Rocky Mountain Joe

Rocky Mountain Joe was a real individual who lived in Boulder, Colorado in the late 1800s. Born Joseph Bevier Sturtevant, he is primarily remembered as a photographer whose work left an invaluable record of life in the Rocky Mountains around the turn of the century. In his own time, however, he also was known as a storyteller. Dressed in a fringed buckskin jacket and pants and wearing a broad-rimmed hat, he often entertained folks with stories of the mountains or recollections of his own adventures. As colorful and interesting as the tall tales that he spun, he soon became known as Rocky Mountain Joe.

Rocky Mountain Joe

Image, Courtesy of the Boulder Historical Society Collection of the Carnegie Branch Library for Local History.

Joe was born on February 8, 1851 in Boston, Massachusetts, but spent much of his young life in Wisconsin where his father was an Indian trader. Practically raised by the local Chippewa tribe, Joe learned many of their skills including expert horsemanship and a sharp eye while firing a rifle.

Later, when he was a young man in search of a trade, Joe apprenticed to a broom-maker, but that partnership was not to last. The lure of adventure was too strong. When Dan Costello’s circus came to town, Joe left his unfinished apprenticeship and joined the world of the “Big Top” with its performers, animals and travel.

Joe stayed with the circus until the Civil War broke out. At that time, he joined the 4th Wisconsin Calvary. He fought in Alabama and Louisiana before heading west for the Indian Wars. Captured by Sioux Indians twice, Joe managed to escape both times, although the second time he was a prisoner for two years before he found an opportunity to flee. He then served as an Indian scout for a brief time before finally settling in Boulder, Colorado.

In Boulder he met Anna Lyckman and fell in love. He married, settled down, and raised five children. He earned his living as a house painter, decorator, sign painter, and wallpaper hanger, but he also decorated theater curtains, painted murals, and made pen and ink sketches of the sites in Boulder and Boulder County.

In 1884, Joe discovered the camera and from then on earned his living as an avid photographer. He enjoyed this endeavor, along with entertaining folks with his colorful tales, until his death in 1910.

For more photos of and information on Rocky Mountain Joe, visit the Sturtivant/Sturtevant Genealogy Website and the Boulder Carnegie Branch Library for Local History.

Rocky Mountain Joe
©2006 Daryl Burkhard. All Rights Reserved.