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EXPLAINING THE GROUP PHOTO

Thousands of copies of the Hunters Hot Springs group photograph are in circulation, perhaps tens of thousands. The photo appears to have been taken somewhere in North America during the late 1800s and shows fifteen men gathered on a porch. Prints of this photograph can be found decorating the walls of homes, businesses, restaurants and bars across North America and around the world. Most of these photographic reproductions bear various notations purporting to identify the fifteen men depicted in the image. Famous names associated with this photograph include Wyatt Earp, Virgil Earp, Morgan Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, Judge Roy Bean, Theodore Roosevelt, Texas John Slaughter, Alan Pinkerton, Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, Liver Eating Johnson, and Ben Greenough.

Click here to see four examples of the famous names lists.

According to the famous names notations, this was the greatest, most star-studded picture ever taken in the old west!

The Hunters Hot Springs group photograph has been known to historians in Montana since the 1960s, but only with the advent of the Internet in the 1990s did the picture become widely circulated. Copies of the image have sold for hundreds of dollars.

When I came across the Hunters Hot Springs group image in the spring of 2000, I was inclined to believe the names associated with the picture were true. After comparing genuine photos of Wyatt Earp, Theodore Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with the persons identified as such in the Hunters Hot Springs picture, it seemed to me there were indeed similarities between the famous people and some of the faces of the men in the Hunters Hot Springs photo.

Historical records show Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Leroy Parker (Butch Cassidy), and Harry Longabaugh (the Sundance Kid) were all in southeastern Montana during the summer of 1886. That summer, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, although they had not yet adopted these aliases, were working as cowboys on ranches less than 200 miles from Hunters Hot Springs. That same summer in 1886, a young Theodore Roosevelt, traveling by train, left his ranch in Dakota Territory for a hunting trip in western Montana. Roosevelt's westward train trip took him within a mile and half of Hunters Hot Springs. These facts bolstered my belief that the HHS picture was a collection of famous historical characters. However, over time, evidence uncovered caused me to change my opinion about who the men in the HHS picture really are.

Since this photograph surfaced in the 1960s, historians have been skeptical of the list of famous names. Museum curators, historical societies and old west experts I contacted were in agreement. They all said the men in the photo are absolutely not who the notations claim them to be. However, no one I contacted had researched the subject thoroughly enough to determine the true identities of the men shown in the group photo. I undertook that task and, between 2000 and 2004, spent hundreds of hours attempting to discover the truth behind the picture.

In the summer of 2000, I contacted Butch Cassidy expert and author Daniel Buck. Buck informed me there was absolutely no possibility that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were in the HHS group picture. Mr Buck advised me to begin by proving whatever I could about the photo itself, to establish background and provenance for the image. Specifically, he suggested I should find out where and when the group portrait was taken and, if possible, who the photographer was. The next step would be to find out who was present at the time and place where the picture was taken. Buck also recommended to investigate any names associated with the picture which were not famous, as this might lead to facts concerning the origin of the photograph.

There is one name associated with the photo that is not a famous or recognizable name. This name is not linked to any well-known figure from the old west, to my knowledge, and that name is Harry Britton. Not knowing how to go about finding an obscure 19th-century man named Harry Britton from a small town in Montana, I concentrated instead on the task of finding the picture's location and dating the image.

Proving where the photo was taken turned out to be fairly simple. A sketch of the hotel at Hunters Hot Springs, Montana Territory appears in an 1885 reference work, Leeson's History of Montana. This sketch was adequate to establish the location of the HHS group photo. The 15-man group photograph was indeed taken in front of the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel in Hunters Hot Springs, Montana. Additional photos of the HHS Hotel and town site from 1909 were provided by Doris Whithorn of the Park County Museum in Livingston, Montana. Doris Whithorn's photos further verified the location of the group picture as being Hunters Hot Springs.

However, Whithorn's 1909 photos of the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel do not show any steps to the hotel porch, and the 15-man group image depicts the men posing on the hotel's porch steps. It appears from the 1909 Whithorn pictures that earth had been added to the area in front of the HHS Hotel porch and, with the ground thus raised, the steps to the hotel porch were no longer needed. Therefore, it was logical to assume the group photo was taken at some date prior to 1909, viz., before the steps were removed.

Later I was to come across additional photos (including postcards) which confirmed the steps seen on the porch of the hotel in the group picture had been removed by 1909.

Where and what is Hunters Hot Springs?

