Solomon D. Butcher


Solomon D. Butcher

Photographing the American Dream

John E. Carter
With a new afterword by the author

152 pages
132 photographs, 1 map


April 2016


$29.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

For millions of Americans, Solomon D. Butcher’s photographs epitomize the sod-house frontier. His images from western Nebraska constitute the most extensive photographic record of the generation that settled the Great Plains. Their faces are imprinted on our minds: jaunty bachelors and earnest husbands (Civil War veterans of both armies), spinster sodbusters, determined mothers, cowhands, farmhands, and former slaves––all in search of land of their own. This first book devoted to Butcher and his photos presents a unique visual chronicle of that epoch, firmly establishing Butcher's place in frontier photography.

In a substantial introduction, John E. Carter traces the variegated career of this Virginia-born photographer who was himself an immigrant to the Nebraska plains. Combining critical analysis with biography, Carter situates Butcher in western history as well as in the history of photography and assesses his achievements in both. Exploring the nature of Butcher’s works and their scope, content, and significance, Carter offers a perspective for evaluating the historical evidence found in his work and new insights into the evolution of Butcher’s style and subject matter.

In this new paperback edition, more than 125 photographs are superbly reproduced in duotone from high-resolution scans of glass negatives. This edition also includes a new afterword by Carter, tracing the fascinating history of the photographs themselves after Butcher sold them to the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1912. Everyone interested in the plains pioneers or historical American photography will prize this splendid book.

Author Bio

John E. Carter (1950–2015) was a senior research historian at the Nebraska State Historical Society and is the coauthor, with Richard E. Jensen and R. Eli Paul, of Eyewitness at Wounded Knee, available in a Bison Books edition.


"Readers and viewers seeking a rich and detailed visual record of the individual and collective process of settlement in central Nebraska will want to study, remember, and return to Butcher's photographs, so effectively displayed in this book."—Audrey Goodman, Western American Literature

“A wonderfully revealing history.”—New Yorker

“A compelling and singular view of American pioneers and pioneering spirit.”—American Photographer 

“Splendid. . . . Butcher’s work reveals the stark and self-contained life of these people, and his sense of order and clarity transforms these pictures from mere records into icons of the American spirit.”—Choice

“The prairie was Butcher’s stage, and his results ranged from the moving to the hilarious.”—Village Voice

“There’s an often evocative, poignant sense of life in these photographs of Nebraskans. . . . The quality of the pictures and the earnestness of the people in them creates an almost hypnotic state.”—People magazine

"This latest edition of Photographing the American Dream honors the late author's beliefs by bringing back Butcher's photographs to life for a new generation."—Erika Schwartz, Nebraska Life Magazine

Table of Contents


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