Because of their skittishness, wild horses were best viewed at a distance. Stewart, with his leather-wrapped spotting glass, eyes a large and animated herd of mustangs in this sketch. According to one source, Stewart was joined in his review by his hunter, Pierre. (Parke-Bernet catalogue, 1966, no. 31) Miller later remarked that, "Among the wild animals of the West, none gave us so much pleasure, or caused such excitement, as the bands of wild horses that at intervals came under our view." (Ross, 92) Stewart’s commanding position suggests that he, as a sportsman and connoisseur of nature, felt especially privileged to bear witness to such a sight.
This sketch is inscribed with the number “2,” meaning that it was the second in a set of 87 works that Miller prepared for Stewart’s library, to be shown to curious guests who visited his castle. It was indeed an exotic sight for such guests to ponder, considering the vast distances, the spirited wild horses and the notion that their host had experienced such wonders.
Peter H. Hassrick
The time period in which the Plains Indians first gained access to horses and then assimilated the horse into their culture has been the focus of several books and essays. Since none of the tribes maintained written records, the only documentable information concerning the acquisition of horses by Indian tribes comes from the early explorers of northern and central America. When the LaVerndrye brothers visited the Mandan villages in 1738, they recorded seeing horses among the Pawnee and Arikara. In 1792, Jacquesd’ Eglise found the Mandans in possession of Mexican saddles and bridles. Peter Pond saw great numbers of horses among the Teton Dakota in 1760. The Teton Dakota oral tradition reports they obtained their horses from the Arikara. The Cheyenne horse culture appears to have started sometime between 1750 and 1790. Most scholars on this topic indicate that there were no or very few horses among the tribes prior to 1630, but by the mid to late 1700s, most of the Plains tribes owned and used horses.
In this drawing, William Drummond Stewart is shown admiring a large herd of running wild horses while sitting horseback with what appears to be a rifle covered in a scabbard or gun case lying across the front of his saddle. Miller’s depiction of the fringe or “buckskin wangs” hanging from the end of the rifle case seems to indicate that the case is made from tanned buckskin. This style of gun case appears to be made along the lines of the Indian bow quiver. Miller’s art depicts many trappers wearing a cased gun across their back, held in place by a strap across their chest like a bow quiver.
William Drummond Stewart is also shown using a spyglass to view the wild horses as they charge across the valley floor. Business records and inventories of the fur trade contain a few listings and references to spyglasses. Lewis and Clark also included this valuable tool in their equipment and often used it to fascinate the Indians as indicated by this entry in Clark’s journal: “Saturday 9th March 1805, a nomber of the Savages called the Big Belleys, chiefs came to the Fort to See the Commanding officers Capt. Lewis Shewed them the air Gun quadron & Spy Glass &.C. which they thought was Great Medicines.”
In one instance, the use of a spyglass by Nathaniel Wyeth helped to identify friend from foe. According to author Washington Irving’s narrative: “On the first day, they proceeded about eight miles to the southeast, and encamped for the night, still in the valley of Pierre's Hole. On the following morning, just as they were raising their camp, they observed a long line of people pouring down a defile of the mountains. They at first supposed them to be Fontenelle and his party, whose arrival had been daily expected. Wyeth, however, reconnoitred them with a spy-glass, and soon perceived they were Indians.”
Jim Hardee & Clay Landry
Edwards, Elwyn Hartley, The New Encyclopedia of the Horse
Irving, Washington, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A.
Moulton, Gary E., The Journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition Vol. 5.
Pickeral, Tamsin, The Encyclopedia of Horses and Ponies
Ross, Marvin C., The West of Alfred Jacob Miller
UL: 2; LC mat: Herd of Wild Horses
The artist; Sir William Drummond Stewart (c. 1839); Frank Nichols; [Chapman’s, Edinburgh, 1871]; Bonamy Mansell Power; willed to Edward Power (1900); by descent to Major G.H. Power, Great Yarmouth, England; [Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, NY, 1966]; Joseph M. Roebling, Miami, FL; present owner by gift, 1980