In Crossing the Divide, Miller depicts South Pass, or the Continental Divide, which is located in southwestern Wyoming between the southern tip of the Wind River Mountains and the Antelope Hills to the south. It is the lowest crossing point between the central and southern Rocky Mountains, a broad prairie that rises almost imperceptibly to a height of more than 7,400 feet, leading one early Oregon traveler to remark that, “if you dident now it was the mountain you wouldent now it from any other plane.” In fact, the early travelers sometimes did not realize they had crossed the Continental Divide until they reached Pacific Springs and saw the water flowing westward. (Tyler, 1982, pp. 28 – 29) It proved to be the only pass that could accommodate carts and wagons without great difficulty.
Although Indians had used the pass for centuries, Anglo Americans did not learn of it until 1812, when a fur trading party headed to Astoria, on the Pacific coast, took a more southerly route to avoid potentially hostile Indians. They called it a “handsome low gap,” but it still did not become widely known, and for more than a decade as travelers continued to take more northerly routes made public by Lewis and Clark. South Pass became the route to the best beaver country and the rendezvous, and finally the gateway to Oregon and California, after a group of Crow Indians told Jedediah Smith and Thomas Fitzpatrick about it in 1824. It is the route that Miller’s caravan took in 1837. (Bagley, 2014, pp. 35 – 46,109)
In the painting, Miller depicts a group of Indians, camped near what may be Pacific Springs, watching the caravan members as they rush toward the fresh water.
UR: 110. UR: Crossing the Divide/Rush for Water
The artist; by descent to Mrs. Laurence R. Carton; [M. Knoedler and Company, New York, NY, 1965]; InterNorth Art Foundation, Omaha, NE; present owner