Sunday, February 12, 2012

Doubleday Rodeo Postcards

A recent collection I purchased has a nice selection of R.R. Doubleday real photo rodeo postcards. They are all beautiful sharp images, of a fast paced western sport. I found myself curious about the photographer, R.R. Doubleday. So I did a little digging and found an interesting biography of the man behind the camera courtesy of The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum below:

In 1926 Will Rogers introduced R. R. Doubleday in his McNaught Syndicate column, "The Worst Story I Have Heard Today:" He wrote, "You have all seen at various times wonderful pictures of Cowboys and Cowgirls on bucking horses, in every kind of sport connected with a horse or a steer. You have seen buckers in the most inconceivable shapes. You marveled at the picture as much as you did the boy or girl that was on the horse, because sometimes they wasn't. You said to yourself, 'Where in the world was the photographer when he shot that?' Well, this bird I am introducing you to right now is the one that has taken 90 per cent of the good rodeo pictures ever made. He don't get ‘em till they are doing something unusual. But when they do, he is right down under them shooting up at 'em. He has had horses jump over him, wild steers run over him. But he always comes up with an exact likeness of the animal." 
Doubleday was the "undisputed World's Champion Rodeo Photographer." Not many photographers of the day would risk camera and film, not to mention life and limb, trying to get action pictures."
The complete truth about Ralph Russell Doubleday may never be known. Vital records have not been found. Mostly what we know about him comes from newspaper and magazine articles with him as the principal source of information. Moreover, Doubleday tended to bend or exaggerate the truth about his participation in certain events of which he claimed to have been part, such as accompanying General Pershing in pursuit of Pancho Villa, photographing President Roosevelt on safari in Africa, and covering the Tea Pot Dome scandal. All this has clouded the early part of Doubleday's career and life. He was a transitional character between the decline of the wild west show and the evolution of rodeo from its "cowboy fun" origins up to its more organized, big business model evidenced by the formation of the National Finals Rodeo Commission in 1958.
A self-promoter, Doubleday was also a superb photographer who associated his abilities and entrepreneurial ingenuity with an action-packed and dangerous sport. New technology in amateur photography facilitated his exploitation of a photographic postcard niche. This niche developed into a cottage industry on which his livelihood primarily depended and which earned him the moniker, "rodeo postcard king."  While he truly loved the sport of rodeo, its people, and culture, Doubleday had other motives which were, in descending importance, economic, fame, and rodeo promotional. His unintended legacy is the thousands of photographic postcard images which serve as primary documentation of this golden age of rodeo history, its events, and personalities.
Doubleday's origins and early life and career as a freelance photographer are cloaked a bit in mystery. What has been reported repeatedly is that Doubleday was born in Canton, Ohio on July 4, 1881 with his father being a physician and surgeon. Through family histories, genealogical research, and census records reconciled with published articles, the author has deduced that Ralph Russell Doubleday was probably born Edward Cochran to parents Montgomery and Tabitha Cochran on July 4, 1881 at Canton in Brandon township in Jackson County, Iowa. Ralph was the youngest child in the family which included two sisters, Floria E. and Ruby Jane. As to the when and the reasons why R. R. changed his surname from Cochran to Doubleday remains uncertain. Clarence Elliott, a nephew of Doubleday's, asked him how he came up with the name to which he replied he had always felt like he worked 24 hours a day. Whatever the reasons for his name change, Edward Cochran was known as Ralph Russell Doubleday as early as 1910.
It was not until 1900 when the Cochran family moved to Sycamore, Illinois that Doubleday developed an interest in photography. America in 1900 saw many scientific, technological and industrial advances. Besides household electricity and indoor plumbing, new inventions including movie projectors, light bulbs, phonographs, electric fans, telephones, and automobiles made life easier and more enjoyable. A new technology for printing photographs in the press caused photographs to replace illustrations and enabled amateur photographers with the help of George Eastman's innovations to create their own postcards.
Managing his step-father's farm in Sycamore, Doubleday took a week off during the winter and went to Elgin where he saw the town's toppled water tank. The ice-covered tank had burst open with the pressure of frozen water and lay covered with ice, a spectacular sight. Using his mail-order camera, he captured the image, developed and sold the prints. So impressed with the netting of $60, Doubleday embarked on a commercial photography career.
For a time Doubleday worked in the stereoscope business producing stereo views for this popular parlor pastime of the period. In fact the stereoscope became as much a fixture in the home as a television is today. During the 1880s the stereo view business began a comeback when aggressive companies, such as Underwood and Underwood, sent teams of sales people into communities and systematically canvassed neighborhoods. The twenty-year-old Doubleday made a trip around the world shooting and collecting images or views from other lands for this reinvigorated business in 1901.
