters. I shall expect "My Boy" and girl to write me very often as their letters do their papa more good than Montana grub.
Tell Sweetheart that these thin legs of mine will need a heap of magnetism if I ever get a chance again and I expect as fast as I get it somebody will be getting it away from me. The fact is that I am getting awful hungry for kisses and hugs and things. Not a blessed one of any of them have I had since I left San Francisco and I just want heaps of them.
I have got along so far without loosing my head and am in hopes that I may get home again before it flies off entirely. I don't think there will be enough left of the Haggin money to buy beef to put me in condition again. He was here two days this week but I did not see him.
I will write Sweetheart in a few days and I send her and the children lots of kisses and hugs and you lots of things.
CITATION: Letter, September 5, 1890, from Carleton Emmons Watkins letters, 1880-1890, BANC MSS 78/92 c, the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Anaconda, Sunday, 21 September 
Your letter came this morning and I was pleased to hear that you, as well as Juju, were much better. Frank's letter informed me that you had given way under the strain of continued dissipation and I hope now that the cause is removed, that you will settle down in the even tenor of your ways and that your "poor little belly" will get well and sound again.
I hope you all had a nice time with the sons and daughters but I have no doubt you are glad it is all over. I know I should be. I am longing to get home but one thing and another puts me off and off and the devil knows when I shall turn either end of the old car toward the coast. When the day does come nobody can be more pleased than I shall. I have no love for the country and what is much more to the point, I have no love for anybody in it and I want to see my "gude wife" and "my bairns" and not last nor least my dear old sweetheart. Frank says she is going to be awful good when I get home and she is not going to kick any more, if you don't, so for Heaven sake try and be gentle and don't get over the traces for my sake.
You say it looks like rain. Here there has been lots of it and snow also and cold with all but just now it is Indian Summer and the days are very nice if you did not want to make Photos, but the air is full of haze when it is not so smokey that you can see nothing. I hope it won't last but it might for two months. So everybody says. If it does, heaven save us and send us a cook.
Tell Collis that Papa is proud to think that somebody is in the house that can stand the racket and that is able to take care of the rest of the folks when they get sick. Tell him to keep his eye open and look out for the sick people and when I get home maybe I will give him a job. Tell Frank I am glad to hear that her health is spel-en-ded. I suppose she means by that that the bad spells are all over with. I am glad to hear she is not falling away, altho you seem to think so, and I shall make no objection to putting some of it on my bones if she does not try to get on too much. Kiss and hug them all around for me. Tell Juju that Papa will try and write her next time and hopes this letter will find you all well and happy. God bless you all.
CITATION: Letter, September 21, 1890, from Carleton Emmons Watkins letters, 1880-1890, BANC MSS 78/92 c, the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Anaconda [Montana], Wednesday, 27th [September 1890]
I am in no mood for writing but I have put it off so long that I feel I must write a few lines. Yesterday I was taken with one of my vertigo fits and while I manage to get about it has upset me completely. I was in hopes to get through with the infernal job before it got after me but it was not to be. I hope it will not be a bad attack. If it should, the Lord save us. The work goes awful slow and you may not expect to see me until the eleventh of October and perhaps not then. I am going to try and do the best I can. I wish you would do the same and try to get along without so much growling. I don't think it makes either one of us any happier and I am sure it don't me. I am getting very tired of Montana and I want to see you all, Wife and Babies and Sweet Heart but I have got to fight it out and I was not in very good fighting trim before this last trouble. Don't worry yourself or me about bills or money. People can't get it until I do or until I get home. With your letter came one from Myra. No news except about a rat. Am ashamed to say I have not written her yet. Tell Sweet Heart that when I get full of saccharine matter I will answer her letters and in the mean time she can keep on doing well. Is Julia so busy learning that she can t write? And Collis too. What is the matter with him? I would like to hear once in awhile that I have got some childrens.
I will try and write in a day or two and let you know how I get along. I hope the fit will wear off. Kiss the children, Sweetheart and yourself and lots of hugs all round.
CITATION: Letter, September 27, 1890, from Carleton Emmons Watkins letters, 1880-1890, BANC MSS 78/92 c, the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Anaconda, Thursday pm, 2 October 
Your letter of Sunday and Monday came today and finds me boxed up in the car and a Snow Storm raging outside and it is cold as it ought to be in a snowstorm. If you don't think I wish I was home, you are mistaken. It is bad enough when the elements are gracious but when they are not, "Good Gracious," it's Horrible
I hope to leave Anaconda in a few days for Butte and let us ' hope that I will not drag along then as I have here. When I last wrote my digestive apparatus was not on a very firm basis but was much better thanpreviously and I still have my backsliding days but Iam not as worried as I was about myself, but I am worried about Helena. Try and keep her at home and stuff her with the best things you can get money to buy. Tell her I am awful sorry but I have no fat to give her but when I get home she shall have everything I have got, fat and lean. I send you what I can very poorly spare and for Heaven Sake don't spend it for anything but grub and eat and be merry and grow fat but don't tell us of the good things you have and make our mouth water and then have to eat such Stuff as one gets here if he don't cook his own potatoes.
If this letter goes tonight it must close up. Kiss the children big and little and give them fat hugs as you are the only one in the family that deals in that healthy commodity. The wind is howling outside and it just goes through my rickety old bones. But never mind we'll get fat again I hope. All of us. God bless you.
CITATION: Letter, October 2, 1890, from Carleton Emmons Watkins letters, 1880-1890, BANC MSS 78/92 c, the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.
Anaconda, Monday, 15th [October 1890]
I must write you a few lines however little I feel like it. You see I am still at this horrible hole. Froze up or so nearly so. There is no fun in it. There has been continual snow and wind and hail and sleet and every other detestable element of weather that the clerk can give us for nearly ten days. And with all my other troubles my hands are awful and the German salve is all used up. I bought some Russian salve a couple days ago and used it one night and it kept me awake nearly all night with the heat and inflammation.
I am anxious to hear from you and suppose my letters are going to Butte. I received one from Frank that was remailed to this place. I hope you have broken up the fever and are getting along nicely. It is bad enough to be poor and not have anything to eat without being sick in the bargain. I am hungry for home. I want to see you all and hug you all and if you have nothing else, eat you all up.
I hope to get out of this place in four days and have been hoping so for a month. Some day I will make a start.
You must forgive me for not writing a longer letter. There is nothing to say and I have got the Dumps. Kiss and hug them all around for me and keep lots for yourself.
CITATION: Letter, October 15, 1890, from Carleton Emmons Watkins letters, 1880-1890, BANC MSS 78/92 c, the Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.