Stewart’s caravan traveled through Pawnee country, and double guards were placed on the horses. Miller noted that "when we were 'en route,' we were continually under surveillance." (Ross, 44) The subject of that surveillance served the artist well over the years, what with its sense of theatricality and anticipation. Two sketches, including this one, and two finished watercolors, are known to survive. This work was probably completed shortly after Miller returned to New Orleans in the fall of 1837, and was one of the items in Stewart’s souvenir portfolio. The other three works all have the Indian group positioned on the left side of the composition, but the essential message is the same.
Indians surprised by the appearance of Anglo intruders is a well-worn trope in early nineteenth century American painting. Generally the scene has Columbus and his ships appearing off the Atlantic shore and the Native peoples of the area in astonished dismay. Here Stewart is the “discoverer” and he presses forward with caution. The Pawnees, though, seem to be in control.
Peter H. Hassrick
Crossing Indian Territory:
The route of the supply train to the rendezvous site passed through the lands of several Native American tribes. Based on the variety of Indians in his paintings, Miller undoubtedly crossed trails with people from the Kansas, Pawnee, Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow and Shoshone tribes, and probably many others. Though some Indians were friendly, others viewed the caravan as trespassing in their territory and kept a close eye on the interlopers.
Along the way, a few tribes insisted the caravan halt for trade, as in this instance recounted by John Townsend: The Indians stopped our caravan almost by force, and evinced so much anxiety to trade with us, that we could not well avoid gratifying them. We remained with them about two hours, and bought corn, moccasins and leggings in abundance.
The Pawnee, particularly, were known to be unpredictable. This story told by John Townsend demonstrates the precautions taken by the trapping brigade: “A war party of their people, consisting of fifteen hundred warriors, was encamped about thirty miles below; and the captain inferred that these men had been sent to watch our motions, and ascertain our place of encampment; he was therefore careful to impress upon them that we intended to go but a few miles further, and pitch our tents upon a little stream near the main river. When we were satisfied that the messengers were out of sight of us, on their return to their camp, our whole caravan was urged into a brisk trot, and we determined to steal a march upon our neighbors.”
Influx of Euro-American Trade Goods:
Author Washington Irving described the tantalizing influence of Euro-American goods on the otherwise primitive life ways of the Native American: “The influx of this wandering trade has had its effects on the habits of the mountain tribes. They have found the trapping of the beaver their most profitable species of hunting; and the traffic with the white man has opened to them sources of luxury of which they previously had no idea. The introduction of firearms has rendered them more successful hunters, but at the same time, more formidable foes; some of them, incorrigibly savage and warlike in their nature, have found the expeditions of the fur traders grand objects of profitable adventure. To waylay and harass a band of trappers with their pack-horses, when embarrassed in the rugged defiles of the mountains, has become as favorite an exploit with these Indians as the plunder of a caravan to the Arab of the desert. The Crows and Blackfeet, who were such terrors in the path of the early adventurers to Astoria, still continue their predatory habits, but seem to have brought them to greater system. They know the routes and resorts of the trappers; where to waylay them on their journeys; where to find them in the hunting seasons, and where to hover about them in winter quarters. The life of a trapper, therefore, is a perpetual state militant, and he must sleep with his weapons in his hands.”
Jim Hardee & Clay Landry
For Further Reading:
Irving, Washington, Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A.
Saum, Lewis O., The Fur Trader and the Indian
Townsend, John K., Narrative of a Journey across the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River
ULC: 60. LC mat: Indians surprised at the appearance of the Caravan
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