The Dynamic Nineteen Twenties

Feb 15, 2024 by Tempe Javitz

The 1920s went swiftly by for my grandmother
Jessamine and her family. The photos tell the story,
as diaries from 1925 to 1928 have been lost.
Many significant events occurred that changed
the family dynamics.    In broad strokes, Jessamine
gave birth to her seventh and last child, Bradford
(Brad) on May 15, 1925.  Phyllis, only 17, married
her beau Bob Gerard on September 25th.  Then   
Annabelle, Jessa & Will’s eldest child, dressed in her
riding togs eloped with Jack Moody on December 10, 
1925.  (Per a note in Belle’s diary, Robert Gerard 
and Jack Moody were in the cattle business together
in Kirby, Mt.)  Jessamine and Will then celebrated 
twenty years of marriage on June 6, 1926.

Here’s Phyllis dressed for her honeymoon and Annabelle, 
the new bride, who would rather be out riding.

In 1926 Will and Jessamine’s ranch operation reached 
its maximum capacity with 30,000 sheep and 3,700 head
of cattle.  Will was now one of the larger lease holders
on the Crow Reservation.  He purchased extra hay and 
grain from the farmers along the Bighorn and Little 
Bighorn Rivers.  All of his supplies came from Hardin, 
Lodge Grass, or Wyola, Montana.  His leases comprised 
Crow tribal lands from the head of the Rosebud Creek 
to the Bighorn River, including the summer pastures 
above the Bighorn River Canyon.  Nevertheless, the ups 
and downs of the weather and livestock markets produced 
fragile finances.  

Here’s one of Will’s sheep wagons above the Bighorn Canyon.

Jessamine continued to experiment with different genres 
of photography and a variety of cameras. She regularly 
used her 1924 Autographic Kodak, the Kodak 3A for panoramas,
and her handy vest pocket camera when riding horseback. She
had begun in the 1920’s to experiment with tinting her 
photographs, having asked for guidance at her local portrait
studio.  They gave her oil colors to experiment with.  In
time and with effort, she became excellent at this additional
art form.  From the 1920’s onward she frequently colored 
photographs for family and customers. By coloring photos, 
Jessamine could emphasize the texture and the depth of field.  
She used her paints to great effect in bringing out detail 
in her images. 

Next is a scenic view from Sheep Mountain high above the
Bighorn Canyon.

She could create a story and reveal beauty at the same time.  
Jessamine continued to experiment with simplifying her point
of view while creating drama.  
She turned a dead coyote into a still life painting, and a
snow crusted pine tree into an object of beauty.  Her  
progress as a self-taught photographer is truly amazing.

I hope you have read my book “Bighorn Visions, the
Photography of Jessamine Spear Johnson.”  If not,
here is the link to the South Dakota Historical Society
Press.  They would love to hear from you.

*Jessamine’s photos are reprinted in my blogs with
the permission of our family’s X4, LLC, all rights reserved.