Once a small community and heath spa founded by Dr Andrew Jackson Hunter - now totally abandoned - Hunters Hot Springs is located about a mile and a half north of the Yellowstone River at Springdale, Montana, which is about halfway between the Montana towns of Livingston and Big Timber. A detailed family history of Hunters Hot Springs founder Dr A. J. Hunter is found here.

A brief background of Hunters Hot Springs:

When the Civil War ended, Confederate battlefield surgeon Dr Andrew J. Hunter and his wife, Susannah, moved west with their three children, Mary, Davis, and Lizzie. In 1870 Dr Hunter established squatters rights for a parcel of land north of the Yellowstone River in Montana Territory. On this land gushed a natural hot spring. The geothermally-heated water he found there was rich in sulphur and iron, and Dr Hunter decided this would be a perfect place to settle with his family and build a theraputic spa and resort.

After much early hardship, including Indian attacks, the Hunter family eventually thrived at the hot springs, and three more children were born to the Hunters. By 1873 Hunter had constructed a hotel and bathhouse at the springs. Soon, guests arrived, seeking the much-touted medicinal properties of the waters. Over the next twelve years, improvements at Hunter's town site continued and other families settled there. Dr Hunter's resort flourished. Hunters Hot Springs' reputation flourished too, and the spa entertained guests and customers from across the United States and from Europe. As well, HHS had a loyal, core group of patrons from Livingston, Billings, Miles City, Bozeman and Butte in Montana. During the mid-1880s, the HHS resort became a popular overnight spot for crews working for the Northern Pacific Rail Road. The NPRR station at Springdale, Montana was located a mile and a half south from Dr Hunter's hotel/spa/resort. Dr Hunter's son-in-law, Frank Rich, operated a free carriage service from the train station to the resort, and business continued to boom.

The resort became so successful that Frank Rich built another hotel, the Rich Hotel, about a hundred yards east from the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel to accommodate his father-in-law's overflow of customers. The Rich Hotel was often called the Lower House, while Dr Hunter's hotel was referred to as the Upper House, or Upper Hotel, because it was built on slightly higher ground.

By 1885, the town site boasted two hotels supplied with fresh produce from three local ranches and farms, a post office, separate bathhouses for men and women, a one-room schoolhouse, a dry goods store, laundry hut and several family dwellings.

In the winter of 1885, Dr Hunter sold the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel and spa to former Iowan Cyrus B. Mendenhal. Mendenhall expanded and improved the resort and continued to manage the property for ten years. In 1895, Mendenhall sold the property to a group of three investors: Gagnon, Nickey and Tong. Within two years however, the investors fell on hard times, and the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel went into receivership. In 1897, the property was purchased at auction by a wealthy, Butte-based businessman named James A. Murray. Almost immediately after Murray acquired the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel, he leased the property to Charles W. Savage, an hotelier based in Livingston, Montana.

1909 saw the construction of the Dakota Hotel at Hunters Hot Springs. The huge Dakota structure was built on the site where the Rich Hotel had once stood. Over 450 feet long and with a maximum capacity of 300 guests, the Dakota was luxurious, boasting steam heat, electric lights and telephones in the rooms. In 1911, the original Hunters Hot Springs Hotel was condemned and was later torn down. Fire broke out at the Dakota Hotel in 1932 and it, along with many other structures at the HHS town site, burned to the ground. The town never recovered and was gradually abandoned.

The debris from the 1932 fire lay unattended until 1948, when Charles and Anna Johnson acquired the property at Hunters Hot Springs. The Johnsons cleared the debris from the fire and built a quonset hut over the hot springs with a plunge and a lunchroom at one end of the modest structure. The area again became a popular spot, at least with the locals. After Charles passed away, Anna Johnson continued to operate the plunge and lunchroom until her death in 1959. The Johnson's son, Harold, purchased the HHS property from his mother's estate and ran the much-diminished facilities with his wife, Mavis, until 1974. In 1974, high winds tore the roof from the quonset hut and Hunters Hot Springs was completely abandoned once again.

From 1974 to the present, Hunters Springs changed hands several times. A Japanese consortium owned it for a brief period and tried growing tomatoes in greenhouses they built, heated by the hot springs. The enterprise failed. Mr Jay Call bought the place, bulldozed the remains of the Johnson's buildings and all but one of the Japanese greenhouses, and turned the property into a cattle ranch. After that, cattleman and entrepreneur Jonathan Foote bought the land. In 2003, Mr Foote sold all 100 acres to a Texas-based cattle operation who run it as a cattle ranch to this day.

