Murderer's Gulch

A Wet Plate Collodion Collaboration in Bismarck, North Dakota

June 11th, 2016



I stumbled upon an image by Jacob Riis taken in 1888 called "Bandits Roost".  Riis took the photograph at 59 Mulberry Street in New York.  The image haunted me from the moment that I saw it.  I knew of an alley here in Bismarck that would work perfectly for a modern day wet plate inspired by Riis's work.  I pitched the idea on Facebook and asked if anyone would like to collaborate.  Within 6 hours I had to shut it down because I had over 40 people that wanted to be involved.  I now had my team, but I did not even have permission from the City of Bismarck to use the alley.  I quickly called the city and talked Mike Berg who manages traffic and with the help of Mike Seminary our Mayor, our motley crew was given permission to use the alley for one day, June 11th, 2016.

So over the next six months we collaborated as a group.  We needed to somehow transform a modern day alley into something from the 19th Century.  We did not have a title for the shoot but it turns out Bismarck had its own bad alley or street referred to as "Murderer's Gulch" or "Bloody Fourth Street" back in the 1870's.  So we quickly adopted the name for the Tabeaux Vivant "Murderer's Gulch" for our collaboration.  I also realized that this idea of mine had gotten too big for me to handle independently so I decided that I needed a director.  Marek Djos was very kind to volunteer immediately to help me out bring this idea to life and I am forever grateful to him. 

What was most important in my mind from the very beginning is that this needed to be a collaboration.  We had a budget of $0.00 dollars so everything we needed had be supplied or fabricated by the collaborators.  We needed period correct clothing, clotheslines, a wooden perch to get some characters off ground level, some steps, fencing, straw, barrels and many other set items.  All of which was provided by all of the collaborators, everyone was assigned a task and everyone did what it took to fulfill their duty to the team.

This is by far the most rewarding creative experience I have ever been involved in.  The day of the shoot we had 30mph winds, 95 degree temperatures and direct sunlight.  None of these variable are conducive to making a good wet plate, but we endured.  I am forever grateful to every single person who was involved and I am so proud that the final plate along with the Credits Page of everyone involved will be archived by the Historical Society of North Dakota indefinitely.  What is very important is that nobody was paid or is making any money from this collaboration.  Who says a community cannot come together for nothing more than a chance to create a piece of art together?  I heart is full with the love that I received that day. 

Shane Balkowitsch, Resident Ambrotypist

Bandit's Roost (1888) by Jacob Riis, from How the Other Half Lives. This image is Bandit's Roost at 59˝Mulberry Street, considered the most crime-ridden, dangerous part of New York City.

CLICK HERE for time lapsed video of the Murderer's Gulch Collaboration

CLICK HERE for video of the Murderer's Gulch Plate Clearing in the Fixer by Nolan Johnson

CLICK HERE for KFYR TV "Murderer's Gulch Recreates History" Video

CLICK HERE for KXNET TV "An Old Fashioned Photography Event Takes Place in Downtown Bismarck" Video

CLICK HERE for Mandan News Article "Carefully Stepping along Bloody Fourth", December 25th, 2015

CLICK HERE "The History of Bismarck, Episode 2: Bloody Fourth" Video by Makoche Studios

CLICK HERE for Mandan News Article "Wickedest Street in the Wickedest Town", October 29th, 2015

CLICK HERE for Mandan News Article "Wickedest City in the West, Bismarck? Really?", December 9th, 2015

CLICK HERE for Dustin White's Report on our Time Together at the "Murderer's Gulch; A Historic Photo Shoot"

CLICK HERE for 100 Best Things to do in New York Blog, by Jenn Miller


BELOW COLOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPH by Marshall Lipp of NightOwl Photography

BELOW COLOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS by Brad Slaubaugh of Glasser Images, Courtesy of Jack Glasser









BELOW COLOR DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHS by Dustin White from the Midwestern Scout




Other Wet Plates from our time Together in the Gulch

"A Friendly Scuffle at Murderer's Gulch" and "The Soiled Doves of Murderer's Gulch"


8' Lighted Print Installation in Downtown Bismarck

In the Alley near Broadway and 4th Street, exact historical location of the original Gulch

