Digitized photos from MSU Libraries’ Holder Collection unveil beauty of Montana’s Crow Indian tribe

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

Photograph of a white man, possibly Dr. A.B. Holder, an unidentified Chinese man, an unidentified member of the Apsaalooke (Crow) tribe, and a Black cowboy, possibly Charles “Smoky” Wilson
This photograph titled “Group Portrait, Crow Agency, Montana” is part of the Dr. A.B. Holder Photographs collection in Mississippi State University’s Special Collections Department. It pictures a white man, possibly Dr. A.B. Holder, an unidentified Chinese man, an unidentified member of the Apsaalooke (Crow) tribe, and a Black cowboy, possibly Charles “Smoky” Wilson. Apsaalooke is the native name for the Crow tribe. 

STARKVILLE, Miss.—The photographic beauty of both the natural and built environments of Montana’s Crow Indian tribe is now easily accessible to academic researchers and U.S. history enthusiasts through Mississippi State University Libraries’ digital collections.

Also capturing the diversity among the Crow, or Apsaalooke people, the images are part of the Dr. Andrew Bowles “A.B.” Holder Collection, donated by the Mississippi native’s descendants, the Bridgforth family of Pickens. The photos can be viewed at https://msstate.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16631coll36.

A.B. Holder, originally from the Pickens community in Holmes County, was a doctor in the Magnolia State until he was appointed physician in the Montana Office of Indian Affairs, Crow Agency, at the request of his influential father, Civil War veteran and Mississippi Auditor Col. W.D. Holder.

In medical practice in Montana for three years, from 1887-1890, A.B. Holder died at the age of 35 in 1896. More than 125 years later, his collection of photographs and published materials reside at MSU and include a casebook covering his early career as a physician, diaries reflecting his young life in Pickens, and samples of Native American clothing.

MSU Libraries Associate Dean Stephen Cunetto expressed gratitude for the Bridgforth family’s donation that will benefit future generations.

“We respect that it was difficult for the family to give up these heirlooms but commend them for seeing the value in placing them in the MSU Libraries. These treasures will be shared with MSU faculty and students and made available to researchers worldwide,” Cunetto said.

Jennifer McGillan, MSU Libraries coordinator of manuscripts, described Holder’s work as a “fascinating and complex” series of images. She said archivists at Mississippi State have closely consulted the Protocols for Native American Archive Materials when making decisions about providing access to Holder’s photographs.

Pictures in the digital collection are selections from a larger collection, with metadata created in collaboration with the Apsaalooke (Crow) Tribe.

Holder’s great great grandson Stewart Bridgforth Jr. said his family wanted to keep these materials in Mississippi. Thanks to the “immediate, eager and downright courteous response of MSU’s history department to our inquiries, the decision made itself,” he said.

“It gave my mother, who has passed since the donation, and our entire family peace to know that this part of our history is at Mississippi State. We have actually spoken with a number of facilities over the years, and none of them strike the balance of historical precision and seriousness with personal attention and recognition of sentiment like MSU,” Bridgforth Jr. said.

“Many facilities can physically preserve documents and catalog them accurately. Others can relate to and communicate the personal stories behind the materials. Few can do both, but MSU clearly can,” he said. “That is why we are so pleased and honored to have our family materials with the staff there.”

For more information about Dr. Holder and his photographs, or to suggest changes to photo descriptions, email sp_coll@library.msstate.edu.

Learn more about MSU Libraries at www.library.msstate.edu.

MSU is Mississippi’s leading university, available online at www.msstate.edu.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021 - 11:26 am