Stewart was an honored guest at the rendezvous, with trappers and Indians alike paying him courtesy calls, and he entertained in a regal style in front of his familiar striped tent, which served as a gathering place throughout the rendezvous. He spread Persian rugs on the ground, served exotic dishes such as canned sardines, and told stories of far-away places to any who would listen. Here Miller shows the captain in his distinctive white buckskin suit engaging in some practical diplomacy with several Indian chiefs by presenting them gifts and smoking the pipe with them, which Miller said “has a universal meaning amongst them, and signifies friendship and good will.” Trappers are relaxing in the shade while watching the scene or gathered around a campfire not far away, and Indians are engaged in various “games & pastimes.” “A figure probably intended to be Antoine sleeps on the embankment at Stewart’s feet. The rendezvous ground and the Indian teepees spread beyond the camp along Horse Creek, a tributary of the Green River. (Ross, 1968, text accompanying plate 186)
Designated image number 6 (in the upper left hand corner), this sketch was a part of the leather-bound portfolio that Miller assembled for Stewart after he had returned to his New Orleans studio. It proved to be the study for a much more grandiose effort, Pipe of Peace at the Rendezvous (CR #170A), but these sketches, made in New Orleans immediately after Miller returned from the mountains, have a grace and lively feeling that Miller’s later work lacks. Ethnologists also feel them to be more informative than his later, more studied paintings, to which he often added detail that might not have been accurate. (Ewers, 1973, p. 115).
The large tent that William Stewart brought along for the rendezvous is spread across tree branches for shade while he smokes a pipe with men from a local tribe. This tent became the site of much entertaining during the rendezvous. Trapper David Brown explained; “The entertainment alluded to, was given by the English Captain in a large tent, which he had occasionally used in his journey up from the “States,” and which resembled very much in size and general construction those now used by the U.S. Army by general and field officers on a campaign, and was capable of containing, with perfect comfort to themselves, some twenty-five or thirty persons.”
Several styles of tents were common at rendezvous. Probably the most common was the “wedge” tent which came in a variety of sizes (as seen in Miller’s painting “Our Camp.”) Larger tents, like the one Stewart probably had, were of the “Marquis” design, a style that dates back to the Middle Ages.
The circle was an important element in many Native American cultures. In this painting, Miller depicted the lodges of the village arranged in a circular pattern. These lodges, often called tipis, were generally set up with the door facing east.
It was not unusual for trappers and friendly Indians to camp together. In fall of 1832, western explorer Benjamin Bonneville found: “He was surrounded by encampments of Nez Perces and Flatheads, with their droves of horses covering the hills and plains. It was, he declares, a wild and bustling scene. The hunting parties of white men and red men, continually sallying forth and returning; the groups at the various encampments, some cooking, some working, some amusing themselves at different games; the neighing of horses, the braying of asses, the resounding strokes of the axe, the sharp report of the rifle, the whoop, the halloo, and the frequent burst of laughter, all in the midst of a region suddenly roused from perfect silence and loneliness by this transient hunters' sojourn, realized, he says, the idea of a "populous solitude.”
It did not take long for Bonneville to realize that such a combined encampment had its own inherent problems: “By degrees the populousness of this encampment began to produce its inconveniences. The immense droves of horses owned by the Indians consumed the herbage of the surrounding hills; while to drive them to any distant pasturage, in a neighborhood abounding with lurking and deadly enemies, would be to endanger the loss both of man and beast. Game, too, began to grow scarce. It was soon hunted and frightened out of the vicinity, and though the Indians made a wide circuit through the mountains in the hope of driving the buffalo toward the cantonment, their expedition was unsuccessful. It was plain that so large a party could not subsist themselves there, nor in any one place throughout the winter ... In an encampment, however, of such fancied security as that in which Captain Bonneville found his Indian friends, much of these precautions with respect to their horses are omitted. They merely drive them, at nightfall, to some sequestered little dell, and leave them there, at perfect liberty, until the morning ... A careless indifference reigned throughout their encampments, and their horses were permitted to range the hills at night in perfect freedom.”
Trapper John Townsend visited a Shoshone village above the Boise River in 1834: “Early in the morning I strolled into the Snake camp. It consists of about thirty lodges or wigwams, formed generally of branches of trees tied together in a conic summit, and covered with buffalo, deer, or elk skins. Men and little children were lolling about the ground all around the wigwams, together with a heterogeneous assemblance of dogs, cats, some tamed prairie wolves, and other "varmints." The dogs growled and snapped when I approached, the wolves cowered and looked cross, and the cats ran away and hid themselves in dark corners. They had not been accustomed to the face of a white man, and all the quadrupeds seemed to regard me as some monstrous production, more to be feared than loved or courted. This dislike, however, did not appear to extend to the bipeds, for many of every age and sex gathered around me, and seemed to be examining me critically in all directions. The men looked complacently at me, the women, the dear creatures, smiled upon me, and the little naked, pot?bellied children crawled around my feet, examining the fashion of my hard shoes, and playing with the long fringes of my leathern inexpressibles.”
Jim Hardee & Clay Landry
For Further Reading:
Brown, David L., Three Years in the Rocky Mountains
Glenn, George, “Period Shelters,” Book of Buckskinning vol. 3
Irving, Washington, Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A.
Taylor, Colin F., The Plains Indians
Townsend, John K., Narrative of a Journey Across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River
UL: 6. UC: Indian Encampment near the wind River Mountains. LC on mount: Indian Encampment near the Wind-River Mountains
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