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DeGraff, William H.
b. 1852; d. March 10, 1938
Discipline: Photography

William H. DeGraff was born and raised in Rochester, New York and eventually followed his father (also William) to Bismarck. (William Sr. owned and operated general stores in Bismarck and Fort Yates.) Between Rochester and Bismarck, the younger DeGraff lived in Mankato, Minnesota and the southern Dakota Territory, where he was a professional photographer for several railroad companies building in those areas.

DeGraff spent nearly forty years of his life in North Dakota, living in Bismarck from 1886 to 1906 and Washburn from 1906 to 1925. He developed close personal friendships with some of the most famed North Dakotans of the time including Theodore Roosevelt and the Marquis de Mores.

While in Bismarck, he owned and operated a professional photography studio and served as the first official photographer of the state legislature after North Dakota became a state in 1889. An avid hunter and outdoorsman, DeGraff also made numerous photographs of hunters, wildlife, landscapes, historic sites, developing towns, and American Indian peoples and ceremonies. Tragically, many of his photographs were lost when his studio was destroyed during a city-wide fire in 1898 and when the original State Capitol Building burned in 1931.

In 1906, DeGraff and his wife moved to Washburn where he established a new studio. An active member of that community, he served as city clerk from 1921 to 1925 and as chairman of the Lewis and Clark Campsite Association.

Into their seventies and victims of failing health, the DeGraffs moved to Cincinnati, Ohio in December 1925 to live with their daughter Daisy and son-in-law Robert Smith.

In 1929, at the age of 77, DeGraff toured a large part of the country as a commercial photographer for Colonial Stages, a tour bus company.

In 1936, the DeGraffs moved with their daughter’s family to a rural estate that overlooked the Ohio River near Mentor, Kentucky. In 1938, DeGraff contracted acute laryngitis and on March 10, he died. He was buried in the Spring Grove Cemetery in Cincinnati and was survived by his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and grandson.

- Ben Nemenoff


Williams, Mary Ann Barnes. Pioneer Days of Washburn, North Dakota and Vicinity: Book Two. Bismarck: Bismarck Printing Company, 1953.

*Images courtesy of the State Historical Society of North Dakota (#A1440-02, #A4455, and #A3942).

Photo of a man by DeGraff
Photo by Degraff
Photo of wires in a flood by DeGraff


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