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Jessamine and Elsa Spear Scrapbook

Identifier: RC2022-021

Scope and Contents

The Jessamine and Elsa Spear Scrapbook contains 20 pages, with photographs pasted to the front and the back of the pages, as well as the front and back covers. The photographs in the album are attributed to Elsa Spear and Jessamine Spear, both of whom were noted photographers and served as hostesses and trail guides at the Spear O Wigwam. The album also contained loose materials related to the Spear O Wigwam Lodge and the Spear Ranch.

The loose materials have been removed from the album and stored in a separate folder. The cord tying together the album was replaced with archival twine during processing for stability. The photographs in the album were assigned accession numbers based on their placement in the album. A full inventory of the photographs, including their accession number, is attached as a digital object to this record.


  • Creation: 1887-circa 1940


Conditions Governing Access

The Jessamine and Elsa Spear Scrapbook has no restrictions and is available for research. If you are interested in researching the materials, please contact the Dickinson Research Center to make an appointment.

Conditions Governing Use

The Jessamine and Elsa Spear Scrapbook is the property of the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Materials, even if owned by the NCWHM, may be protected under third party copyright. It is the patron’s responsibility to research and secure any such additional copyright and pay any required fees or royalties. It is not the intention of the NCWHM to impede upon any third party rights, and the NCWHM cannot be held responsible if the patron is involved in legal action due to violation of third party copyright claims.

Biographical / Historical

Jessamine Spear Johnson (1886-1978)

In 1897, Jessamine Spear's mother (known as Belle) gave her 11 year old daughter her first camera - a glass-plate Kodak. Her photographic style was influenced by Miles City, Montana photographer L. A. Huffman and artist William "Bill" Gollings, both of whom spent time working at her father's ranches. Jessamine was a prolific photographer, and her images were used as advertisements for the Northern Pacific Railway. She often hand-colored her photographic prints.

In 1906, Jessamine married cattle and sheep rancher Will Johnson. They ran three ranches of their own and, in 1930, took over management of her father's ranch, the Spear O Wigwam Dude Ranch outside Sheridan, Wyoming. Along with her photography work, she also worked as a trail guide and a hostess at the dude ranch.

Elsa Spear Edwards Byron (1896-1992)

Much like her older sister Jessamine, Elsa was taught photography by her mother. During her childhoold, she rode alongside her family in cattle roundups on her father's ranch and later worked at the dude ranch, Spear O Wigwam Ranch, that her father founded.

In 1916, she married Harold Edwards, who worked for the Sheridan County Electric Company. She made annual pack trips with guests at her father's dude ranch, which provided Elsa with ample opportunities to photograph all over the mountains. One of the Big Horn Mountain lakes is named in her honor - Lake Elsa.

Like Jessamine, Elsa often hand-tinted her photographs. She solds prints to a number of other businesses, including the Burlington Railroads. She made her own enlargements by cutting a trap door in her kitchen ceiling in order to raise her projecter high enough over the floor.

Willis Spear (1862-1936)

Willis Spear was born in Missouri, but moved to Wyoming in 1883. In 1885 he married Virginia Bell Benton, and in 1896 he started his first cattle ranching operation with his brother. At its height, the Spear Brothers Cattle Company owned five ranches and leased 1,000,000 acres on the Crow Reservation. It ran 32,000 head of cattle of their own stock and 26,000 head of other's. Spear is credited with starting one of the first rural telephone lines, used to keep in touch with his various ranches.

The Spear Brothers Cattle Company dissolved in 1915, but Spear continued to work with other livestock companies. He also served as a Senator in the Wyoming State Legislature from 1918 to 1932.

Willis and Virginia Spear had four children: Willis B., Jessamine, Philip, and Elsa. Spear Lake in Wyoming was named in his honor.

Spear O Wigwam and Spear Ranch

When the severe drought of the Dust Bowl in the early 1920s nearly destroyed his cattle operations, Willis Spear built a "dude camp" that offered an "authentic" Western experience for travelers to enjoy. In 1923, the Spear O Wigwam was built as a "high camp" to complement the guest ranch at Spear Ranch.

The Spear O was built to mimic the shape of a traditional Native American dwelling. The lodge had an open fireplace in the middle of the room, which vented through an opening on the roof. In 1933, an extension was built and the shape of the building mimiced the shape of the ranch's brand. Guest cabins were eventually built around it, and all of the buildings featured a melding of Western and Native American style.

The Spear O Wigwam has seen a number of notable guests, many due to Willis Spear's connections as a state senator. The most famous guest is possibly Ernest Hemingway, who visited in 1928 with his wife Pauline and wrote the first draft of his novel 'A Farewell to Arms.'

The land the Spear O Wigwam is in Bighorn National Forest, and it operated under a special use permit from the US Forest Service. While the Spear O Wigwam is no longer owned by the Spear family, a partnership has purchased the ranch and is working to restore the facilities.


0.16 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



This collection contains a photograph album created by Jessamine and Elsa Spear. There are over 200 photographs pasted to both the back and the front of the pages, along with loose materials related to the Spear Ranche and the Spear O Wigwam Lodge. Subjects of the photographs include cattle branding, ranching, sheep, buffalo, landscapes, fishing, chuckwagons and more.

Processing Information

The Jessamine and Elsa Spear Scrapbook was purchased by the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in 2022 from Brannian Auction, LLC. It was lot #97 in the Western Art, Collectibles & Western Americana Book Online-Only Auction of historical memorabilia from the collection of W. J. "Bill" Eisele.

Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the NCWHM Special Collections at Dickinson Research Center Repository

1700 Northeast 63rd Street
Oklahoma City Oklahoma 73111 United States