Joseph Rutherford Walker was one of the most famous of the mountain men. He had first gone west with Captain Benjamin Bonneville in 1832, then, at Bonneville’s behest in 1833 and 1834, blazed a trail to the Pacific Ocean along what became the Overland Trail to California. He might have been the first Anglo-American to see Yosemite Valley. By the time Miller met him at the 1837 rendezvous, he was a respected “Bourgeois,” which, Miller explained, meant that he had a “body of trappers placed under his immediate command.”
Miller shows Walker dressed in a full buckskin outfit with fringes on the shoulder, leggings, and a feather in his hat. He has a full beard and dark brown hair down to his shoulders.
Miller noted that his sketch documented “a certain etiquette” among the Indians. Walker was married to a Snake woman, and Miller pictures her “travelling…at a considerable distance in the rear of her liege lord, and never at the side of him.” Adolph Wislizenus, a German traveler who also met Walker and his wife, described her “features” as “quite passable,” appearing in “the highest state.” Of the Indian women, he wrote, “Their red blankets, with the silk kerchiefs on their heads, and their gaudy embroideries, gave them quite an Oriental appearance.” They also decorated their horses with “bedight with embroideries, beads, corals, ribbons and little bells.”
Walker and Miller apparently established a friendship, for Walker arranged to “have some Indian dances exhibited, that he [Miller] might have an opportunity of seeing them,” and presented the artist with a dozen pairs of moccasins that his wife had made, “richly embroidered on the instep with colored porcupine quills.” (Ross, 1968, text accompanying plate 78; Gilbert, 1983, pp. 167 – 169; Wislizenus, 1912, p. 84)
UR: 55 [or 53?] / Bourgeois [and his Squaw?]. LR: Capt W [sight]
The artist; Carrie C. Miller, Annapolis. MD; Mae Reed Porter, Kansas City, MO; [M. Knoedler and Co., New York, NY]; InterNorth Art Foundation, Omaha, NE; present owner