Studio Props? Geronimo-Chatto photos spark controversy.

chatto geronimo photographs a frank randall
In the two 1884 photographs taken by A. Frank Randall at the San Carlos reservation in Arizona Territory, Geronimo and Chatto sport the exact same necktie and rifle. Notice the same cactus. Some researchers believe they are even wearing the same bracelet.
— True West Archives —

Our February issue sharing how history should view Chatto, in John Sandifer’s “Apache Traitor or Hero?” article, has sparked an interesting controversy. The editors received a half-dozen letters pointing out the stunning similarities between the two photographs featured in the coverage. Here is the latest letter, sent in by Donald M. Yena of San Antonio, Texas:

“It is interesting that both photographs of Chatto 1884 and Geronimo 1887 not only show use of the same props (foliage) by photographer but use—without a doubt—the same gun! Gun shown, in my opinion, is a sporterized .45-70 Trapdoor Springfield rifle. Interestingly, it may at one time have belonged to a Western post Army officer. George Custer had an earlier .50 cal. Allin Conversion Springfield for his personal use. Also sporterized [stock has been modified for sport, usually by cutting down the length].

“Western photographers often used the same props over and over. Many, but not all, Western photographs often show dudes all decked out in new store-bought gun rigs with empty cartridge belts, new chaps, boots, clothing—often in real tough poses.

“The Springfield here for sure did not belong to Chatto or Geronimo, but they for sure would have wished it did at the time.”

The Professor Weighs In

“The photos were both taken by A. Frank Randall at San Carlos in 1884. [The magazine’s copy of the Geronimo image incorrectly cited the photo was taken in 1887.] There is also a similar photo of Mangas Coloradas, but with a different gun, obviously taken at the same time. I doubt if the scarf is a prop, as Geronimo wears scarves in other photos, but it certainly could be. I agree that it is a prop rifle, perhaps owned by Randall. Geronimo is, of course, photographed with his own Springfield in the famous surrender photos. Very observant reader.”

—Paul Andrew Hutton, Distinguished Professor of History at the University of New Mexico

Our Gun Expert Weighs In

“While there is no way to know for sure who owns the rifle, my guess is that it was probably a studio gun. This was a common practice and can be seen in photos from other frontier photographers to spice up their images. A good example is L.A. Huffman of Montana Territory, whose Sharps rifle appears in a  number of photos, including being held by Indians in his studio, then again propped next to an Indian burial scaffold and so on.”

—Phil Spangenberger, Shooting from the Hip columnist and True West’s firearms editor

What do you think?