By Heather Frey Blanton Copyright 2014 Heather Blanton
“Manual labour . . . is all I care about, and, after all, is what will really make a strong woman. I like to break colts, brand calves, cut down trees, ride and work in a garden.” Evelyn Cameron
Born in England in 1868, Evelyn Flower was the daughter of a wealthy East Indian merchant. She was born to a life of leisure and comfort. But not for it.
In 1889, Evelyn decided to walk away from the feather beds and army of servants. She married Ewen Cameron, a man who preferred the stars above to a roof over his head. He and Evelyn honeymooned in the Bad Lands of eastern Montana and fell in love with the area. They both lived to ride, hunt, and explore, and the chance to determine their own destinies was a siren’s song.
Full of hope, they bought a ranch and commenced to raising horses. The venture turned out to be beyond their experience, however, so they down-sized and attempted to breed polo ponies for the boys back in England. If the first ranching effort was a failure, this second idea was a complete disaster. Shipping horses all the way to England wasn’t exactly easy. Horses died in rail road cars, on the docks, on the ships. Adding insult to injury, the bank where the Cameron’s kept their money failed. Evelyn contacted the cousin in charge of her trust fund to request money…her money. Much to her dismay, the gentleman said no.
Plan B. Evelyn started taking in wealthy borders…who made more work for her and often didn’t pay their bills. Even better, Ewen couldn’t step into help, due to poor health. Broke, dispirited, sickly, he had had enough of the Land of Opportunity and suggested they head home.
Evelyn wouldn’t do it. The wide open spaces and seas of grass still held her heart.
So she tried farming. She grew vegetables, harvested them, and carried them all over the range, selling them to everyone from chuck wagon cooks to housewives to cowboys. Again, without any help from Ewen. Her days were long, often lonely, always exhausting. Still, she didn’t want to leave Montana.
One day, a border offered to teach her photography. With the first click of the lens, Evelyn knew she had found her purpose in life. After so much trial and error, it seemed the missteps had been leading her to the wonderful world of Kodak. And in the years to come, sometimes this new passion would even pay the bills!
With natural skill, she photographed friends, families and wildlife. She wrote articles for magazines and submitted them with her photos. She took publicity shots for the rail roads. From 1894 to 1928, Evelyn snapped thousands of pictures and chronicled life in Montana. She also covered with extraordinary honesty the contributions of women on the rugged ranches.
When Evelyn died in 1928, her worldly goods were stored at a friend’s home, tucked away in the basement. Thankfully, a writer, Donna Lucey, discovered the stash in 1978 and brought Evelyn back to life with her book Photographing Montana, 1894–1928: The Life and Work of Evelyn Cameron.
Trepidatious about the move to Montana, Evelyn once wrote in her diary, “I wish I would lead a life worthy to look back upon. I am far out of the path now.”
No, she was just taking the long way to it…
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