Erwin Smith, Bonham’s cowboy photographer
By Malinda Allison, Fannin County Museum of History
Sep 19, 2023
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The 29th in a series of articles
for the 175th Anniversary of Bonham

Bonham, Texas -- Erwin Smith was “one of the greatest photographers of cowboy life who ever lived.” (Quote from Imagining the Open Range: Erwin E. Smith, Cowboy Photographer.)

Although Erwin Smith was born in 1886 in Honey Grove, the town his great-grandfather helped found, he grew up in Bonham. He always wanted to be an artist and a cowboy. Spending summers on his uncle’s ranch near Quanah, he began taking photographs of the cowboy life when he was 12 or 13. He later attended the Art Institute of Chicago and the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

He visited and worked on ranches in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, documenting the cowboy way of life at the time when the open range was disappearing.

After his death in 1947, the extensive collection of his negatives eventually found a home at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth. Most of the images can be viewed on the Museum’s website at

In addition to his wonderful legacy of work about the cowboy way of life, he also documented scenes in Bonham.

He photographed the parade at the Negro State Fair held in Bonham in 1911.

He photographed the paving of Main Street in Bonham from 1st to 3rd Streets.

He photographed “trades day” around the Courthouse Square in Bonham.

He photographed the Bonham Blues baseball team.

These are just a few of the photographs taken by Erwin Smith in Bonham which are on the Amon Carter Museum website.

When he died in 1947, his obituary in the Bonham Daily Favorite said “Erwin Smith Goes to Last Roundup.” He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Honey Grove and his grave has a Texas Historical Marker.

The Fannin County Museum of History has an exhibit of photographs and memorabilia related to Erwin Smith.

In addition, Smith photos can be viewed at many locations in Bonham, including the Bonham Public Library, the Fannin County Historical Commission and Fannin Bank.

You could spend an enjoyable afternoon visiting these locations to view the work of Bonham’s most famous artist.