This painting shows a supply caravan encamped while on the way to the summer rendezvous. Depicted on the painting’s lower left corner is a “wedge tent.” This style of tent was common during the early nineteenth century and had been in use since the Revolutionary War. They were easy to erect, requiring only three poles – two uprights, usually 7 feet long; and a ridgepole, usually 10 to 12 feet long. The coverings were made of oil cloth or an imported, canvas-like linen called “Russia Sheeting,” which made the tent relatively light weight and easy to pack on a horse or in a wagon. Most of the tents used during the Rocky Mountain fur trade, as the one depicted in Miller’s art, were this style. That many of the fur companies used tents is reflected in Robert Campbell’s diary. In 1828, when his camp was attacked by Blackfeet Indians about 18 miles from Bear Lake, he recorded that his cook, “who had the tents packed on horses was killed.”
On April 10, 1830, the rendezvous supply caravan under the leadership of William Sublette, one of the partners of the firm Smith, Jackson, and Sublette, set out for the Rocky Mountains from St. Louis. The caravan consisted of ten wagons drawn by five mules each and two Dearborn carriages drawn by one mule each. This was the first attempt to bring supplies to the annual event via wagons rather than a pack train. The caravan made it to the location of the rendezvous on the Wind River on July 16, disbursed the goods, loaded the wagons with furs and returned to St. Louis by October 10, 1830. They took back all ten wagons, but left the two Dearborns in the mountains. A Dearborn wagon was a light, four-wheeled vehicle that typically had one seat; however, it was not as durable as a standard freight wagon. The caravan that Miller accompanied in 1837, used a number of two-wheeled carts called Charettes.
Rendezvous Supply Caravans:
In the spring of 1822, the partnership of William Ashley and Andrew Henry sent a party of trappers, under Henry’s command, to the mouth of the Yellowstone River. Their plan was to construct a trading post from which they could re-supply their trappers, while allowing them to continually work the beaver-rich streams of the upper Missouri region. This plan became unworkable due to hostile interactions with the Arickara Indians. The Arickara conflict caused the partners to abandon the upper Missouri plan in favor of sending parties of mounted trappers overland, following the Platte River into the Crow country of the Wind and Green rivers. This new operational plan required a method for re-supplying the company trappers who would remain in the mountains year around. Thus, the annual re-supply caravan and the trapper rendezvous were born. William Ashley led the pack trains west from St. Louis to the first two rendezvous (1825 and 1826), and then James Burfee and Hiram Scott conducted the 1827 convoy. Ashley then sold his interest to the firm of Smith, Jackson, and Sublette. William Sublette led the caravans in 1828, 1829, and 1830. The American Fur Company soon gained a foothold in the mountains and by 1837, when Alfred Jacob Miller traveled to the rendezvous, Thomas Fitzpatrick was in charge of the re-supply caravan. At various times, William Drummond Stewart was often allowed a position of leadership as well.
Jim Hardee & Clay Landry
Gowans, Fred R., Rocky Mountain Rendezvous
Potter, Gail D. and Hanson, James A., The Encyclopedia of Trade Goods, Vol. 4
Williams, Rick, “Wheels to Rendezvous,” Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal, Volume 4
“About half an hour before the halt for evening,” wrote Miller in the late 1850s, “scouts are sent out in advance of the main body, in order to reconnoiter and select a spot combining the requisites for an encampment:–as the wagons and charrettes approach the location, they take a circuitous course, and by the time the last vehicle has reached the ground, the Caravan has formed a circumference of 5 or 600 feet;–the horses and mules are now unharnessed, and loosed to feed, leaving the vehicles at a distance of some 30 feet apart, forming a species of barricade; towards sundown the horses are driven in and picketed, and this scene forms the subject of our sketch.” (Ross, 177)
This seems to be the only surviving major oil painting of this scene, and is thought to have been painted for Joshua Meredith of Baltimore. Meredith paid $125 for the canvas. (Ross, LV) There are a couple of watercolor renditions of this scene, the most famous of which is in the Walters Art Gallery (CR# 76B).
This painting depicts Stewart on the white horse in the foreground conversing with one of his hunters. Stewart’s tent, with the blue vertical stripes, is seen to the explorer’s right, and the leader’s evening meal is being prepared for him nearby. Beyond the tents and wagons rise the first crests of the Wind River Range as seen from the west. The party has not yet arrived at the rendezvous, but they are in close proximity.
Peter H. Hassrick
The artist; Joshua Meredith, Baltimore, MD, 1850; John Legg, Baltimore, MD, ca. 1965; [London Shop, Baltimore, MD]; [M. Knoedler and Company, New York, NY]; W.R. Coe Foundation, Oyster Bay, NY, 1970, present owner by gift.