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Contributed by Museum of Northern Arizona
Author and historian Earle Robert Forrest was born in the Forrest family home in Washington, Pennsylvania on June 20, 1883. As a young man he became a particularly enthusiastic photographer; his collection of negatives reached over 8,000 by the end of his life. After graduating from high school, Forrest took three years off from studying. During that time he worked as a messenger in the local Western Union Telegraph office. He also spent two summers at his uncle's farm in northwestern Missouri. It was there that he first witnessed cowboys, outside of a Wild West show.
In the fall of 1900 Forrest enrolled in the Washington Business College, graduating in 1901 and entering Washington and Jefferson Academy. During the summer break of 1902 Forrest traveled west to see if he could find what was left of the Old West. He spent several months at Trimble and Morgan's cow camp in the mountains of southwestern Colorado in Dolores County. It was there that Forrest received his first cowboy education. Around the cow camp Forrest heard much talk about Indians and decided to go on a photographing expedition. He made his way to a Navajo Indian trading post in New Mexico, and stayed there for a month taking photographs of the Navajos. It was during this expedition that Forrest took what is believed to have been the first photograph ever of Ship Rock on the Navajo Reservation.
Forrest returned home to Pennsylvania in the fall of 1902 and spent the next school year in Washington and Jefferson Academy. He had trouble with "running ears" and a doctor advised him that the dry climate of Arizona might cure his ailment; it did. But the main reason Forrest went to Arizona was his desire to go west again. The doctor's advice provided the perfect opportunity. In September of 1903 Forrest traveled by train to Tucson, Arizona. He spent the winter in the Santa Catalina Mountains working for the Bayless' home sheep ranch at Oracle and the Bayless Ranch at Redington, where he was put in charge of a large field of wild and half wild hogs. Working with sheep and hogs was quite dull to Forrest so he and another boy about his age, Frank Dow, left the Bayless Ranch. The pair ended up at an Adobe house in Cherry Valley owned by Frank Daily of Tucson. The boys spent that winter breaking horses for a dude hotel in Oracle. In March of 1904 the two parted ways, Forrest traveling to Flagstaff and Dow returning home to Oregon. In Flagstaff Forrest went to work riding for the CO Bar Outfit owned by the Babbitt Brothers. He was first at Cedar Ranch, then Buckler Ranch on Hart Prairie in the San Francisco Mountains. He spent most of the summer out with the wagon punching cattle. He returned to Pennsylvania in the fall of 1904 to keep a promise he had made to his father to attend college. However, he never failed to return west any chance he got.
Forrest spent the summer of 1905 and part of the fall at Still Huling's cow camp in the Gallatin Mountains of Montana, about a mile from the northwest corner of Yellowstone Park. He returned home by way of San Francisco and saw the city before the big earthquake and fire of 1906. In the summer of 1906 he traveled around Mexico, wandering from Mexico City to Oaxaca, and then back to the United States via El Paso and spent some time at the Long Ranch in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Durango. In late August, on his way back to Pennsylvania, Forrest stopped in Albuquerque and learned that the Hopi Snake Dance at Oraibi had been postponed until September. Wanting to see the dance, he stayed in Flagstaff and went to Oraibi with a party taken by Fred Volz, of Canyon Diablo.
In the summer of 1907 Forrest was back riding for the CO Bar at Flagstaff. Bill Babbitt, the field manager, told Forrest to go to the Snake Dance and take Louis Akin, an artist living in Flagstaff, with him. The two went to a snake dance at Mishongnovi and then to a Flute Ceremony at old Oraibi before returning to Flagstaff. During all these and previous travels Forrest had a camera with him. Prior to 1906 he had a 4x5 glass plate Kodak, but in 1906 he switched to an Eastman film Kodak postcard size camera. He took hundreds of pictures on the cattle ranges and at the Hopi villages with that camera. In the summer of 1908 Forrest again worked for the CO Bar, but quit just before snake dance time. He went to work as a cook for Harry Evans who had an outdoor school for boys and spent his summers in Flagstaff. Besides cooking Forrest corralled the boys on a trip to the Grand Canyon and Hopi Villages.
Forrest received a B.S. from Washington and Jefferson College in 1908, although he later said it was a mystery how he graduated since he was away so much. He then went on to study forestry at the University of Washington from 1908 to 1909. For the next four years he was employed on the road and bridge engineering corps of Washington County. Early in 1913 he began work as a forest ranger on the Deerlodge Forest, Montana. However, the high altitude did not agree with his wife Margaret Bingham, whom he had married on June 29, 1909. They returned east just before Christmas of that year. The two had a daughter, Margaret (Peggy) Isobel, in 1915.
In April of 1914 Forrest got a temporary job at the Washington Record, a newspaper that was just starting up at the time. The temporary position turned into a lifelong career for Forrest who worked in the newspaper business the rest of his life. He was court house reporter for the Washington Record for six years. When that paper folded in 1920 he went to work for the Washington Reporter. He worked as a court house reporter until 1955 when a hearing defect made it impossible for him to cover court cases. In addition to the hundreds of special features Forrest wrote for the Reporter over the years, he was also a contributor to Travel Magazine, Outdoor Life, Field and Stream, The Curio Collector and others, as well as an annual contributor to the Westerner's Brand Book. He was also a nationally known author of books on the Old West publishing six fiction and non-fiction works related to the southwest. Late in life Forrest split his time equally between the west and east coasts, much as he had as a young man. He loved both equally and was a student of each regions' unique history.
Forrest passed away August 25, 1969 at the age of 86 in Washington, PA.
Forrest's original photograph collection is comprised of over 8,000 unique images dating from 1898-1968. Each image is thoroughly detailed with rich descriptions that provide specific locations, individuals, dates, and contextual information - a rarity for most Archivists working with photographic collections. Forrest provided all the descriptions, switching between a first and third-person narrative voice as appropriate.
As part of the selection process for putting this collection online, Museum of Northern Arizona staff and volunteers selected images that were taken in the northern portion of the state of Arizona, specifically the Arizona portion of the Colorado Plateau. From this selection and in consultation with appropriate liaisons within the Hopi community, images deemed to be culturally-sensitive (ceremonial dances etc.) were excluded. Of the 2112 images taken by Forrest that are at the Museum of Northern Arizona, 541 were selected using the afore-mentioned criteria. Images from central/southern Arizona - as well as other western USA states - are available to researchers during regular business hours.
Thanks to Rebecca Durrenberger for volunteering over 90 hours of her time scanning and entering metadata from various sources. Her enthusiasm and energy were greatly appreciated.