A Peek Into The Past: The Pratt Photo Album

Companies E and K, 23rd Infantry, at Fort Mackinac, 1886

Mackinac State Historic Parks is fortunate to have an ever-expanding collection of original objects related to the sites we preserve and interpret. These objects help us share the many stories of Mackinac with our visitors. One of the more unique pieces in the collection is an original photo album and scrapbook assembled by Edward Pratt, a U.S. Army officer who served at Fort Mackinac and several other stations around the world at the end of the 19th century.

Although born in Virginia in 1853, Pratt had a strong family connection to Mackinac. His grandfather, Captain John Clitz, commanded Fort Mackinac in the mid-1830s. His father, Captain Henry Pratt, also commanded the fort beginning in 1858, and Edward spent the last few years before the Civil War on Mackinac Island. After joining the army himself in 1872, Pratt returned to Fort Mackinac in 1884, where he served with the 23rd Infantry until 1890. Pratt went on to a long military career, retiring as a brigadier general in 1909. He died in 1923.

Interior of Pratt’s quarters at Fort Mackinac, inside the stone quarters

During Pratt’s nearly 40-year career, he (or someone in his immediate family, which included his wife, Kate and daughter, Mary Louise) kept an album of photos and ephemera documenting the life of an active army officer. Beginning with Fort Apache, Arizona (Pratt’s first station after joining the army), the album follows Pratt to posts in Kansas, Missouri, and New Mexico before he arrives at Fort Mackinac in 1884. The Mackinac photos, which include some of the only historic interior views of fort buildings, provide a snapshot of garrison life in the peacetime army of the 1880s. After Fort Mackinac, the album documents Pratt’s service at several posts in Texas before following him to the Philippines, where he served temporarily as the lieutenant colonel of the 46th United States Volunteer Regiment during the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection.

The Pratt’s quarters at Fort Bayard, New Mexico, in the early 1880s. Pratt is standing at right with his daughter, Mary Louise, wife, Kate, dog, Old Jack, and Dick Eskridge, the son of another officer.

Although the album is not arranged chronologically, it ends with images of posts in Texas and New York, the last assignments of Pratt’s long career. Many of these images are candid, catching officers and men going about the daily routines of army life at the end of the 19th century, whether they occupied frontier outposts of the American West, aging military relics like Fort Mackinac, or were posted to the vanguard of American imperialism in the Philippines. The album also contains many formal portraits of the officers of the 23rd Regiment, who served alongside Pratt for most of his career.

The album was donated to Mackinac State Historic Parks in 1990 by Violet Bowling, Edward Pratt’s granddaughter. Its images have been used in park publications and exhibits for the past several years, helping to shape the interpretation and preservation of Fort Mackinac. The entire album is scheduled to be reproduced in a new book published by Mackinac State Historic Parks in 2019. If you would like to see some of the same places that Edward Pratt captured in his photo album over 120 years ago, Fort Mackinac opens on May 3. Visit www.mackinacparks.com for tickets and more information.


Row of officers’ quarters at Fort McPherson, Texas, where Pratt served from 1900 to 1902.











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