There is very little archaeological evidence remaining at Hunters Hot Springs. A few bricks are left from the Dakota Hotel retaining wall, some concrete foundations of the bathhouses survive, a well from the old post office site is just barely visible, the graveyard from the old town site remains and, of course, the hot springs are still there.

Back to the group photo ~

Early in 2001, I ruled out the identification of Ben Greenough as Man #15 in the group picture. After contacting Greenough family archivist Christen Linn of Red Lodge, Montana, I learned Ben Greenough was much too young to have been Man 15 in the group photo. As a teen, Greenough was friendly with Montana's illustrious mountain man, lawman and Indian fighter, 'Liver Eating' John Johnston. The two were trail buddies and shared many adventures. Apart from his association with Liver Eating Johnston, Greenough too had an illustrious career as a horseman and trail guide in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana and Wyoming, and his daughter and grandson became rodeo champions. Greenough, however, could not possibly be Man 15 in the HHS group portrait because he was born in 1879. Even if the HHS group picture dates from as late as 1894, which is possible, Greenough would have been a teenager when the photograph was taken. It is obvious to any observer that Man 15 in the group picture is much older than a teenager. Also, Greenough family chronicler Christine Linn denied vehemently that Ben Greenough was Man 15 in the Hunters Hot Springs photo. Plainly, Greenough was too young to have been any of the men seen in the HHS picture. I agreed with Ms Linn's point.

If it's not Ben Greenough, then who is Man 15?

Whilst visiting the area in the summer of 2001, I came upon a studio picture of Cyrus B. Mendenhall at the Crazy Mountain Museum in Big Timber, Montana. Mendenhall had purchased the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel from Dr Hunter in 1885, and he ran the hotel and spa between 1885 and 1895. After comparing Cyrus Mendenhall's photo with Man 15 in the group picture, it was apparent that Man 15 in the group photograph was Cyrus B. Mendenhall. Upon learning that Mendenhall owned the hotel at Hunters Hot Springs for ten years, a light bulb came on over my head. I realized, of course Mendenhall is in the picture - he owned the place!

Even after identifying Cyrus Mendenhall as Man 15, and knowing the name "Ben Greenough" was erroneous, I thought, this is probably only a single error. I chose to believe the other men in the photo were the famous ones from the lists, i.e., Earp, Cassidy, Roosevelt, et al. In any case, the first positive identification had been made: Man 15 - Cyrus Mendenhall.

Bev Josephson, curator of the Crazy Mountain Museum in Big Timber, told me a man named Miles Iverson had compiled a record of every reference to Hunters Hot Springs printed in the Livingston Enterprise newspaper between 1875 and 1905. I acquired all four volumes of Iverson's work and I scoured its contents for details of changes made to the town site, the buildings and, later, for the names of persons who the newspaper reported visiting Hunters Hot Springs during those years.

Transcribed in one of Iverson's volumes, a June 12, 1886 item in the Enterprise mentioned Mendenhall's renovations to the hotel at Hunters Hot Springs. The article stated the "...old hotel is being completely overhauled from cellar to garret...the outside of the house as well, is receiving attention." What Cyrus Mendenhall did to alter the hotel in 1886 was rebuild the porch, balcony, balcony supports, and balcony railings. He built wooden steps to the porch at this time and moved at least two doors, one on each floor. I took this to mean the steps we see in the group photo are the steps built by Mendenhall in 1886. It also explained the rather odd-looking door seen behind the men in the group picture, the result of moving a ground-floor door.

A March 24, 1888 newspaper article tells about additional improvements Cyrus Mendenhall made to the hotel at Hunters Hot Springs two years after the first renovation, including "...the recent completion of the main building of the sanitarium..."

The date of the sanitarium annex completion in March of 1888 likely establishes the time frame for the group photograph: between 1886 and 1888. Mendenhall raised the level of the earth around the hotel using an earthen fill so the stone foundation for his annex could be laid. The land was elevated to the level and height of the front porch. Raising and leveling the earth in front of the hotel would have rendered the steps to the porch unnecessary, so the wooden steps would have removed, presumably in March, 1888. Therefore, it is logical to surmise, the steps we see in the group photo only existed for a period of two years, from the spring of 1886 until the spring of 1888. This dating ties in neatly to the summer 1886 time period, when Theodore Roosevelt, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were all in southeastern Montana, in the general area of Hunters Hot Springs. This gave me hope that Butch, Sundance and Roosevelt could be in the photo.

