• Group of musicians. Steve and May Bennett Collection

In the 1920s, the Bennetts lived at Glenn Springs, in south Brewster County, Texas. The photographs of that community and life along the Rio Grande in the collection evoke a personal response:

My favorite instruments are featured in this photograph and for me, this time and place would be a choice destination in time travel. I believe that music will forever be not only a beautiful form of entertainment but a means of communication as well.

  • Photograph. Lockhart / Smithers Collection

This photograph, taken in the twenties near Marfa, Texas, shows people pulling a vehicle by rope in order to cross a flowing creek. It illustrates the difficulties of life in the Big Bend and the techniques needed to survive. With the serene mountains in the background and the presence of water (a welcome commodity), the issue of society vs. nature is illustrated.

  • “Snowballing”
    Photograph Album of J. Sterling Skaggs/ Thomas V. Skaggs Papers

J. Sterling and his brother Thomas V. Skaggs were avocational photographers in the days of “kodaking” when the state of the art dictated that most photographs were taken outdoors. Frequently, as “Snowballing,” the subject of the photographs in this album is entertainment, with J. Sterling’s sense of humor evident in the captions. Today, we can appreciate the album not only for the photography and humor, but also for its record of the physical and social environment of the Big Bend Region of Texas almost a century ago.

  • V-Mail letter. J. T. Carney Collection

V-Mail was a form of correspondence during the latter years of World War II. Letters from home were written on pre-printed envelope sheets which were photographed and transferred to microfilm at the post office. These miniaturized messages were shipped overseas to prescribed destinations for developing at a receiving station near the addressee, reducing the bulk of regular mail and shipping time by more than half. The final product was a reproduction of the letter one-quarter the original size.

This particular letter not only shows where Alpine,Texas was in technology, but also clearly exhibits the reaction of the common people to war. This was about the Normandy invasion, and though Alpine was even more isolated from the world in 1944 than it is today, the townspeople still felt the shock, uncertainty, and the need to be together on hearing the latest news from the outside.




“But I still belonged to the barter system. And, at that time [1935], it was real handy. Anything that they had to trade, you needed it. There wasn’t a lot of cash around. And we were charging fifty cents for a shampoo and set then.

[The owners of ‘The Coffee Cup’ café] started trading me pie. Each one of them would bring a pie when they came Saturday to get their hair done. I had a chiropractor’s wife that made delicious six-layer chocolate cake with nuts all in it. Gooey kind, you know. And she would come and bring me a chocolate cake every Saturday to do her two daughters’ hair.

Just whatever they had that I needed [was the] way we did it, sewing, washing, ironing, anything.”

  • Ledger, Papers of Hattie Grace Elliott

The barter ledger of Hattie Grace Elliott, 1934, illustrates the democratic nature of Archives. Archives preserve the details of the lives of “ordinary” people, those strangers only ordinary until you get to know them.

Here, see perms and butter and sets and milk translated into numbers and carefully lined up in columns in the ledger of Hattie Grace’s beauty shop. Add Zola Dorris’s memories of pies and six-layer cakes and it all totals up to a community of women – with every hair in place - feeding their families in hard times.

The ledger also demonstrates the principle of secondary value in Archives. T. R. Schellenberg, an early leader in American archival theory, explained that records acquire archival value only when they are preserved for reasons other than the reason for their creation. Hattie Grace’s ledger is no longer of use to her as a personal business record but it is useful
to us as information about the Depression years or persistence of non-monetary economic systems or the sociology of beauty shops, and any number of other topics.