Capturing Children of the Pioneers

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Birdle 2

Birdle Mannon lived her life in the same cabin her parents homesteaded in 1916. (Photo courtesy of Bob Linder)

While Bob Linder took thousands of photos throughout his career as a photojournalist, one group of people made the greatest impression: Hill folk who he affectionally dubbed Children of the Pioneers.

“They were generally in their 80s or older, lived a secluded life, maybe never drove a car, didn’t have electricity or water,” says Linder. “And every single one of them was one of the most unique people and special people and satisfied people I’ve met.”

These were people who knew of modern convenience and chose to ignore it: There was Granny Henderson on the Buffalo River, Henry Gore of Bryant Creek and Birdle Mannon, who lived in the same cabin her parents homesteaded in 1916. “But each one was so strong and really made you think about what you don’t need in life,” says Linder.

Birdle was the last of these people to fade away. Her death in 1999 began a new chapter: One where such people live simply through memories — and the articles and images that tell their stories. “I don’t know if there are any left,” says Linder. “I doubt it.”

Children of the Pioneers

Photographing those people for the newspaper is only one example of why Linder enjoyed photojournalism. “I love photography, but I’m not big about hanging pictures on walls,” he says. “I’d rather have, you know, 50,000 impressions of it on newsprint than one fine print on the wall because I could share it.”

For Linder, sharing means more than simply taking up space in the paper. “There’s a certain responsibility you have when your audience is your family, your lifelong friends, the people you’re going to run into at the grocery store,” he says. “There’s a certain responsibility there, but there’s also a great opportunity to really share the things that have made an impression on you. (Things) that would help enlighten them about where they live and appreciate more where they live.”