This moonlit scene is the only work in a suite of images where Miller depicts a trapper rather than an Indian guide testing a river’s depths for crossing. Painted almost twenty years after his first version of the work, Miller changed the figure in the Walters’s edition into a trapper, very possibly to capitalize on the newfound popularity of the western figure in exhibitions and imagery across the country. Although Miller scholar Lisa Strong believes that the extra addition of trappers in the Walters’s commission reflects Miller’s taste more than Walters’s, she does note that “over one hundred works dealing with the fur trade were published between 1840 and 1860,” and that “paintings of trappers were…popular among an antebellum American audience,” such that “critics were complaining it had become a cliché.” (Strong 2008, 165) Nevertheless, the choice to romanticize the lone trapper rather than the Indian guide in this scene reflects the newfound preoccupation of Americans with the fading era of the mountain man and trapper, who were being pushed into the history books by the cowboys, frontiersmen, and miners that were now taking over the western territories.
Emily C. Wilson
The artist; [?]; William T. Walters; present owner by gift