This dating of the photo between 1886 and 1888 is hardly conclusive, however. The 1885 sketch of the hotel in Leeson's History of Montana shows no steps to the hotel. However, a sketch is not as accurate as a photograph, there being the possibility of artistic license to consider, and it is difficult to determine exactly when the steps were built. Similarly, the 1888 date of Mendenhall's annex construction does not prove that steps we see in the 15-man group photograph were removed during that year, only that it would have been logical to do so at that time.

In any case, my hope that Man 7 was really Butch Cassidy was crushed in 2002 when I was contacted by Montana native Sharon Pohlman.

Facts and documentation Sharon Pohlman brought to the table caused me to revise my opinion about the famous names lists entirely, and especially the name "Butch Cassidy." Presently, Ms Pohlman and her husband live in Seeley Lake, Montana, close to the Rich Ranch, operated by Pohlman's brother and his wife, Jack and Belinda Rich.

Sharon Pohlman is a great-granddaughter of Hunters Hot Springs pioneers Frank and Lizzie Rich, previously mentioned. Lizzie (Hunter) Rich was the second-eldest daughter of Hunters Hot Springs founder Dr Andrew J. Hunter, and Lizzie's husband, Frank Rich, was to become the proprietor of the Rich Hotel at Hunters Hot Springs. Working as a teamster when he first came to Montana Territory, Frank Rich married Lizzie Kate Longstreet Hunter in 1879 and they settled at Hunters Hot Springs. Here Frank Rich built the Rich Hotel, a stone's throw from Dr Hunter's HHS Hotel, and business was good. Eventually, four children were born to Frank and Lizzie. In the spring of 1897 the Rich family left Montana and relocated to Spokane, Washington.

In 2002, Ms Pohlman forwarded extensive excerpts from her genealogical history and her collection of Rich family photos. As a youngster, Pohlman's older relatives told her two of her ancestors were in the Hunters Hot Springs group photograph, specifically, Albert Americus Rich and Franklin Willson Rich. Upon reviewing Pohlman's family pictures of A. A. Rich and F. W. Rich, I concluded that these men are indeed in the HHS group picture: Man 1, who is not identified on the list of famous names, is A. A. Rich, and Man 7 is Frank Rich - not Butch Cassidy!

Sharon's relatives had been right, indeed.

Before Frank and Lizzie were married in 1879, Frank's elder brother, Albert Americus Rich, had purchased a ranch where he lived and worked with his family 560 yards to the northwest of the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel. The A. A. Rich ranch provided fresh meat and produce for the staff and clientele of the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel and, later, for his brother's Rich Hotel too. The Rich brothers lived so close to the HHS hotel where the group photo was taken - almost a literal stone's throw on either side of it - it is hardly surprising that they both appear in the group picture.

Realizing that Man 7 was Frank Rich - not Butch Cassidy - rained many doubts in my mind about the other famous names. I thought, if the Butch Cassidy and Ben Greenough identifications are wrong, is it likely the other identifications are false as well?

Dan Buck wrote to me by e-mail. "Sooner or later, all the famous names will drop away to be replaced by the names of the people who were really there," Buck prognosticated.

* * *

The next famous names to be discarded were Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Longabaugh, the Sundance Kid.

Late in 2002, Doris Whithorn, former curator of the Park County Museum, provided two 1897 photographs. Both photos were taken in front of the post office at Hunters Hot Springs. The Hunters Hot Springs post office was located across the road, about 50 or 60 feet from the steps of the HHS Hotel.

Whithorn's 1897 HHS post office photos show two of the men also seen in the 15-man group picture: Man 3, the purported Theodore Roosevelt fellow, and Man 8, identified as the Sundance Kid in the famous names list. Although I have not yet been able to identify Man 8 in the in the group picture, Whithorn's post office photos made it possible to accurately identify Man 3, the man seated on the chair, closest to the camera in the Hunters Hot Springs photo.

Man 3 in the group picture is not future president Theodore Roosevelt, this man is John A. Savage , a lawyer and judge based in Livingston who made many trips to Hunters Hot Springs. Numerous items printed in the local paper attest to the fact that John A. Savage visited Hunters Hot Springs frequently and, further, that Savage was friend and legal adviser to the man who bought the HHS Hotel from Dr Hunter in 1885, Cyrus B. Mendenhall. As noted, Mendenhall is the real Man 15 in the Hunters Hot Springs group photo.

Another great find from Whithorn's photos was this: the man standing frame-left in the 1897 post office pictures is unquestionably Man 8 from the group image whose identity is unknown. But the fact that he shows up in another photo taken at Hunters Hot Springs more than ten years later, in 1897, shows quite definitively that he is not Harry Longabaugh, aka the Sundance Kid.

