25 September 2013

Dan Dutro: From Drummer Boy to Photographer

Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:

Dan Dutro: From Drummer Boy to Photographer

By Ken Robison
For The River Press
September 25, 2013

This continues a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the veterans that came to Montana after the war. This month’s feature highlights Civil War veteran Daniel Dutro who fought in the war before migrating to Montana Territory where he mined and gained fame as a photographer. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com..

Daniel Dutro was too young to go to war when the Civil War started, but he joined as a drummer boy in 1865. Although he served but one year, he suffered the effects for the rest of his life. His health caused him to turn from mining in Montana Territory to photography. As a result, Dan Dutro gained fame as one of Montana’s greatest photographers.

Born on the Miami River at Taylorsville, Highland County, Ohio on September 17, 1848. He moved with his parents to Bloomington, Illinois, when a child, living there until he was fifteen years old. His father died just before the outbreak of the Civil War, and young Dan offered his services to the Union, but his widowed mother would not give her consent for his enlistment.

During the war the Dutro family moved to Pleasant Hill, Missouri and at age sixteen Dan Dutro, “animated with a flame of patriotism,” determined to become a soldier despite his mother’s continued opposition. He went to Springfield, Illinois to enlist on January 25, 1865 in Company B, 150th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He was made drummer boy of his company. After serving through the end of the war and beyond, he was stricken with pneumonia, thought to be fatal, and was sent home in a box car to die, but recovered so thoroughly that he was able to rejoin his unit in Missouri.

The 150thIllinois was assigned to Reconstruction duty as a sort of vigilance committee to wage war against the activities of Confederate guerrillas in Missouri in the postwar years. These bandits included remnants of the Bill Anderson and Quantrill raiders with men like Jesse and Frank James turning from war to crime. In company with his fellow soldiers, Dan Dutro helped break up this coterie of outlaws, and rendered effective service in pacifying war torn Missouri. He was mustered out on 16 January 1866 at Atlanta, Georgia.

Two years later in 1868 Dan Dutro came to Montana Territory and began his long residence there. He made the long trip by the steamboat Andrew Ackley leaving St. Louis, Missouri April 14th and arriving Fort Benton June 17th. He then continued on to Helena to find work. His first employment at Helena was as a hod carrier. At that time he was so slender that it seemed impossible that he could carry the heavy hod, and his fellow workmen watched him to see that harm did not come to him as he tried to make good. As they expected, his strength proved unequal to the task, and he was caught as he fell from the ladder. The contractor, appreciating the grit of the lad, changed his job to that of stone cutting.

By the time he had learned the trade of stone cutting he became expert in mineralogy, and he added knowledge of mechanics and decorating to his other tradecraft. Once more he overworked, and his health broke down confining him to his bed for two years. When he was able to get out and around he realized that he must keep out of doors, so he began prospecting in the Neihart district in the Little Belt Mountains. He became one of the earliest prospectors in that silver-rich area. There he discovered the “Benton” group of mines and a number of others, which were developed into the best silver producers of the region.

Again his health broke down and he was forced to seek work at lower elevations. Retaining partial interest in the mines, in 1881 he moved to Fort Benton where he returned to stone cutting. During this building boom he provided the stone for foundations of several new brick buildings in Fort Benton. By 1883 his health forced him to give that up, and he took up photography.

In November 1883 Dutro bought the photographic studio and stock of S. Duffin and developed into an artist and practical photographer, gaining fame during the final years of the steamboat trade as Fort Benton boomed and construction flourished before the arrival of the railroads. Dutro’s photographic record of the people, places, and buildings of Fort Benton and central Montana are remarkable. He photographed a range of Blackfoot, Cree, and Gros Ventre at a time when their lives were evolving. He photographed a wide span of Fort Benton history, the river, the historic buildings, the street scenes, and the advances in transportation as steamboats were replaced by railroads. He captured many images of the countryside, ranches, and mines. He took many studio portraits of men, women, and children, and the ethnic Chinese. After the defeat of the Metis and Louis Riel in 1885, Dan Dutro photographed Riel’s military commander, Gabriel Dumont and others of the Metis and Cree communities in exile from Canada. He captured important aspects of history of the Missouri River, the changes in transportation, and the evolution from open range ranching.  Dan Dutro’s photographs are exceptionally important historically and prized by many families in the area.

