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Mystery of Dundee's unsolved Buffalo Bill photographs

Mystery of Dundee's unsolved Buffalo Bill photographs

Two Native American warriors sit on horseback in full ceremonial attire.

Wearing elaborate headdresses and clutching sacred eagle feather staffs, it could be a scene from a Clint Eastwood film - or a captured piece of history taken in some prairie of the Great Plains.

However, this picture, along with others, was taken in Dundee.

And the mystery behind the photographer of these great 'Buffalo Bill' pictures is an intriguing one.

  (The McManus)
via STV via STV

Photographer JW Pritchard is something of an elusive figure.

Little is known about the man who founded a photography business on Marshall street in Lochee in 1905, but his photographs surfaced in Cincinnati, Ohio, in January this year.

Shot in 1904, the images show characters who are actually part of one of the world's most famous travelling shows, led by a certain William Frederick Cody - better known as Buffalo Bill.

Cody came to Dundee where he performed in front of over 74,000 people at Magdalen Green, depicting famous tales of the old west, such as Custer’s last stand at the Little Bighorn.

His troupe featured frontier legends such as Annie Oakley, and he encouraged his Native American members, who were mainly of the Sioux tribe, to set up traditional camps to show his audiences that they were a peaceful people rather than the savages they were often purported to be. Of the warriors at the top of the article, the man on the left hand side is Iron Tail, billed as the Principle Chief of the Sioux Nation. Interestingly, he himself fought Custer at the Little Bighorn, and many of the performers re-enacted skirmishes that had direct impacts upon their own communities.

  (The McManus)
via STV via STV

The photographs depict Cody wearing his famous Stetson, a true icon of the era, with pine trees in the background that were actually planted specifically for the show.

During the run, Dundee became the West, and patrons enjoyed an experience that reflected Bill’s immortal image as a cowpoke and army scout.

Now, they've thankfully been returned to Dundee into the welcoming arms of The McManus Art Gallery - and they want the people of the city to help solve the mystery behind them.

"He was a local photographer, so there’s every chance there will be family still here in Dundee," said curator Susan Keracher. "Pritchard only died in 1944, so it’s not a million years away."

"We know he had a studio. We have other photographs by him in the collection, but we haven’t been able to focus on that part yet," she added.

"I’m sure we will be able to find out more when we explore more of his work."

  (The McManus)
via STV via STV

The McManus has added Bill and his troupe to the A Silvered Light Exhibition with the addition of five new pieces.

As well as portraits of Cody and other members of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Tour, the McManus has also unveiled pictures taken by Herbert Ponting of Captain Scott’s infamous 1910-1913 Antarctic expedition.

Keracher explained that the photographs are merely a fraction of the museum's vast collection, and there is a drive to properly catalogue them.

"What we tended to do with A Silvered Light, was concentrate on art photography," she said. "But, then we brought in a historic scheme to put Dundee’s history in photography into context.

"Now we’ve returned to look at the other photographs in the collection, this exhibition has made us look at our whole collection and see it in a different way."

  (The McManus)
via STV via STV

Over 800 people and 500 horses participated in the photographed show, which would have given our Dundonian ancestors a glimpse of cracking whips, the braying of mustangs and the pang of cordite from six shooters hanging in the Tay air.

The pictures will remain on show as part of the ‘A Silvered Light’ exhibition until the end of November 2014 at the McManus.

If you can help piece together the story of the photographer behind these amazing pictures, or believe you have a family link to Pritchard, then we would love to hear about it.

You can get in touch by emailing our reporters.

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