Zalmon Gilbert was born in 1841 in New York to H.E. Gilbert and his wife Majory (Stuart). He was the 4th of 6 children born to the couple. His father died while Zalmon was in primary school; and his mother moved the entire family to Warren, Illinois sometime before 1850, where his oldest brother Amon found work as a stone mason.
By 1860, the family lived in Geneseo (Henry County) Illinois. Zalmon was working as a clerk, and was the oldest of the three sibling still living with his mother.
In July 1861, he joined the 23rd Illinois, an independent militia from Illinois led by a captain named Graham. In September of that year, he was taken prisoner during a siege of Lexington, Missouri. The siege of Lexington involved the 23rd Illinois with elements of the 12th Missouri Mounted Infantry and resulted in the capture and subsequent parole of 3000 men. Many men were reorganized and sent to other units. He was assigned to Company H of the 59th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, served for eleven months (which included a siege of Farmington, Tennessee), and was discharged due to a heart condition. He is fortunate to have been discharged as violating parole by continuing to fight could have resulted in his execution.
Zalmon married Sarah Morse on September 7, 1865 in Illinois. Their son James was born in August 1867, and a daughter, Nellie, was born in early 1870.
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In 1870 the family of four lived in Elgin, Illinois and Zalmon was working as a photographer. He would later move his family to Joliet, IL and establish a photographic studio there.
Joliet was and still is home to large, historic Federal and state penitentiaries. A November 1875 carte-de-visite photo of Willis D. Mason entitled "Prison Baby" is featured in a national traveling exhibit on Black History sponsored by the George Eastman House Photography and Film Museum from this period in his career.
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In 1880, Zalmon, now divorced, was in Marengo, Iowa with son James. (Sarah Gilbert returned to her native Vermont where she lived with her sister’s family. There is no record of their daughter Nellie, who presumably had died very young.) He partnered there with Alice C. Miller where the pair would operate a photography studio in Marengo.
During the following year, with 14-year old son James in tow, Zalmon relocated to Mandan.
Miller and her husband Clarke joined them in Dakota Territory. They established Gilbert and Miller Photography Studio in Mandan in November 1881. Clarke would work in the area as a "news dealer." It is unclear how long the photography studio partnership lastes as a 1884 advertisement listed only the services of Zalmon. Clarke and Alice Miller remained in Mandan with their daughter Maude until 1885 when they moved to Saline, Kansas.
Maude married in 1887 and moved to Denver. Clarke would work with Star Grocery until his death in 1891. Alice accompanied Clarke’s body to Iowa City where he was buried, and appears to have stayed there with her sister.
Advertisement from 1883 Mandan Pioneer
The Millers remained in Mandan until 1885 with their daughter, Maude, when they moved to Saline, Kansas. Maude married in 1887 and moved to Denver. Clarke would work with Star Grocery until his death in 1891. Alice accompanied Clarke’s body to Iowa City where he was buried, and appears to have stayed there with her sister.
On February 23, 1893, Zalmon and Alice married in Humboldt, Iowa, and they moved back to Mandan. Tragically, less than a month later she died on March 24 of heart ailments.
He advertised himself as a “practical photographer” who had photographs of the town of Mandan and the nearby Heart River for sale in his gallery.
Gilbert lived and worked in Mandan for the rest of his life, which ended on January 21, 1897 after a brief struggle with a digestive disorder and a severe cold.
Zalmon was originally buried in Greenwood Cemetery south of Mandan. His body was later moved to the Union Cemetery when it was established in 1902.
1884 Mandan Directory Ad
His son James W. Gilbert moved to Montana where he married in 1893. He returned to Mandan shortly afterward and remained in Mandan at least through 1900. He eventually divorced and later relocated to New Salem to continue the family business by establishing his own photographic studio there. James Gilbert would return to Montana where he died in Butte in 1911.
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More notable work are "cabinet cards" and "carte de visite" photos of Native Americans taken in his Mandan studio. Dependant on content and condition, today these snapshots of history routinely sell at ephemera auctions, sometimes from hundreds to thousand of dollars.
In the era of dime western novels, demand "out east" for artifacts from the western frontier was so great that other photographers flocked to the area and set up studios in Fort Yates (Orlando Scott Goff) and Bismarck (David Barry).
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Editors Note: Apparently, there were two Zalmon Gilberts born in the 1840s in New York. The original Legacy biography posted was a blend of information on both men. Our gratitude to Tim Williams of Plano, Texas who in late 2019 pointed out the error and provided us with correct information.
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