Some of Dutro’s photographic techniques show both innovation and humor. When he photographed the Fort Benton School at recess one day in 1885 he had the children form in front of the building. After this session, he pronounced, “it is as hard to keep them quiet as a lot of calves in a corral.” He devised a “novel invention for catching the happiest expression possible, and for taking the pictures of children it cannot be beaten. It is called the ‘compressed air automatic countenance catcher.’” The mind wonders what that was all about!

Among the many Dutro photographs in our Overholser Historical Research Center are two “hanging” photos taken of convicted murderers before their execution. The hangings were public events, and the photos posed the doomed man with various law enforcement and legal community officials.
Dutro’s photographic record of the Fort Benton adobe trading post during the 1880s and 90s provides a valuable record of this decaying historic landmark and proved vital to the reconstruction of Old Fort Benton. In May 1886 in the second year of the fledgling Great Falls Townsite, Dutro visited to take photos of the falls of the Missouri and the new town. The next year he was back for more as the growth of “the future great” began to accelerate. When the St. Paul, Minneapolis and Manitoba (later Great Northern) Railroad arrived at Fort Benton, Dutro was there to photograph the driving of the silver spike. He visited the Dan Blevins ranch on Highwood Creek to take photos of his well-known race horses. Holiday treats during this period featured collections of Dutro’s famed photographic sketches of northern Montana.
In 1894 the Chinese community of Fort Benton and other towns in the area were required to comply with provisions of a new law, and Dutro was there to photograph them. Twenty-seven Chinese were photographed in Fort Benton, a dozen at Assinniboine, and twenty at Havre. The next year Dutro was back in Havre to photograph the “Wildest West” show aggregation. While there he also captured Cree Indians just ready to commence their famous sun dance.
By the mid 1890s Dutro’s reputation as an exceptional photographer attracted the interest of a young man who was destined to greatness. In early 1896 Roland Reed came to Fort Benton to apprentice at the Dutro Studio. Dutro and Reed formed a partnership with photographic studios in Fort Benton and Havre during 1896-97. In 1897, Reed went north to photograph the Alaska Gold Rush. He then went to national prominence during a long career photographing Native Americans, especially the Blackfoot Indians. Many of his photographs were published in association with the Great Northern Railroad.

In one of Fort Benton’s greatest preservation disasters, the priceless collection of Dan Dutro’s glass plate negatives, stored for many years in the Benton Record building, were thrown out when the third story of the Record building was razed in August 1929 to develop Fraternity Hall.  

During his Helena years, Daniel Dutro had married Caroline McBurney, a daughter of George McBurney, who came from Farmington, New York, where Mrs. Dutro was born on October 17, 1849. The 1880 census recorded the Dutro family living in Helena with children: Alice age 8; Flora age 5; George age 4; and David age 2. Living in Fort Benton, the Dutros were active members of the community. In January 1882, Dan Dutro, as a “patron” of the Benton Public Schools publically supported the School Board in their stand to allow African American children to attend the Benton Schools. He served as president of the Fort Benton library association. Dutro was a founding member of G. K. Warren Post No. 20, Grand Army of the Republic, in Fort Benton.

Around 1900 Dutro’s father-in-law, George McBurney, builder of the McBurney House the first hotel in Deer Lodge County, lost his eyesight, and Dan Dutro ended his photographic career to devote himself to the care of McBurney until the death of the latter. Dutro then resumed mining operations in the Helena area and operated a mine at the mouth of Nelson Gulch, where he built a small stamp mill and foundry. Later, he discovered the “Arrow Head” mine of rich ore. Until his death, Dutro continued to operate his mill and take an active interest in mining affairs. Considering the state of his health Mr. Dutro was a remarkable man and his achievements stand out as a practical demonstration of what a man can accomplish if he only possesses sufficient ambition, no matter what his physical disabilities may be.

Mrs. Caroline Dutro survived her husband and lived at Central Park, Gallatin County, Montana. At the time of Dan Dutro’s death their children were: Alice, married to Rev. H. E. Clowes, of San Diego, California; Flora, married to Arthur P. Knadler, of Central Park, Montana; George, married to Helen, daughter of Robert and Lydia Culbertson; and David V, married to Anna Vaughn, of Dodson, MT.

Civil War veteran drummer boy Daniel D. Dutro died May 8, 1918 at Logan, a railroad town in Gallatin County near Three Forks. He rests today in Forestvale Cemetery, Helena.


1.     Dan Dutro prospected and mined whenever his health permitted.
2.     Dutro & Reed’s Photographic Studio about 1896, the studio was located on the site of the Chouteau County Free Public Library.

