Photographing Texas: The Swartz Brothers, 1880-1918, by Richard F. Selcer, Texas A&M University Press, College Station, 2019, $40
In November 1900 John Swartz took one of the best-known Wild West photos, “The Fort Worth Five,” in which Wild Bunch members Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Will Carver, Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan and Ben “Tall Texan” Kilpatrick pose for him in his Fort Worth, Texas, studio. “As outlaws they could be straight out of central casting,” writes Fort Worth native Richard Selcer. “The gang came to Fort Worth…after robbing the bank in Winnemucca, Nevada.…Distributed all over the country, the photograph brought about the downfall of the Wild Bunch.” Swartz is nowhere near as well known as the badmen in the photo, and known scarcely at all are Swartz’s brothers David and Charles, all of whom captured—mostly in cabinet cards or cartes de visite—the people and buildings of Fort Worth as it grew from a frontier outpost into a metropolis.
Selcer presents 300 of the brothers’ photos, noting that hundreds of Swartz photos “have not come to light or are simply not available for publication.” The book stems from a 2013 Fort Worth Library exhibit put together by Selcer and genealogical researcher Donna Donnell. The author includes good information about the trio’s backgrounds, careers and techniques. “They were never a family business in the traditional sense,” the author writes. “They were more like friendly rivals related by blood. Their interests were not the same, nor was their talent level. David was a journeyman photographer with artistic pretensions. Charles and John had more God-given talent, which is clear from a close examination of their work.” Their work is worth close examination whether or not you’ve spent any time in Fort Worth.