It was Jerry Brekke, history editor of the Livingston Enterprise newspaper who, in 2003, made the visual connection between Man 8 in the group photo and the man standing to the right of John Savage in the 1897 post office pictures.

Over the course of a two-year investigation, these truths emerged: Man 15 is not Ben Greenough - he is Cyrus Mendenhall, owner of the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel from 1885 to 1895; Man 3 is not Theodore Roosevelt - he is Mendenhall's attorney and friend, John Savage; Man 7 is not Butch Cassidy - he is Frank Rich, proprietor of the Rich Hotel at Hunters Hot Springs; Man 1 is A. A. Rich, Frank Rich's brother and a landowner at HHS; and Man 8 is not the Sundance Kid, he is the unidentified HHS denizen from the post office pictures.

* * *

How did the list of erroneous famous names come about? How did the misidentifications gallop toward such egregious proportions, befuddling historians and the general public for decades? Who started it? The answer had been prophesied by Dan Buck when I began my research in 2000. "Look for the name that is not famous," Buck had advised. The name Harry Britton, which is not a famous name, had been copied faithfully - and correctly, as it turned out - as Man 12 in three out of the four of the famous name lists. That name, Harry Britton, was indeed the lynchpin that would unlock the mystery.

Who was Harry Britton?

In the winter of 2004, Margaret Rootes and Hazel Walen, two of Harry Britton's granddaughters, returned my request for information concerning their grandfather. It took much coaxing and many months of exchanging letters before Rootes and Walen finally confided in me. Information, documentation and family photographs supplied by Rootes and Walen resulted in many of the missing pieces of the group photo puzzle falling into place.

Margaret and Hazel's grandpa, Harry Britton (Alfred Henry Delamar Britton), is without question Man 12 in the HHS group photo.

Alfred Henry Delamar Britton, known as Harry Britton, was born in England on April 15, 1864. He came to the United States via Canada. The official date of Britton's immigration to the USA is listed as 1895, but it is certain his unofficial residence in the United States began earlier than 1895. Records from the Northern Pacific Rail Road show that Harry Britton was employed as a brakeman by the NPRR between 1891 and 1898. In those days immigration laws were very lax, and no one can say exactly when Harry Britton first came to Montana. As noted, one of the stops on the Northern Pacific's Rocky Mountain line was Springdale, Montana, about a mile and a half southeast from Hunters Hot Springs; and as was mentioned previously, Hunters Hot Springs was a popular rest stop for NPRR crews during the late 1880s and 1890s.

Harry Britton married Margaret Compton on February 27, 1900 in Uxbridge, Ontario, Canada. By 1907, the Brittons were living in Whitefish, Montana, where a son was born to them on August 7th of that year. Their son's name was Robert Maurice Delamar Britton, known later in life as Maurice Britton. Maurice was to be the only child of Harry and Margaret Britton.

In 1914, the Britton family moved to Brady, Montana, where they settled on a farm. On Independance Day in 1926, Harry Britton was fatally injured in a tractor accident. Harry's wife, Margaret Britton, died on July 6, 1953, a few miles north from Brady in Conrad, Montana. Maurice Britton continued to live in Brady until his death in 1969.

When Harry Britton died in 1926, his son Maurice was nineteen years old. When Maurice's mother, Margaret, passed away in 1953, Maurice Britton inherited the HHS photo along with his parents' belongings. In 1964, while he was a patient at Baylor University Medical Center in Houston, Texas, Maurice Britton authorized ten to fifteen copies of the group photo to be made. This is probably the most crucial moment in the story of the group photo.

It is not known what, if anything, Harry Britton told Maurice about the men in the Hunters Hot Springs group photograph, but it is clear that by 1964 Maurice believed some of the men seen with his father in the group photo were Wyatt Earp, Morgan Earp, Teddy Roosevelt, Liver Eating Johnston, Bat Masterson and Ben Greenough because Maurice had written those six names on the back of the 1964 copies of the photo, along with his father's name as Man 12. Maurice encouraged his friends and business associates to assist him in identifying the other men in the picture.

Among the people Maurice enlisted to assist him in this regard was his banker, Mert Malek, whose copy of the HHS photo given to him by Maurice Britton shows the names Maurice had written on the back, and Mrs William Albrecht, both residents of Brady, Montana.

During a trip to Livingston, Montana in 1964, and presumably at Maurice Britton's behest, Mrs Albrecht brought a copy of the Hunters Hot Springs group photo with the six famous names written on the back to an editor at the Park County News. The Park County News seemingly accepted the famous names and promptly printed a full-page article.