Thanks to Beth Nodland and John Morrison for making the wall available


Our Cast of Murderer's and Soiled Doves



Banjo the Mutt

Trainer Jessie Leben


Bonnie Balkowitsch

The Madame of the Soiled Doves

Jerome Hathaway


Kevin R. Tengesdal

Vagamond turned Murderer

Eve Bloom

Daughter of Traveler

Corey Bloom


Rob Sandness

Murderer with Blade

Jordan Rae Mulder

Soiled Dove


Andrea Anderson Haman

Soiled Dove


Farren Nelson

Soiled Dove with a Secret


Brandon Wetch


John Sullivan IV

Waggoner turned Murderer


Amy "Sally Stitches" Hendrickson

Soiled Dove


Richard Loewen

Musician Turned Murderer


Monte Faul



Emily Brandt

Drunk Lady


Megan Frankl

Soiled Dove


Greyson Balkowitsch

Homeless Boy


Derek Harper

Thespian Turned Murderer


Pat Toepke

Unknown Stranger of the Gulch



Event: June 11th, 2016


Nostalgic Glass Wet Plate Studio, Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist


Cast:                   Support Staff:


Soiled Doves –             Marek Dojs, Director

Bonnie Balkowitsch (the Madame)   Mike LaLonde, Photography

Farren Nelson                     Jerry Anderson, Consultant

Jordan Rae Mulder                 Dustin White, Writer

Andrea Anderson Haman             Moira McNichols, Make-up

Megan Frankl                      DeAnne Billings, Wardrobe

Amy Hendrickson                   Nolan Johnson, Videographer

                                  Jessie Leben, Assistant

                                  Brad Slaubaugh, Photography

Murderers –                     of Glasser Images

Kevin Tengesdal                   Lori Sager, Costumes

Richard Loewen                    Jason Lueder, Set Carpenter

Rob Sandness                      Beth Nodland, Local Historian    

Derek Harper                      John Sullivan IV, Set Master

Jerome Hathaway                   Greg Frank, Apprentice

John Sullivan IV                  Marshall Lipp, Photography

Brandon Wetch                     Chad Balkowitsch, Props                 

Pat Toepke                        Judith Roberts, Props

Monte Faul                        Rissa Williams, Support

                                  Kathleen Fettig, Support

                                  John LaLonde, Photography

                                  Chad Nodland, Photography


Drunken Lady –          Homeless Boy –

Emily Brandt                      Greyson Balkowitsch


Travelers –             Stray Dog –

Corey and Eve Bloom               Banjo, owner Jessie Leben



Bismarck Historical Society, Mike LaLonde and Walt Bailey

State Historical Society of ND, Emily Ergan & Lindsay Schott

Bismarck Downtown Artist Cooperative (BDAC), Paul Noot

Dakota West Art Council (DWAC), Eileen Walsh

Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation, Aaron Barth

City of Bismarck, Mike Seminary and Mike Berg

Lewis and Clark Fort Mandan Foundation, David Borlaug

Glasser Images, Jack Glasser

Walkers N' Daughters Jewelers for their gracious use of space

All Venue for large print provided by Beth Nodland and John G. Morrison of NodMor, LLC. 

Other Historic Riis Images








Murderer’s Gulch

 By Dustin White

March 14, 2016 

The streets flowed with blood; outlaws ran free. Just the brave dared to walk along fourth, and only then with a pistol by their side. It was murderer’s gulch; the wickedest street in the wickedest town.

It was said that no respectable woman would ever walk down that street, fearing the types attracted by the scene. But no shortage of ladies were to be found with soiled doves filling up bawdy houses.

For those looking for a different sort of vice, saloons and gambling halls lined the gulch. Fortunes were made, and lives were lost, by those who knew when to hold them, and others who didn’t know when to run.

No law was found among the street no sheriff ventured. The only justice served was by one’s own hand, or the cavalry to which one belonged. It was the wild west, an unforgiving land.


Contact Information:
Shane Balkowitsch, Ambrotypist
Nostalgic Glass
4419 Centurion Dr.
Bismarck, ND 58504
(701)223-9936 Phone

Copyright Note: All referenced photographs, images and logos provided above are for informational purposes only and they are the property of their respective owners.  Mike LaLonde, Jerry Anderson, Dustin White, Nolan Johnson, Brad Slaubaugh, Marshall Lipp and Jack Glasser were photographers kind enough to bring their cameras to the Gulch and provide images as part of the collaboration.