L.D. Lindsley and the Coulee

Slowly, the horse and rider made their way up the mountain trail of the cascades. There was no one to break up the sounds of nature. The horse was loaded with all kinds of odd looking packs and bundles, strapped to it back behind the saddle rested an old wooden camera tripod. The sun was sinking low, reflecting a red pink hue on the cliff side. “Whoa” he called out, sliding off the saddle onto the ground. Unloosing the tripod, the camera was in a saddle bag secured tightly to the horses side. After setting up the old box style camera, the man found a spot to sit and relax. He was waiting for the perfect lighting, and since he didn’t have any artificial light he had to wait for the sun, even if it meant returning home through the woods by moonlight.

This is the kind of thing Lawrence Denny Lindsley would do for photography. He was born in Seattle in 1817, grandson of historic pioneer David Thomas Denny. L.D. Lindsley had many jobs during his life including miner, scout, tour guide and even working as a travel photographer for the Great Northern Pacific Railroad. Lindsley combined his love of the great outdoors with his love of photography into a historically winning combination. He also wrote lengthy descriptions on his pictures and kept travel logs and journals. A true outdoors man, he was as comfortable sleeping on the ground as he was sleeping in a bed at night. Truly, he was one of a kind as far as photographers went.

Lindsley used to frequently come down to the coulee and stay at Sun Lakes. He loved the coulee region and came back again and again over the course of decades between the 1930s – 1950s. He would talk to locals and when the inspiration hit him, he would load up his bulky equipment either or horse, or more likely truck in the later years, and head down dirt roads to photograph the objects of his inspirations and the people’s stories. A rugged individual, he could and would pack his weighty camera and tripod over miles of broken scabland, through swamped out bogs, along treacherous cliff sides and into deep dark unknown caves, his foolhardiness only out weighted by his courage. Often he was alone or with the companion of a dog as he trekked out into the bush.

The coulee has always been alive, and Lindsley was able to tap into that. While most known photographers of the era like John Boyd and Clifford Ellis of the Ellis Postcard Company and Charles A. Libby and Son focused on Grand Coulee Dam or touristy areas with an occasional trip to the scablands, Lindsley barely recognized the dam, spending little time photographing “mankind’s 8th wonder”, he was drawn more to the rugged nature and mysteries of the area that spoke to him spilling secrets that would later be lost to antiquity. Lindsley traveled out into snake infested cheatgrass following game trails, or just cutting through the grass, to bring us pictures of places like Perch Lake, Battleship Rock and the Sphinx (Umatilla Rock), the Jumble Field (Monument Coulee), the Lost Look Out, the Rhino Cave, Inspiration Point and occasionally throwing in photos of places like Jasper Bay, Park Lake, Blue Lake and Dry Falls.

As time passes and his peers seem to fade away into someone’s shoe box under the bed, L.D. Lindsley’s photos offer us something new, a view of what was just around the corner or just off screen of one of the other photographers shots. In his life Lindsley never reached the fame of some of his peers partly due to the fact that he wasn’t taking pictures of the Dam site for the newspapers or selling postcards, L.D. Lindsley was too busy taking pictures of Castle Lake and looking for the Portals.

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