An excerpt from the article reads: "Mrs. Wm. Albrecht, former Livingston resident who was in Livingston last week to attend the funeral services for the late Otto Severs brought these pictures from the collection of Maurice Britton of Brady (Montana). According to the legend on the back, No. 3, the man in the derby at left is the late President Theodore Roosevelt, while No. 5, the man with both hands in his trouser pockets, is Wyatt Earp; the man with the rifle in front is identified as Bat Masterson, No. 8, and the two men at the extreme right, No. 14 and 15, are 'Liver Eating' Johnson and Ken (sic) Greenough. Does anyone know when and what the reunion or meeting was about?"

Guesses poured in to the newspaper, giving everyone an opportunity to play 'Name That Old West Guy'.

In the following years, more copies of the Hunters Hot Springs photo were produced, and more famous names were added to the list. In the early 1970s, the names Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid and Judge Roy Bean began to appear on the photograph. The next version of the group photo showed the growing list of famous names written on the front of the picture, as opposed to the back, as per the Maurice Britton copies. In 1970, Livingston photographer Fred Shellenberg made several new copies of the HHS photo for the Harold Johnson family, who owned the Hunters Hot Springs property at that time. Shellenberg kept a few copies for himself too, his son, Tom, told me in 2004.

It is probably not a coincidence the names Butch Cassidy, the Sundance Kid, and Judge Roy Bean were added to the list of famous names on Shellenberg's copies of the HHS photo in the early 1970s. This was close to the time when the popular Hollywood movies Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean were released in 1969 and 1972, respectively. Later in the 1970s, Fred Shellenberg's son, Tom, says he personally made "...at least 200 copies..." of the Hunters Hot Springs group photo for his friends. Others made prints from the Shellenberg copies - first hundreds, then thousands. During this process of proliferation, the famous names were amended and altered, changed and changed again. When Internet auction sites came into existence in the mid-to-late 1990s, the HHS group photo was ripe for exploitation. It became an Internet phenomenon. One can only guess how many copies of the Hunters Hot Springs photograph exist today. My conservative estimate is easily over ten thousand.

The Hunters Hot Springs photograph is still traded on the Internet. Most online dealers today acknowledge the dubious nature of the famous names and asking prices are usually low. However, some vendors still claim the names are authentic. Buyer beware!

* * *

Update, 2011: Amazingly, for ten years, I had copies of two photographs of Hunters Hot Springs founder Dr Andrew Jackson Hunter and not once did I compare him with the the men in the group photo. In March of 2011, California-based 'Liver Eating' John Johnston biographer Dorman Nelson brought to my attention the undeniable similarity between Dr Hunter and Man 6 in the group picture.

For those ten years I had clung to an absolute but wholly mistaken belief that Man 6 in the group image was famed mountain man and first Marshall of Red Lodge, Montana, 'Liver Eating' John Johnson. The Liver Easter's last name was actually spelled Johnston with a 't', incidentally.

I had based my belief on (i) three separate 1890s newspaper reports stating Johnston visited Hunters Hot Springs on several occasions; (ii) anecdotal evidence from Susan Russell and Dorothy Barber, descendants of Hunters Hot Springs pioneers, who told me 'Liver Eating' Johnston often took vacations at HHS in the 1890s, as per their family recountings; (iii) John Johnston's 1900 obituary which tells of Johnston selling his property in Red Lodge, Montana to Charles W. Savage, manager of the HHS Hotel in 1899; and (iv) on the visual similarity between Man 6 in the group photo and bona fide photographs of the real 'Liver Eating' Johnston.

Having invested much time and energy in trying to prove Man 6 was John Johnston, I was blinkered to any other possible identification of Man 6.

However, at Dorman Nelson's urging, I compared an 1887 family picture of Dr Andrew Jackson Hunter and an undated studio photo of Dr Hunter with Man 6 in the Hunters Hot Springs group photograph. Upon viewing the comparison, it became immediately obvious to me that Man 6 is Dr Andrew Jackson Hunter, founder of Hunters Hot Springs. The visual comparison alone is very persuasive, tied with the fact that Hunter founded the town site and built the hotel makes the identification even more probable. Further, the man to whom Hunter sold the hotel in 1885, Cyrus B Mendenhall, is Man 15 in the picture, which makes the ID even stronger; and that Hunter's son-in-law (Frank Rich) and his son-in-law's brother (A. A. Rich) are in the group photo too - makes this identification solidly conclusive.

Understandably, I felt quite sheepish about having missed this important identification for so long. Thank you, and kudos, Dorman. Nice job!