Freelancing led Doubleday into a fleeting relationship with former President Theodore Roosevelt at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo on August 27, 1910. It was here that Doubleday made his personal and professional mark. He captured on film C.B. Irwin's grey bucking horse, "Teddy Roosevelt," throwing its rider, Gus Nylen. It is believed that this was the first action shot of a man in midair, off a bronc. "Up to then," Doubleday recounted, "no one had ever taken a picture of a man flying through the air off a bucking horse. I thought such a picture might be possible." Attending the event was Roosevelt, who was seated in the front row. The event encouraged Doubleday to specialize in rodeo photography. During the decade to follow, the familiar "D.F.P.Co.Inc." (Doubleday-Foster Photo Co. Inc. of Miles City, Montana) copyright notice appeared in the caption on all his photographic postcards. This notice would evolve to "R.R. Doubleday" and finally, indicative of his notoriety and successful branding, to just "Doubleday."
For a time, perhaps beginning as early as 1911, Doubleday was associated with the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch wild west show. With the show's successful origin in 1905, the Millers had decided to make the 101 Ranch Wild West Show a permanent institution in February 1908.
Doubleday undoubtedly saw this as an opportunity to use his photography talents and make a profitable career. Moreover, it was perhaps a way to support a wife and prospective family for on June 26, 1911 Doubleday of Cheyenne, Wyoming married Olive E. Walter in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Although he is quoted in later years as characterizing himself as "an old bachelor like me," Doubleday was married.
One of Doubleday's images, taken of Yakima Canutt riding "South Dakota" on May 15, 1912, was used by the Millers on a 101 Ranch store token. It was minted by the Millers, according to Wallis, "for their employees to use at the ranch store and with selected merchants in Ponca City and other towns near the ranch. Cowhands and workers could draw against payday by accepting the trade tokens and signing their names."
Shortly after the birth of his son, Russell Ralph Doubleday, on July 25, 1920, Doubleday abandoned his wife and child ostensibly to pursue a rodeo photographic career and become part of the traveling "family" environment fostered by the rodeo lifestyle. He might also have wanted to pursue the ladies. Foghorn Clancy detected some chemistry between Dub and the ladies. He wrote, "...there is something of a mystery about him, he seems to possess some subtle charm for the ladies, at every rodeo it's the ladies that come asking if Doubleday is there or going to be there. I wouldn't call them sweethearts nor his association with them love affairs, they just seem to be staunch feminine friends who enjoy his company, but many a cowboy has wondered why the ladies will rave about the swell ride of a champion bronk rider, or the fast time made by a bulldogger, and then stroll away with the photographer. I guess they will just have to keep on wondering."
During the next three decades, Doubleday enhanced his reputation as a fine rodeo photographer. He pictorially recorded and unintentionally documented the history of both big and little rodeos. The big rodeos at Chicago were held in Grant Park, the Coliseum, Soldier Field, and the Stockyards Stadium. He was a follower of Tex Austin who produced rodeos in Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Providence, New Haven, Pittsburgh, Washington, and London, England. At Calgary, Pendleton, Cheyenne, Belle Fourche, Fort Worth, Casper, Deadwood, and San Antonio, Doubleday was the official arena photographer.
His personal best selections included Smoky Branch on Glass Eye taken in 1921 at Garden City, Kansas; Sharkey the bucking Hereford bull taken in 1913 at Pendleton, Oregon; and Leonard Stroud on Indian Tom taken at Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1918. One of his most widely used images was Tex Crockett on the bronc, South Dakota taken at Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1919.
While many of his images were sold to magazines and the press, Doubleday's primary and substantial income came from photographic postcards which he wholesaled by the millions. According to historians Frank N. Samponaro and Paul J. Vanderwood, "A national craze for postcards made the first decade and a half of the twentieth century the golden age of picture postcards. By 1910 Americans were mailing nearly a billion postcards annually. In an era when not many people traveled very far from home and few small-town newspapers carried news photographs, buying a postcard depicting an event of local, national, or even international interest for oneself or to send to a friend was extremely common."
Privately published picture postcards were not in general use in the United States until after the World Columbian Exposition of 1893. In 1902 the Eastman Kodak Company capitalized on this nascent postcard fad by issuing a postcard-size photographic paper on which images could be printed directly from negatives. After 1907, when Congress legalized the mailing of divided-back postcards with the message on the left and the address on the right, the production of photographic postcards grew into a substantial business. Entrepreneurs, such as Doubleday, found a niche in this business. Besides drugstores and souvenir shops, 200 Woolworth stores carried the Doubleday line at one time. It is estimated he sold over 30 million postcards.
In 1952 "Old Dub" made his last swing around the rodeo circuit. He now walked with a cane and ironically was nearly blind. Much like his battered and patched Graflex camera, Doubleday had suffered broken bones and mends, but had thrived in the rodeo arena. On June 30, 1958 Ralph R. Doubleday died. He was interred next to his sister, Floria, in an unmarked grave in the Roselawn section of Cedar Lawn Cemetery in Council Bluffs on July 1.
While earning a living and building a reputation, Doubleday had unwittingly created a body of evidentiary work whose scope is not completely known and which many seek and collect. His legacy is the captioned imagery of cowboys, cowgirls, venues, and livestock instrumental in laying the foundation for professional rodeo. His images continue to capture the imagination and to serve as small windows to past moments in time.
In recognition of Doubleday’s photographic accomplishments and his promotional and documentary activities with regard to the sport of rodeo, the Rodeo Historical Society inducted him into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame’s Rodeo Hall of Fame on November 27, 1988.