Private Robert S. Culbertson: From Shiloh to the Culbertson House

Remembering Our Civil War Heritage and Heroes:

Private Robert S. Culbertson: From Shiloh to the Culbertson House

By Ken Robison
For The River Press
July 31, 2013

This continues a monthly series commemorating the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the veterans that came to Montana after the war. This month’s feature highlights Civil War veteran Robert S. Culbertson, nephew of Fort Benton’ founder Alexander Culbertson. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com. Descendants of Montana Civil War veterans are encouraged to send their stories to mtcivilwar@yahoo.com..

While many Montanans know the Culbertson name and that Alexander Culbertson established the upper Missouri Fort Benton trading post for the American Fur Company, fewer are familiar with his nephew Robert S. Culbertson. Yet, Robert served in the Union army during the Civil War, came up the Missouri to Fort Benton to become a prominent hotel owner and raise a large family that is still spread around the state and country.

Robert Simpson, one of five sons of James F. and Biddy Culbertson, was born March 26, 1843 in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania about fifty miles west of Gettysburg. Most of the James Culbertson family moved west to southern Ohio where young Robert was raised.

When President Lincoln called for 90-day volunteers to build up the Union Army at the beginning of the Civil War, eighteen-year-old Robert S. Culbertson enlisted as a private in Company K of the 6th Ohio Infantry Regiment. As it became clear the South would not quickly return to the Union, the 6th Ohio was re-formed, and Robert re-enlisted for a three-year term of service.

Immediately after being mustered in and equipped, the 6th Ohio was ordered to western Virginia to take part in operations at Laurel Hill and the subsequent pursuit of Confederate forces, ending in the battle of Carrick’s Ford. This minor but important battle routed the Confederates in a key victory for Union forces as they took control of what would become the loyal Union state of West Virginia.

The 6th Ohio transferred to operations in the Western Theater, and on April 5, 1862 went into camp at Savannah, Tennessee near Pittsburg Landing or Shiloh. The next morning the Battle of Shiloh opened, and the 6th Ohio rushed across country to become among the first of Major General Don Carlos Buell’s Army of Ohio troops to cross the Tennessee River to reinforce General Ulysses Grant’s beleaguered force. The river crossing by steamboat was under fire and with two other regiments the 6th Ohio was thrown into the line just in time to repel the last charge Confederate forces made that day.

At the major Battle of Shiloh, the 6th Ohio commanded by Lt. Col. Nicholas L. Anderson was assigned to the Tenth Brigade under the Fourth Division, commanded by Brig. Gen. William Nelson, known as “Bull” Nelson for his 300-pound size. Gen. Nelson was a colorful leader, wearing his hat with a large ostrich feather dyed black and mounted on his 17 hands black stallion Ned. Colonel Anderson submitted this report of the battle:
   “The regiment was disembarked at about 5 o'clock on the evening of the 6th instant [April], and marched up the hill as quickly as possible amid the confusion and panic existing among some disorganized regiments at the landing place. I formed line of battle, under your directions, some 200 yards from the river, to support a battery then in danger of being charged by the enemy. The regiment laid on arms all night, two companies acting as skirmishers.
   “At daylight on the 7th the [Tenth] brigade formed in line of battle, skirmishers
in advance, the Sixth [Ohio] Regt. holding the right [flank]. About a mile from the place we had occupied in the night our advance met the enemy, and the battle was immediately opened. During the day the regiment was continually under a hot and heavy fire, supporting for the greater time Terrill's regular battery [5th U.S. Artillery], and at one time furnishing a company to manage the guns of said battery, its men having been mostly killed or wounded.
   “The regiment was held as a reserve, and once changed front perpendicular to the rear, and once forward on the first company, in order to re-enforce our hotly-attacked lines. Late in the afternoon we advanced briskly forward and occupied the left of the ground once occupied by [Confederate Brig. Gen. Alexander P. Stewart’s] brigade, which had been all day in the possession of the enemy.”

The 6th Ohio then participated in operations leading to the vital rail hub at Corinth, Mississippi, and in the subsequent pursuit of the Confederates for 60 miles south of Corinth. In December 1862, the 6th Ohio was heavily engaged at Stone’s River, losing 159 killed, wounded, or prisoners out of 383 officers and men. In the battle of Chickamauga the 6th Ohio took more heavy casualties, losing 125 of the 384-man force. The 6th engaged in more heavy combat at Chattanooga being deployed in advance of Four Corps on Orchard Knob and in the charge up Missionary Ridge.

