49 – Fate and Fortune

In today’s episode we discover the adventurous life and career of a photographer named Sarah Luse Larimer.


CDV work from Mrs. Larimer’s Photograph Rooms, Humboldt Kansas:

Back of CDV by Mrs. Larimer (Courtesy McIntyre-Culy Collection)
Back of CDV by Mrs. Larimer (Courtesy McIntyre-Culy Collection)
(Courtesy McIntyre-Culy Collection)
CDV by Mrs. Larimer (Courtesy McIntyre-Culy Collection)

Books about  the July 1864 incident  at Little Box Elder Creek and aftermath:

  1. Capture and Escape or, Life among the Sioux by Sarah L. Larimer
    Here’s an engraving based on a photo of Sarah Larimer that appears in her book:
Portrait of Sarah Larimer from her book
Portrait of Sarah Larimer from her book

2. Narrative of my captivity among the Sioux Indians by Fanny Kelly.

As I mention in the episode, Fanny Kelly and her experience are much more well-remember in the 21st century. You can read more about her in Wikipedia here (Mrs. Larimer doesn’t have her own page in Wikipedia!).




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Welcome to Photographs, Pistols & Parasols, the podcast where we celebrate early women artisan photographers.

I’m your host, Lee McIntyre.

In today’s episode, I want to introduce to the incredible story of a photographer named Sarah Luse Larimer.

For more information about any of the women discussed in today’s episode, visit my website at p3photographers.net.

That’s letter “p”, number “3”, photographers “dot” net.


Hi everybody!

Welcome to back to Photographs, Pistols, & Parasols.

I’m your host, Lee McIntyre.

As I mentioned at the end of the last episode, today we’re going to be discussing the life and adventures of a woman named Sarah Luse Larimer.

Now, Sarah, the older sister of Franc Luse Albright (see episode 48), was born in 1836, one of the oldest children of Jonathan and Sarah Luse. By the age of 20, Sarah is already married to a man named William Larimer. The Larimers move to Iowa and then later settle in Iola, Kansas, where Mrs Larimer runs a photography gallery in the early 1860s.

Sarah’s husband, William, was originally a farmer, but when war breaks out, he serves as a lieutenant in the Kansas regiment, but then he’s discharged for medical reasons before 1864.

In May 1864, William and Sarah decide to take their 8-year-old son Frank and head west, intending to building a new life in Montana.

Skipping ahead to 1866, though, we find both William and Sarah running a photography gallery in Julesburg, Colorado.

A couple of years later, they’ve moved to a place called Sherman Station, which is really a whistle stop between, Cheyenne and Laramie, Wyoming. While there, Sarah is running several businesses: a photographic gallery again, and also a general store and a wood-cutting business.

You may recall I mentioned last time that in 1870, Sarah and William Larimer are living in Wyoming, and that’s also where Sarah’s mother living with 2 of Sarah’s younger sisters , including Sarah’s 17-year old sister Frances (Franc) Luse. Since Sarah has been a photographer at this point for several years, starting back in the early 1860s in Kansas, and Franc Luse will open up her gallery back in Kansas just a couple of years from now, I speculate that it is certainly plausible that Sarah taught her little sister how do do photography while they were both living in Wyoming. I have no direct evidence of that, however.

But any case, the Larimers stay in Wyoming just a few more years until moving back to Kansas themselves in 1874. Mrs. Larimer opens yet another studio (in Longton, Kansas), and then by 1877 she is operating a studio in Humboldt, Kansas.

Although there is that brief mention of William Larimer doing photography in Colorado for a year or so with Sarah, it’s really Mrs. Larimer running the businesses; she’s only partnered with her husband for a short time. William Larimer eventually gets a law degree, and in the 1870s and onward he’s practicing as an attorney, first in Kansas, and then later in the Dakota Territories (by 1880). Interestingly, Mrs. Larimer is living in Humboldt, Kansas in 1880 with her son Frank, who’s now in his early 20s, when William is living in the Dakota Territories. But both Sarah and William still list themselves as married, so maybe this was so some of 19th century long-distance relationship. Certainly they still seem to be amicable, even if they aren’t living together: when William dies in 1895, he leaves his estate to Sarah.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Back in Humboldt, Kansas in the late 1870s and early 1880s, Mrs. Larimer’s Photograph Rooms on Bridge Street is a thriving business. She’s very popular in town and appears in the social notices quite frequently; she’s also placing ads in the newspaper too, of course, just like all the other women photographic entrepreneurs we meet here on the podcast. Mrs. Larimer opens her studio in Humboldt in 1874, and it is a huge success for the next 11 years.

By the way, as a quick aside, my husband, Chris, recently has been doing some genealogical detective work on his father’s side of the family. As it turns out, Chris’ great-great-grandmother Addie, who’d been widowed in 1870 and left raising 4 young children, moved to Humboldt Kansas with her mother and her extended family in 1875. Mrs Gale, as Grandma Addie was called then, appears in the social notices from time to time and clearly moves in the same circles as Mrs. Larimer.

