The Official Photographer of the 1912 Calgary Stampede

Its 1912 – exactly 100 years ago. Working together in the open arena, with nothing between them and the bucking wild ‘black demon’, but wind and dust, Doc Marcell calmly loads his Graflex camera. Panning the action, incredibly, he captures the renowned moment when, against all odds, Tom Three Persons astonishingly rides the great Cyclone to a standstill. A new World Saddle Bronc Champion and hero was crowned. Pandemonium breaks out in the Grandstand of The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth! Doc’s beautiful wife, Alethe Marcell, runs the precious glass plate back to the tent for processing, and legends are born!

Doc Marcell, official photographer of the first Calgary Stampede in 1912, was my great-grandfather. Alethe Marcell was my great-grandmother. Natella, the little girl in the photo, grew up to be my grandmother. I am David Leech, from Calgary, Alberta. I am the fifth photographer in five straight generations. My family has been shooting for over 142 years!

Doc Marcell was born Milward Belmont Davis, and was also known as Marcus B. Marcell. Doc was an adventurous entrepreneur – he worked as a journalist for W. R. Hearst, rode with Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders, amassed a $750,000 fortune by 1909 with his Mr. Raffles scheme, and toured his 22 car Marcell’s Miracle Mineral medicine show in the 1920’s.

History recognizes Doc as an itinerant Rodeo photographer travelling the ‘dying’ Old West: Pendleton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Miles City, Salinas, Bakersfield, Walla Walla, Portland and Vancouver, WA. Hundreds of Doc’s Rodeo photographs can be found in our public archives including the Stampede, Glenbow Museum, University of Calgary and the Calgary Public Library.

Alethe was no less audacious – she travelled the world with magician Carter the Great, worked with Doc in the open infields, was the first woman to raft down the Yellowstone River, and as a clairvoyant held a 40 year séance for Harry Houdini at Trader Vic’s in San Francisco.

Natella added to the family interest as the ‘Indian Princess’ snake charmer in the medicine show, was crowned Queen of the Penrose Pageant in 1926, and was aboard the first United Airlines commercial passenger flight into Portland.

But mystery remains... Like who took this photo? Who shot the 1912 ‘A. P. K. Co. Copyright’ postcards? Could it have been my great-uncle Edward? And who now has Marcell Studio photographs? My search continues...

David Leech