Augusta Wallihan: Wildlife Photographer

Augusta Wallihan: Wildlife Photographer

Mary Augusta (or “Gusty”) Wallihan was
born on Feb. 22, 1837, in the small town of Oak Creek, Wisconsin. She would go on to be a pioneer in the world
of wildlife photography. She wrote of her childhood:
“My father was a fine shot—could hit partridge, ruffed grouse, or squirrel from the top of
a tall maple tree, taking the head off at every shot with the muzzle-loading rifle he
used. Many a time I sat by his side watching him
mold the round bullets, thinking them so pretty and bright as they rolled into the box that
caught them.” Even though her father hunted, Gusty never
went hunting with him. Gusty’s family eventually moved to Salt
Lake City, Utah, where, in the early 1880s, both of her parent’s died and she lost her
first husband, either through death or divorce. In 1882, Augusta and her brother Thomas moved
to Lily Park, Colorado. Thomas was looking for land to build a cattle
ranch. It was there that Gusty met the man who would
become her second husband, Allen G. Wallihan, he was twenty-two years younger than her. Allen was also from Wisconsin. He and Gusty had a lot in common and became
good friends. After being snowed in together during the
winter of 1884-85, the pair agreed that the only way to maintain their honor was to get
married. So, when the weather broke in April, they
headed to Rawlins, Wyoming and tied the knot. After their marriage, they settled into a
log cabin in Lay, Wyoming They opened their home as a roadhouse. Allen served as the postmaster for Lay, and
they also maintained a weather station and kept weather records for years. The Wallihans were different from most homesteaders. They didn’t do much farming and kept only
one milk cow and a few chickens. The Wallihans were more interested in hunting
and viewing the abundant wildlife around their home. Allen wanted Gusty to participate in all the
outdoor activities. “My brother and Mr. Wallihan wanted me to
learn to shoot,” Gusty wrote. “We were miles from any house—alone in
the mountains. I had fired a revolver a few times and a gun
once. The men laid plans for me to use our Parker
shotgun on cotton-tail rabbits. When I made my first attempt I could not hold
the shot gun out at arm’s length, so I learned to shoot from rest. After a short time I tried a shot off-hand
at some geese flying over and killed one at sixty yards and about seventy-five feet high,
which surprised and pleased my brother and Mr. W., and myself as well. My first deer I got next spring, shooting
him in the neck, dropping him.” Even as an outdoors-woman, Gusty maintained
the appearance of an elegant lady, keeping her hair curled and wearing beautiful dresses
for everyday. She became a very good shot, and once took
two mule deer with a single bullet. One day while out on a hunt, Gusty was crouched
in a clump of sage brush. She was watching ant carrying away crumbs
from her lunch, and didn’t notice a heard of approaching mule deer until they were only
a few feet from her. “What a wonder picture,” she thought,
“if only it were possible to take it with a camera.” On the way back to the house, she thought
about it some more, and came up with the idea that she could photograph wild animals with
the aid of a blind. Allen, who had once been a professional photographer,
instantly recognized the merit in his wife’s idea. Soon after that, Gusty traded a pair of beaded
deerskin gloves she had made to a young clergyman who was staying in their home in exchange
for his camera. The couple began their pursuit of photographing
all kinds of wild game. They bought more cameras and tripods, which
they carefully set up and tended along game trails. They camped, cooked, packed and trailed and
fought wind and weather for over 10 adventurous years, resulting in the publication of two
books. Hoofs, Claws and Antlers of the Rocky Mountains,
in 1894, and Camera Shots at Big Game in 1901. These publications practically marked the
beginning of the art of wildlife photography. Theodore Roosevelt wrote introductions for
both volumes, and the Wallihans were hailed with respect by zoologists and artists alike. In 1900, the couple was invited to display
their photographs at the Paris World Exposition, and at the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904. The Wallihans both became voices for conservation
and game management. Writing for sportsman’s magazines and local
newspapers, they did their best to call the nation’s attention to the damage that herds
of deer and elk were suffering due to overhunting for the commercial market. “I presume you are wondering how the deer
are in Routt County by this time,” Gusty wrote for Outdoor Life Magazine. “I can tell you they are being hunted more
than ever, and thousands are being slaughtered. I have been told that four large wagons have
been loaded to go to Snake River, each wagon being drawn by four horses. This only gives an idea of what is going on. When men having plenty of cattle turn out
to kill four-horse wagon loads of deer to take out of the country it is time to call
a halt. We have but a few years left of deer-hunting
in Colorado – that is very evident.” (Outdoor Life Magazine, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1900)
Augusta Wallihan suffered a stroke in 1922 and died at her home a few months later. Both her and Allen are buried on a hill overlooking
the land and open spaces they loved. Their legacy still lives on in the world of
wildlife photography and documentaries.

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