Dr Andrew Jackson Hunter died in Bozeman, Montana on April 19th, 1894. The date of the passing of this illustrious pioneer of the Yellowstone Valley and founder of Hunters Hot Springs provides with certainty the uppermost limit of the time frame for the HHS group photograph. The photo could not possiblly have been taken any later than 1894. If, indeed, the steps upon which the men in the group photo are posing were the steps built by Cyrus Mendenhall in 1886, then the time frame for the photograph is bracketed between 1886, the year of the steps' construction, and 1894, the year of Dr Hunter's demise.

With less certainty - but with strong probability - we can narrow the date of the group photograph to between 1886 and 1887, because in 1887 Frank Rich (Figure 7 in the photo) moved his family to Spokane, Washington Territory. Of course, it cannot be ruled out that Frank Rich might have returned to visit Hunters Hot Springs after relocating to Spokane and may have posed in the group picture during a sojourn.

* * *

Update, 2012: In February of 2011, Nicholas Mitchell of Los Angeles, California contacted me by e-mail. The thrust of Mr Mitchell's message was that he believed it was possible that the occasion of the group photograph may have been a Masonic gathering. Further, Mithcell ventured that the identity of Man 2 in the group picture might be Frederick W. Wright, saying Wright was "...Master of Livingston Masonic Lodge #32 in 1885 and quite possibly in some other years." Mitchell attached a photograph of Frederick Wright dressed in his Masonic regalia for visual comparison with Man 2 from the HHS photo. Mitchell also said Wright had gone on to become state treasurer of Montana.

While the comparison between Man 2 and Frederick Wright was good, I told Mitchell I wanted to examine my research material to determine whether or not any records existed of Frederick Wright visiting Hunters Hot Springs. Unfortunately, I had become seperated from my research papers and it took nearly a year for me to reacquire them. Upon recovering my papers, I delved into Miles Iverson's Hunters Hot Springs newspaper transcripts and found these two items taken from the annals of the Livingston Enterpise newspaper:

1) "Personal Points - Thursday - Jan. 30, 1890 - County Clerk Deutsch, County Treasurer F. W. Wright, Alderman Frank Wright and Maurice Roth will depart (Livingston) this evening for a brief sojourn at Hunter's Hot Springs" and, 2) "Personal Points - Jan. 31, 1891 - County Treasurer Wright and County Clerk Deutsch went down to Hunter's Hot Springs Wednesday for a brief sojourn."

Following the second quoted newspaper squib, transcriber Iverson noted the following in parentheses: "County Treasurer F. W. Wright was to run on the (R)epublican ticket in 1892 for state treasurer and was elected." This notation confirmed that the F. W. Wright who visited Hunters Hot Springs and the Frederick W. Wright who was Master of the Livingston Masonic Lodge in 1885 were, indeed, the same person.

I am now prepared to offer my opinion that Man 2 in the HHS group photograph is Frederick W. Wright, treasurer of Park County, Montana, Master of Livingston Masonic Lodge 32, and Montana state treasurer from 1892 to 1896.

Included in Nicholas Mitchell's idea that the HHS group photo possibly depicts an outdoor break in Masonic meeting is the notion that Fred Wright, Man 2, is holding a gavel, which is usually used to call a Masonic gathering back to order. There seems to be a smudge on the hands of Fred Wright in every copy of the HHS photo I have seen, however, there is no question that he is holding a spindle-like object in his left hand. It could be the handle of a gavel, or it could be some other object.

In any case, taking Mr Mitchell's theory out for a test drive, I went looking for verifiable members of the Livingston Masonic Lodge who were in the area of Hunters Hot Springs during the period in question (1886-1894) who were also reported to have visited the HHS Hotel during that time frame. I found one.

Numerous newspaper reports mention Charles A. Burg visiting Hunters Hot Springs, especially during 1890 and 1891. In fact, according to the Livingston Enterprise newspaper, Burg visited HHS more than any other one person during those years: 18 times in 24 months. The web site for the Livingston Masonic Lodge says this about Charles A. Burg: "The very first meeting of the lodge under dispensation was held according to Brother Charles A. Burg, in an upstairs room in the old Henry Frank Building on North Main Street."

The 1907 reference book An Illustrated History of the Yellowstone Valley relates the following about Charles Burg: "A man who both as a public official and as a prominent citizen has been an important figure in molding the municipal history of Livingston, Montana, is Charles A. Burg, for fifteen years postmaster, during which time he has rendered the city excellent service and has been largely instrumental in inaugurating and carrying forward movements for the benefit of the postal system."

