IN THE FIELD OF COW-BOY PHOTOGRAPHY, Frank Reeves was a top hand. His pictures are as vast and as sprawling as the ranches they depict, including fabled spreads like the Spur, the Matador, and the 6666. For fifty years, starting in 1914, Reeves logged thousands of miles—often with his wife, Nora—crisscrossing Texas, New Mexico, and northern Mexico in a lifelong mission to chronicle the life of the cowboy, from rounding up cattle on the ranch to bedding down for the night on the plains. By the time he retired in 1964, he had amassed 60,000 images—some stunning, many nostalgic, all priceless for their historical accuracy.
Reeves’s work is a cornerstone of the Southwest Collection at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, an ever-expanding archive housed in a handsome new 78,000-square-foot building that will officially open to the public this month. As its name suggests, the collection—which includes 6,000 oral history tapes, 200,000 feet of film, 50,000 books on the West, and 200 original pastels by West Texas landscape artist Frank Reaugh—emphasizes regional history from water woes and oil booms to (most especially) ranch lore.
Born in Kentucky in 1884, Reeves moved to Texas with his family when he was an infant. He grew up in tiny Miller Bend in Young County, where his parents worked a small farm. By age