How common was postmortem photography in the Old West?

atm-logoHow common was postmortem photography in the Old West?

Ted Mulligen
Massapequa, New York

We’re all familiar with those famous photos of dead outlaws Jesse James, the Dalton Gang and the gunfighters killed at the O.K. Corral fight.

Although postmortem photography may seem macabre today, “mourning portraits” were common in the 19th century. They offered family members an inexpensive way to memorialize deceased loved ones—especially children. Given the rarity of photographs at the time, the photo may have been the only image families had of the dearly departed.


Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone.  If you have a question, write:  Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at

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Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.