Throwback Thursday – Cattle drive photographer uncovered!

“A herd hits trail out Montauk way,” May 6, 1955

Photography by Times photographer Patrick A. Burns

Scanned New York Times clipping

Craig Tuthill Collection

Montauk Library Archives

Cattle drives are part of the collective memory of people who live in Montauk.  For over 300 years, cattle and sheep fed off the moors, shearing the landscape into smooth mounds that allowed expansive views of the Sound and Atlantic Ocean.

The cycle of herding the cattle was ancient.  Steer were walked in the spring from East Hampton through Amagansett and across the Napeague stretch for fattening in Montauk.  A return to East Hampton right before the temperatures dropped was done in early- to mid-November.  Entrepreneur Carl Fisher’s 1920s building program halted the cattle drives, but after WWII they continued under Frank Dickinson’s direction.  When he needed cattle drivers to herd the animals from the train station in Montauk toward Deep Hollow Ranch, local residents volunteered with enthusiasm.

The Archives at the Montauk Library doesn’t have a lot of photos relating to the cattle drives, but the few we do have capture the excitement that surrounded the event.  Some of the best are found in the Craig Tuthill Collection, and are popular with the public.  (The bound cover of Car Pelleteri’s Surf+Turf: Montauk book is a detail from one of the cattle drive images in the Tuthill Collection.)

In view of the popularity of the cattle-drive photographs, it was frustrating that we couldn’t identify the photographer(s) responsible for these images.  That is, until Montauk Library researcher Lisa Montella did some investigative work.

Our TBT this week comes from a scanned news clipping and photo donated by Tuthill. It’s from a NY Times article by William F. Farrell that appeared on the May 6, 1955 front page:  “A herd hits trail out Montauk way.” A photograph of local cowboys with the byline of award-winning Times photographer Patrick A. Burns accompanies the story.  However, what surprised us was that the picture that’s featured with the clipping donated by Tuthill is not the same picture that appeared with the original Times article, as Montella discovered.

In the NYC edition, the photograph with Burns’ byline that accompanies the copy is quite different, taken in a different Montauk location.  It is almost identical, though, to a third cattle-drive photograph in the Tuthill collection.  Burns, who accompanied Farrell on his assignment to Montauk, must have shot several rolls of film, with enough images to fill the morning, afternoon, and evening editions, or the regional Long Island section, which is where Tuthill may have read this article.
There are five cattle-drive photographs in the Library’s Craig Tuthill Collection whose creator’s identity has always been unknown to us. However, we can say with confidence that they all bear resemblance to the two separate Burns photographs used in the different editions of the Times article.  This means that we can now tentatively attribute all the cattle-drive photos in the Craig Tuthill Collection to Patrick A. Burns.

Research on collections is part of archival work.  We are often given a marvelous photograph whose authorship we can’t uncover.  For example, the Frank Borth Collection contains excellent aerials.  Where did they come from?  Borth was an accomplished artist and illustrator who undoubtedly enjoyed taking pictures, but was he the brave soul who boarded a plane to shoot the bird’s-eye views in our collection? Sleuthing out the answer is part of the challenge — and fun — of the job.

To view all the photos in the Craig Tuthill Collection, go to NYHeritage.org, where the Montauk Library’s archival collections are slowly but surely being uploaded:   

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