Boulder History Museum
1206 Euclid Avenue
Boulder, CO 80302
ph: 303.449.3464

Rocky Mountain Joe

by Phyllis Smith

One of Boulder's most colorful artists – photographer Joseph Bevier Sturtevant, otherwise known as "Rocky Mountain Joe" – started out his life in town as a wallpaper hanger. Eventually, Sturtevant became Boulder's most distinctive photographer, oil painter, sight-seeing guide, and storyteller.

Sturtevant married Anna Lychman in 1876 and settled down to family life [they had five children] in Boulder at a house at 744 Marine Street which he built for $100.

Although Sturtevant had gained a reputation as an excellent paper hanger and sign painter, he had a different goal in mind. By 1884 he had collected enough camera equipment from the East to go into the photography business. With the help of his wife, he operated studios at several successive locations downtown as well as The Woodbine, a studio on the Chautauqua grounds where he became official photographer around the turn of the century.

The scope of Sturtevant's photographic work was prodigious and covered Boulder's coal mines on the plains to gold and silver camps in the mountains and included town panoramas, trains, wagons, schools, Boulder groups as well as summer groups at Chautauqua.

Sturtevant and his camera almost always appeared to memorialize special occasions. When a streetcar or trains derailed, Sturtevant was there. After a heavy snow, Sturtevant took advantage of unusual scenes. The only time he was caught short was during the flood of 1894; he was on the opposite side of Boulder Creek from his camera.
Sturtevant developed such a distinctive style that modern researchers can usually spot a Sturtevant photograph, signed or unsigned. His sense of the dramatic combined with his feeling for good composition.

After his wife Anna died in 1904, Joe married a local cook who, according to the Camera, was so violently jealous is his attentions to the ladies he was forced to leave her. The photographer's death was as mysterious as were some details of his life. Coming home from Denver on the Interurban train in 1910, after a visit with his son, he found he had misplaced his ticket and got off the train, intending to walk back to Boulder. He found at the bottom of a ravine near the tracks, apparently having fallen to his death.