More action came during the Knoxville campaign followed in the spring of 1864 by the Battle of Atlanta. On June 6, the 6th Ohio Infantry was released from duty and ordered home to muster out. The regiment arrived at Cincinnati on June 15, and after a public reception given by the residents, the regiment including Private Culbertson was mustered out June 23 with 30 officers and 495 men.

With the end of Robert Culbertson’s war, he decided to remain in Tennessee. In the words of his great-grandson Bill Culbertson, Robert became “a carpetbagger,” serving as Chief of Police in Memphis. In these early years of Reconstruction, Memphis faced many racial problems.

During the war Memphis had been a hub for freed slaves, and the black population had swelled rapidly. At the end of the war black Union Army soldiers patrolled the streets, often clashing with white Memphis policemen, most of whom were Irish immigrants. Most of the black troops were mustered out of service on April 30, 1866 and the following day fighting broke out between the black ex-soldiers and white policemen. Fighting escalated into three days of full-scale rioting, and these Memphis Riots coupled with the similar New Orleans Riot swept Radical Reconstructionists, who wanted justice and equality for former slaves, into office in 1866 fall congressional elections. With their veto-proof majority, the Radical Republicans were able to pass key legislation including the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing citizenship, equal protection of the law, and due process to former slaves.

The Memphis Riots led to major changes in modernization of the Memphis police force. What we don’t know is the exact role of Robert Culbertson in this tragic affair. The Chief of Police at the time of the riots was Ben G. Garrett. Did Culbertson come in as part of the reform movement after the riots? Based on the timing of Culbertson’s departure from Memphis, it is likely that he came as a reformer in the aftermath of the 1866 Memphis Riots.

In any event, by 1868 Robert Culbertson decided he had had enough of Tennessee. Prompted by the urging of his uncle Alexander Culbertson, who himself was just returning to the upper Missouri with his family, in the summer of 1868 Robert boarded a steamboat at St. Louis for the long trip up the Missouri River to Fort Benton.

Robert worked for his uncle for a short time before being hired to clerk in the store of I. G. Baker & Company in Fort Benton. Robert’s daughter Mollie Culbertson Sedgwick later wrote that her father told many stories of his experiences working there. He was regularly sent to the Cypress Hills with the payroll for the I. G. Baker store located there then doing extensive trade with the Indians. He would travel on horse back for several days on these trips. Mollie wrote that her father’s Indian name was Cap-cape-a-ca meaning “Cypress Hills.”

In 1877 Robert Culbertson left I. G. Baker & Co. to engage in the hotel business in Fort Benton. In partnership with Robert Mills, they opened a wood frame building on Front Street known as the Centennial Hotel in honor of the country’s centennial. By April 1881, Culbertson bought out his partner and became sole owner of the Centennial.

On April 7, 1879 Robert S. Culbertson and Lydia Ann Smith were united in marriage in Fort Benton. Eleven children were born, with nine attaining adulthood, and many descendants live today around Montana and other states.

By the early 1880s, the steamboat trade was booming, and Fort Benton was undergoing a building boom. Responding to the opening of the Grand Union in November 1882, R. S. Culbertson moved his Centennial Hotel to the back of the alley of his lot on Front Street in preparation for stonework for a new brick hotel. The Centennial continued to operate during construction of the new hotel, completed in 1883 and opened as the Pacific Hotel. Over the years this hotel became commonly known as the Culbertson House. Preserved by the family and other owners over the years, the Culbertson House stands today as a bright example of Fort Benton days of steamboat glory.

After the death of Lydia on October 15, 1912, Robert continued to operate his hotel until the fall of 1915 when decided he’d lived through enough [48] tough Montana winters and retired to an Old Soldiers Home in Los Angeles. Private Robert S. Culbertson passed on January 15, 1923 at Los Angeles, California. In the words of his great-grandson Bill Culbertson, “Montana was good to Robert, he went from being a clerk and deliveryman to eventually owning two farms and the Culbertson House Hotel in Fort Benton.” Today, Civil War veteran Private Culbertson rests in Riverside Cemetery.

Note: A special tribute to Culbertson descendants Kathy Lucke and Bill Culbertson for sharing their family history and photos with our Overholser Historical Research Center—and to Don and Kathy Lucke for their restoration work that has made the Culbertson House shine today.


1.     Robert S. Culbertson as he appeared about 1878. [Courtesy of Kathy Lucke]
2.     The Pacific Hotel when it opened in 1883. [Courtesy of OHRC]
3.     The family of Robert & Lydia Culbertson. [Courtesy of Bill Culbertson]