Museum features pioneer hunter, photographer

From the looks of the photographs, Augusta Wallihan must have been one tough lady.

But the short, stocky woman often photographed with a firearm in hand and game at her feet is up for interpretation currently at the Museum of Northwest Colorado with a display of her life and work that runs through the end of November.

According to museum director Dan Davidson, the 25-piece photograph and artifact collection on the life and work of Augusta Wallihan is a delight to show off.

"She kind of seems like a scary looking individual with bullets around her waist," he mused, touring the display on the museum's second floor balcony.

"She was known as both a cantankerous and nice lady," he said. "It probably depended what side you were on. I don't think she cared what people thought of her. She worked hard to accomplish a lot."

As the story goes, young Augusta Higgins appeared in Denver in the summer of 1860 at the age of 23. She lived in Denver, Canon City and Salt Lake City for the next 20 years, before arriving with a group of settlers in Routt County.

Family lore claims that Augusta became acquainted with Allen G. Wallihan through the mail. The two met around 1884 and somehow became snowbound in an isolated cabin for months. They wed "to protect their honor" in the spring of 1885.

As the two settled into pioneer life, Augusta soon learned how to use a firearm and began providing food for the table. She became known as an expert marksman and her husband later remarked that she had no fear of "God, man or the devil."

It was around this time when the Wallihans struck upon their passion for wildlife photography after trading with passing missionaries a pair of buckskin gloves for a camera. After mastering the techniques of the camera, the two were invited to exhibit their photos at the Paris Exposition in 1900. In 1904, the couple earned a bronze metal at the St. Louis World Fair. Later, they also met President Teddy Roosevelt when he was hunting in the West and received an invitation to visit the White House.

On display at the museum are the very same prints that were on display in Paris and St. Louis a century ago.

It is said that a photograph now at the museum of a cougar in mid-air jumping from a tree was a favorite of the Wallihans and a remarkable feat of the time.

The Wallihans' camera, Augusta's rifle and other trinkets help round out the story of the Wallihans' experience settling as pioneers in the area.

Two books have been written about the duo, but those are since out of print, Davidson said.

It's speculated that the Wallihans focused on photographing wildlife as a conservation measure.

"They thought it would become extinct," Davidson said. "They saw the idea of taking pictures as one way to save them."

But about the couple, Augusta being 22 years Allen's senior, there's little doubt from the pictures who was in charge.

"She was more the driving force," Davidson said. "He was more laid-back."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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