And no, we don’t have any photo by Mrs. Larimer of Grandma Addie – but wouldn’t that be fun to find! I think it’s definitely plausible that Grandma Addie had a photo of at least one of her kids – if not all – taken at Mrs. Larimer’s!

But I digress. Getting back to Mrs. Larimer … In 1885 she decides to close up shop in Humboldt, putting a notice in early July 1885 that her studio will be closing on July 20th, and people should come in soon if they want one last photo. People in town are very sorry to see her go, particularly someone on the Inter-state newspaper in Humboldt, which publishes quite the tribute to her.

Let me read you their tribute/farewell as it was published in the Inter-State newspaper in Humboldt, Kansas on July 9, 1885:

Mrs. Larimer has sold her gallery in this city and retires from business and society here on the 20th of this month. She has been a citizen here for many years and has amassed quite a fortune. Given to Literary work, she has written several books, and in her life of temperance she has taken prohibition as her guide. We extend to her our best wishes for her welfare, wherever her lot may be cast, and if she has made any mistakes in life that she may consider them her helps and not her hindrances. She’s an artist, Photographer, and Queen of the palettes and brush. May her lines and interline be woven with the knowledge of the truth and an experience redolent with lessons of unfailing and perfect success.

Clearly, Mrs. Larimer was very, very well regarded, eh?

Now, even though it sounds like Mrs. Larimer is retiring from photography, her gallery in Humboldt is not the last one she ever has. Over the next decade, though, she’ll suffer a few family tragedies: her mother passes away in 1889; her son Frank dies suddenly in 1891, and her husband, William dies, as I said, in 1895.

But the late 1890s, Mrs. Larimer has moved to Fort Worth Texas, where she has some nieces and nephews, and she winds up operating yet another photography studio there until 1912.

You might have noticed in that that tribute written in 1885 there’s a mentions that’s she’s amassed a fortune by 1885, and that fortune only continues to grow. When she dies, she leaves an estate worth a half-million dollars, which is shared by her surviving siblings and the children of her siblings who died before her. I’ll refer yo back to episode 48 for a few more details about her niece Claude Albright, who inherits quite a fortune from her aunt Sarah, since Sarah’s sister Franc, who was Claude’s mother, died before Sarah in 1912.

So that’s the basic story of Mrs. Sarah Luse Larimer, a very successful early woman artisan photographer. I don’t think Chris and I have completely tracked down all the gallery she ran yet, since her career spanned nearly 60 years, starting in the early 1860s, and continuing until just a year or two before she died in 1913.

But now — with apologies to Paul Harvey for stealing his famous tag line — now it’s time for the rest of the story of Sarah Luse Larimer.

You see, I skipped over some key details from 1864 when Sarah and William headed west with a wagon train. The Larimers bring gold and jewelry with them, as well as Mrs. Larimer’s photographic equipment, since the plan is for her to start a new photography studio when they get to Montana.

The wagon train included another couple, Josiah and Fanny Kelly, and their little daughter Mary; there were a few other men as well, 2 men who were the Kelly’s servants, and a minister. Josiah Kelly’s health has not been the best, and the Kellys hope that the air out west will help him.

The wagon train starts out from Kansas in May 1864, headed for the Montana territory, and by July 12, 1864, the group has reached Little Box Elder Creek, Wyoming.

However, just after crossing the river, a group of Sioux attack. In the battle that ensues, one of the Kelly’s servants and the minister are killed. William Larimer and another one of the Kelly servants are wounded, but manage to escape with Josiah Kelly, the only man uninjured in the attack.

Mrs. Larimer and Mrs. Kelly, and their two children, Frank Larimer and Mary Kelly, are left behind with the group of Sioux. After the wagon is looted, Mrs. Larimer and her son are loaded onto one horse, Mrs. Kelly and her daughter on another, and led away by their Sioux attackers.

Of course, it’s hardly a spoiler to point out at this point that Mrs. Larimer and her son survive, of course, since I have already talked about them being alive well after 1864. As it turns out, Mrs. Larimer waits until the group make camp that first evening and slips out of the camp with her son, making her way overland for 2 days until she reaches an American fort. The story of her escape and journey is quite amazing, since she didn’t have shoes for either her or her son, nor any protection from the sun beating down, and – more crucially- they didn’t have or find much food or water. It really is an incredible tale of survival – and you can read all of it in her 1870 book Capture and Escape or, Life among the Sioux.

What I also find amazing when I read her story is to think about was it was like in 1864, when getting news of events in places like Wyoming was a challenge. After Mrs. Larimer makes it the Fort, she initially receives the news that her husband, William, has died from his injuries. She doesn’t find out for quite a while that he’s actually alive. They are eventually reunited in Colorado (which probably explains why they are living and running photography gallery there in 1866). All of their belongings were lost on the wagon train, so they had to send for all new equipment to set up their first studio out west.

But I know what you’re thinking – what about Mrs. Kelly and her daughter, Mary? What happened to them? Well, that becomes a little more complicated – and tragic.

You have to realize that the mindset of both Mrs. Kelly and Mrs. Larimer was that was preferable to risk death than to risk what lay ahead when they got to where the Sioux were taking them. Mrs. Larimer’s plan was to wait for dark and slip away – and that’s what she did.

