Stewart’s party forded the Kansas River “seven or eight miles above present Lawrence, at the site of the Kansas Agency” (Barry, 64) where the river is approximately two miles wide. With as many as thirty wagons, cargo, and a number of animals, this calm, picturesque scene hides the considerable risk and difficulty undertaken by the party. Using the luminescent reflection of the sun hitting the water, Miller highlights the group of Indians perched in a lone bullboat in the middle of the river, and with them, the ingenuity and tradition of their transportation. Bullboats were bowl-shaped rafts covered by buffalo skin and were often used to ferry goods or persons by river. Here they are shown being pulled ashore by the buffalo tail still attached to the vessel’s hides. Behind them are those crossing on horseback and, in the foreground, those crossing on buoyant charettes (as Miller termed them), or Red River carts. These vessels were engineered by the Métis and made entirely from wood strung together with leather. Like bullboats, these carts were also appropriated by the fur traders for their western excursions because of their ability to make heavy, goods-laden trips across bodies of water, easier.
Emily C. Wilson