• [Dalton Gang] Well Known Photographer Tackett Illustrates African American, Other Coal Miners On The Job Of America's Most Dangerous Industry

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    JOHN TACKETT was a well-known, Coffeyville, Kansas, photographer, who was born in Pittsville, Missouri on August 31, 1874.  Tackett, his mother and three siblings moved to Coffeyville in 1890.  He gained national notoriety in 1892 when he photographed the Dalton Gang. He later collaborated with Emmett Dalton and wrote, filmed, produced and distributed a move about the famous raid that starred Dalton.  Tackett also played in the Tackett Orchestra and taught dance classes.  Will Rogers was one of his students.


    Offering two 4 3/4 x 6 1/2, (8 x 10 mounted) black and white photographs. The first is of a group of six miners, including three African American miners sitting in a coal mine. Several are looking directly into the camera. Others look exhausted after a long day of work. All are wearing traditional coal mining hats with exposed flames to provide necessary light. The second image is of seven miners, including four African Americans. Visible in the foreground are tracks used to transport rail cars into the depths of the mines to load coal and transport it to the surface.  The photographs come with superb provenance including Tackett’s archives, the Jim and Theresa Earle Collection, Bonham’s, Los Angeles, John Reznikoff, (University Archives).  While the location of these photographs is unknown, a good assumption is that they were taken of mines in Kansas in the late 19th or early 20th century, 100 years before coal mines were forced by law to modernize and abide by safety regulations.


    COAL MINING has traditionally been a dangerous occupation. The historic significance of African Americans working in the coal mines cannot be overstated.  As a sign of the times, African Americans filled many of the unskilled jobs, such as coal loaders, mule handlers and coke oven workers.  In many parts of the country, miners were highly mistreated by coal operators who shrugged off deadly mining accidents, offering the widow a one-time box of groceries.  Coal miners often lived with their families in “coal camps” owned by the mine operators.  In the early days, miners were paid in script which could only be spent at the company store. In the 1930s, activists like Mother Jones made their reputation traveling throughout the coal fields and organizing miners to join labor unions.  The coal mines became highly politicized with politicians vying for votes, while coal mine operators attempted to skirt safety responsibility by paying off unscrupulous union bosses and politicians.  Those miners who survived the dangers sometimes acquired black lung disease and many other disorders.


    The photographs clearly capture miners taking a break.  A wonderful historic pair of photographs illustrating one of the most dangerous industries in America.


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