Stewart’s 1837 private troop of ten men included several trained hunters who could supply him and the caravan with food for the journey. Antoine Clement was one of the rare hunters who seemed to merit reference by his full name. Others were recorded only by their given names such as Pierre, Auguste, and this robust fellow, Louis. Louis stands over his fallen prey, a bull elk, while reloading his Hawken rifle for another shot. His proud stance imbues him with heroic qualities.
This watercolor remained in the artist’s possession throughout his career. It is probable that it was not created until the early 1850s when Miller, recognizing the popularity of mountain man themes produced by his contemporary William Ranney, turned to the subject himself. The colorful majesty of this figure suggests that Miller was interested in positioning his western compatriots as epic figures in an unspoiled, romantic world beyond the frontiers. He thus referred to Louis as a trapper, inferring that he was a mountain man, rather than one of the expedition’s hunters that he actually was.
Peter H. Hassrick
In this painting, Rocky Mountain trapper Louis wears a cloth hood that appears to be made of a wool blanket remnant. In his notes for the painting entitled “Trappers,” Miller wrote that the trappers often manufactured “peculiar caps” to replace felt hats that were either worn out or lost. The hoods in the images of Louis and the “Trappers” do not show the pronounced ears or horns like the ones on the hood of a trapper in Miller’s “Approaching Buffalo.” In several Miller drawings of a later vintage, he depicted these hoods with shorter ears and included bunches of feathers or deer tails as adornments. Indian people of the Great Lakes Region and Canada wore similar cloth hoods throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Cloth hoods could have been an item adopted by American trappers from the Canadian half-breed or Indian trappers who worked for Hudson’s Bay Company. Exactly when the style of cloth hood depicted by Miller became popular with Rocky Mountain trappers is not clear. The ones seen and painted by Miller may have been a contemporary fashion trend among the trappers.
Louis is shown standing over an elk while running a ramrod or “wiping stick” down his rifle, indicating that he is reloading the gun after shooting the elk. Wiping sticks were so essential to the trappers’ welfare and survival that many of them carried two. Wiping sticks were needed to properly load the rifle and also used to clean the bore of the muzzleloader. Each rifle had tubes attached to the stock or barrel called “ramrod pipes” which housed the wiping stick that came with the gun. There are indications that a few of the mountain men carried a spare ramrod in the barrel of the rifle, removing it when they needed to shoot. Most ramrods were made from durable hardwoods. Should a wiping stick be lost or broken, it would be difficult to replace in the mountains since long, narrow, straight, and stiff woods were scarce in the Rockies. Replacement wiping sticks were carried by many of the trading posts and, on occasion, were brought west with rendezvous supplies.
After suffering a wound from a Blackfoot attack which killed his party leader William H. Vanderburg, trapper Warren Ferris experienced a unique use for a wiping stick:
“I gave my gun to one of my comrades, the three who first fled having now joined us, and succeeded in getting to camp, where I was taken down, and soon agreeably disappointed with the cheering intelligence that my wound was not dangerous, and I would shortly be a well man. It was probed with a gun stick, by a friend who had some knowledge of practical surgery, and dressed with a salve of his own preparation.”
The rifles and smooth-bore guns used during the era of the Rocky Mountain fur trade were predominately single shot muzzleloaders and most had a flintlock ignition. The projectile fired from the rifle was a round lead ball. In their shooting bag, most trappers carried St. Louis bar lead and a round-ball mold made to cast the correct diameter lead balls. These items allowed trappers to “run balls” as needed. To load the rifle, a mountain man dispensed gunpowder from his powder horn into a measure typically made from bone or brass, which held the correct amount of gunpowder for the rifle. The powder was then dumped down the barrel, and a piece of cloth patching pre-cut to fit the gun’s bore, was laid over the muzzle. A lead ball was then placed on the patch, rammed down the barrel with the ramrod or wiping stick, and seated firmly on the powder. If the rifle was a flintlock, the powder horn or a smaller charging horn was used to pour a small amount of powder in the priming pan of the flintlock and the casehardened frizzen was closed over the pan. This last step, called “charging the pan,” meant the rifle was ready to shoot.
Jim Hardee and Clay Landry
Chronister, Alan and Clay Landry, “Clothing of the Rocky Mountain Trapper, 1820 to 1840,” Book of Buckskining Vol. 7
Ferris, Warren, A., Life in the Rocky Mountains
Hanson, James E., Encyclopedia of Trade Goods, Vol. 1
Unsigned. LLC: Louis [paper cut, formerly more inscription]. On mount LR: Louis – Rocky Mountain Trapper.
The artist; Joseph Whyte, Baltimore, MD; by descent to Louisa Whyte Norton; [Old Print Shop, New York, NY, 1947]; Peter Decker, 1947; [Hammer Galleries, New York, NY, 1961]; [Edward Eberstadt and Sons, New York, NY, 1967]; W.R. Coe Foundation, Oyster Bay, NY; present owner by gift, 1964