Finding a studio photograph of Charles A. Burg in the private collection of Park County photo-historian Doris Whithorn, I compared Burg to the men in the group picture. Bingo! Charles Burg is Man 10 in the HHS group photo.

Unfortunately, the membership records for Livingston Masonic Lodge 32 were destroyed by fire long ago, so I was not able to peruse the list of active members from that time period. According to the reference work Progressive Men of the State of Montana, several men already identified in the HHS photo were Freemasons: John A. Savage, Dr Andrew J. Hunter and Cyrus Mendenhall were Masons, and the Livingston Lodge 32 web site confirms that Frederick Wright and Charles Burg were Freemasons. We can surmise as well from the headgear worn by Harry Britton in the circa 1910 photo that Britton, too, was a Mason.

It is not known whether or not A. A. Rich and Frank Rich belonged to a fraternal organization, and the grandson of A. A. Rich, Al Rich, disavows any knowledge of Freemasonry connected to A. A. and Frank Rich. However, an enlargement of Frank Rich's 1885 wedding photo reveals a lapel pin which appears, in my opinion, very much like an insignia for the Algeria Temple, a Masonic institution based in Helena, Montana. As mentioned earlier, when he first came to Montana, Frank Rich had been a teamster. In those days, Rich's primary freight route included Helena, which was then Montana's territorial capital.

Continuing in the same vein, I searched the Yellowstone Gateway Museum's photgraphic archives looking for more men who fit the aforementioned criteria, men who were likely to have been Freemasons, and who were also known to have visited Hunters Hot Springs at one time or another. I studied the faces in the photographs of prominent businessmen and government servants in the Livingston area during the 1886-1894 time period and two matches appeared: Patrick J. Nolan, part-owner of the hardware store in Livingston who, as newspaper records show, made his first trip to Hunters Hot Springs in 1883; and Zadock H. Daniels, a successful businessman and county assessor based in Livingston who was an occasional visitor to Hunters Hot Springs.

Persuasive visual similarities seem to indicate that Man 5 is Patrick J. Nolan and Man 9 is Zadock H. Daniels.

It has yet to be established whether or not Nolan and Daniels were Freemasons. It is known from period biographical writings, however, that both men were highly respected in the local business, social, and political communities, and that both visited Hunters Hot Springs as reported by the Livingston Enterprise newspaper.

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All tallied, 10 of the 15 men have been identified: Man 1 is rancher Albert Americus Rich and Man 2 is Park County Treasurer Frederick W. Wright; Man 3 is Livingston lawyer John A. Savage and Man 4 is unidentified. Man 5 is P. J. Nolan, part-owner of the hardware store in Livingston; Man 6 is Hunters Hot Springs founder Dr Andrew Jackson Hunter and Man 7 is Dr Hunter's son-in-law and proprietor of the Rich Hotel at Hunters Hot Springs, Franklin W. Rich. Although Man 8 is unidentified, he appears in other HHS photos with John Savage; Man 9 is county assessor Zadock H. Daniels, and Man 10 is Yellowstone Valley pioneer Charles A. Burg. Man 11 is unknown. Man 12 is NPRR brakeman Harry Britton. Man 13 and Man 14 remain unidentified at this time, and Man 15 is the second owner of the Hunters Hot Springs Hotel, Cyrus B. Mendenhall.

Man 4, Man 8, Man 11, Man 13 and Man 14 are still unidentified. I wonder if someone reading this might have a clue as to the identities of any of these five remaining unknown men.

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The comely woman peeking out from the door so demurely in one of the 1897 HHS post office photographs is Fannie Officer. Fannie was the postmistress at Hunters Hot Springs in the 1890s. In those days, the HHS post office stood directly across the street from the original Hunters Hot Springs Hotel, less than 60 feet from the hotel porch where the group photo was taken.

Fannie Officer and her husband, William C. Officer, were long-time residents of Hunters Hot Springs. On two occasions in the early 2000s, I interviewed Fannie Officer's granddaughter, Dorothy Barber. Dorothy provided the comparison photograph of Fannie Officer seen in the link above. Mrs Barber, who was born at Hunters Hot Springs, said her grandparents recounted to her that 'Liver Eating' John Johnston dined at the Officer family house at Hunters Hot Springs more than once. Dorothy's grandparents could not recall what Johnston ate during those meals at the Officer house, according to Dorothy, but they told her it definitely wasn't liver - human or otherwise!

Thanks to all.

Jason Leaf
Updated February 2013

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