This is something of a fantasy image, supposedly depicting the upper reaches of the Sweetwater River as it approaches the continental divide and the southern shoulder of the Wind River Range. It is a companion work to a larger watercolor titled River Eau Sucre (CR# 196) that was painted in the late 1850s for William Walters. Both works exaggerate the size of the river at that point, though they offer a romantic sense of denouement for the river and the unspoiled Native cultures who live and thrive along its course. The sun sets as a family group, looking west, enjoys the approaching twilight. There is a sense of reverie and awe.
This small oil remained in the artist’s studio through the late years of his career. Probably he hoped to market such works at reasonable prices to augment his income.
Peter H. Hassrick
Origin of the Name:
Eau de Sucre is French for Sweetwater. According to some sources, the Sweetwater River, located in central Wyoming, was allegedly named by one of William Ashley’s trapping expeditions because the water in this refreshing stream tasted sweet to his brigade of trappers. The pure water of the Sweetwater was a delightful discovery for trappers, explorers, and later Oregon Trail emigrants who had traversed many miles of dusty Wyoming plains where the water was so saturated with alkaline salts that it was undrinkable. While historical data is lacking on the exact date that the Sweetwater River was named, cartographer David correctly labeled the water course on his map, drawn sometime between 1814 and 1824. In 1830, trapper Warren Ferris credited the accidental drowning there of a mule, its packs full of sugar, “some years since.” However, Ashley himself inscribed the name in his 1825 diary, before he had ever seen the river, and before any loads of sugar was likely to have reached its banks.
Platte Route to the Mountains:
The frequently traveled route to the Rocky Mountains during the fur trade era left Missouri along the Kansas River and then cut northward to the Platte. Taking the North Fork of the Platte soon brought travelers to the Sweetwater, which takes it rise in the Wind River Mountains. From there, the trail crossed the Continental Divide at South Pass and dropped onto the drainage of the Green River. This would become the route of emigrant wagon trains on their way to Oregon and California in the 1840s and 1850s.
In spring of 1824, trappers Jedediah Smith and Thomas Fitzpatrick led their brigade from their winter camp amongst the Crow on the Wind River to the Sweetwater River. Looking for a route over the mountains, they found South Pass. After successfully trapping beaver in the Green River Valley during the spring of 1824, Smith reasoned since the Sweetwater flowed east it must eventually run into the Missouri River. Fitzpatrick tried to transport their collected fur down the Sweetwater but found, after a near disastrous bull boat wreck, that the river was too swift and rough to be navigable. On July 4, 1824, they cached their furs near a granite dome, now known as Independence Rock, and started their long trek on foot to the Missouri River, following the Sweetwater, North Platte, and Platte River. Upon arriving in the settlements, they bought pack horses and retrieved their furs.
Jim Hardee & Clay Landry
For Further Reading:
Anderson, William M., The Journals of William Marshall Anderson
Ferris, Warren, A., Life in the Rocky Mountains,
Morgan, Dale, Jedediah Smith and the Opening of the West
Urbanek, Mae, Wyoming Place Names
The artist; by descent to Louisa Whyte Norton; [Old Print Shop, New York, NY, 1947]; Peter Decker, NY, 1947; [Hammer Galleries, New York, NY, 1961-1963]; [Edward Eberstadt and Sons, New York, NY, 1967]; W.R. Coe Foundation, Oyster Bay, NY; present owner by gift, 1964