Mrs. Kelly, though, saw an opportunity while they were riding on the trail to put her daughter down and tell her to run back toward the site of the wagon, hoping that they were still close enough that some of the men might be around to rescue her.

Sadly, though, little Mary Kelly’s body is found days later, apparently killed by a group of Sioux who chase after her after they discovered she was gone..

Mrs. Kelly is unsuccessful in escaping herself, though, and winds up living with the Sioux for many months, before being released (or rescued) in 1865. (The actual details surrounding her winding up in an American fort depends on who you believe). It takes a few months until she finally learns about the death of her daughter, and also the fact that her husband is still alive. While they are reunited, unfortunately, Josiah Kelly’s health was never great and he dies just a couple of years later, leaving Fanny Kelly a widow.

She then goes to live with the Larimers in Wyoming – they had been acquaintances in Kansas, and of course now have a shared experience of surviving the attack.

But Fanny Kelly’s friendship with the Larimers doesn’t last.

Remember I said Mrs. Larimer wrote a book about her experience in 1870?

Well, Fanny Kelly sues, saying that Mrs. Larimer stole the manuscript for a book that she (Fanny Kelly) had written and then published it under Mrs. Larimer’s name.

Fanny publishes her own book, Narrative of My Captivity among the Sioux Indians in 1871 and sues Mrs. Larimer for stealing her original manuscript.

The lawsuit drags on through the courts for the next 5 years. Fanny Kelly wins the first few rounds, but then In 1876 she suddenly withdraws her claim, paying all court costs.

I really wish we knew the rest of that story, since I couldn’t find any article in the newspaper that explained why Fanny Kelly abruptly dropped her lawsuit.

In any case, both of the books are available for free on the Internet Archive. I’ll put links to both in the episode notes, and you can read them and decide for yourself if Mrs. Larimer copied Mrs. Kelly’s work.

Mrs. Kelly, of course, spent much more time with the Sioux than Mrs. Larimer, so there’s a lot of over-the-top narrative in Mrs. Kelly’s work, with descriptions of how she outwitted the Native Americans time and time again, and escaped death a numerous times as well.

Both Mrs Larimer and Mrs. Kelly also include accounts of the moments after the attack at Little Box Elder Creek, when they and their children were left with the Sioux attackers, after the surviving men from the wagon train had escaped. Mrs. Kelly describes a harrowing incident when the Native Americans destroy Mrs. Larimer’s photographic equipment. Mrs. Larimer, according to Mrs. Kelly, became hysterical, and the leader of the Native American group was poised to kill Mrs. Larimer as a result. According to Mrs. Kelly, it was only thanks to her own intervention with the chief that Mrs. Larimer’s life was spared.

Mrs. Larimer’s book, however, includes no mention of that incident at all.

Make of that what you will.

Anyway, as I said, I’ll include links to both books in the show notes for today’s episode.

One last note:

For several years in a row, in the late 1890s and early 1900s, there is what seems to be a press-release that is carried in newspapers all across the U.S., with exactly the same re-telling of the story of Sarah Larimer and the raid in 1864, with the curious line that Mrs. Larimer is now on her “annual pilgrimage” to Washington, D.C. to meet with the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Now, both Mrs. Larimer and Mrs. Kelly sued the federal government to get reparations for all their possessions lost in the raid; both also provided the army with information on the location of the attacking group, which helped the army in other ways. They were both awarded money, but the government took a long time in actually paying it, though. Mrs. Larimer doesn’t seem to have gotten most of it until the early 1900s, so maybe that’s what those “pilgrimages” to Washington, D.C. were all about.

In any case, Mrs. Larimer’s book today is not nearly as well know as Mrs. Kelley’s for some reason. Of course, Mrs.Kelly’s story was a little more dramatic: she lived with the Sioux for months, not a day, and her daughter met that tragic end.


But here on the podcast, of course, we celebrate all of Mrs. Larimer’s life: not just her one brush with adventure in 1864, but also the entirety of her career as a successful early women artisan photographer, even though her photographic work is a little hard to track down.

However, my husband and I have found one example of her work, a CDV from her studio in Humboldt, Kansas.

But as I said before, we still hold out hope for one day finding a photo taken at Mrs. Larimer’s Photograph Rooms of my husband’s great-great-grandma Addie. Now that would be something to find!

I’ll put the picture of the CDV Mrs. Larimer that my husband and I have found (of an unknown man) in the notes for today’s episode.

You’ll find that as always on the website at p3photographers.net. That’s letter “p”, number “3”, photographers “dot” net.

And I’ll put those links to Mrs. Larimer’s and Mrs. Kelly’s books on the Internet Archive website. The books are freely available and offered in multiple digital formats.

If you have any questions or just want to drop me a note, send email to podcast “at” p3photographers.net.

And remember, you can follow Photographs, Pistols and Parasols on Facebook, at facebook.com/p3photograhers.

So that’s it for today. Thanks for stopping by!

Until next time, I’m Lee, and this is Photographs, Pistols & Parasols.