This gouache drawing, given its heavy application of paint and the relative muddiness of the color, might be considered an early work by the artist. Although there are several other works that carry this or similar titles, there are no known others that reflect this composition.
Peter H. Hassrick
Without amiable relationships between mountaineers and Native Americans, many trappers would not have survived. Euro-Americans learned a variety of survival skills from their Indian neighbors. Or particular importance was directions for the least arduous path from one drainage to the next where beaver might abound. This image depicts such an interaction as an Indian man, familiar with where the pair of trappers are headed, provides instruction.
Because there were so many tribes in the Rocky Mountain region, each of which spoke their own language or dialect, Euro-Americans learned a universal method of communication using hand signs. Similar to modern-day sign language used, by the deaf, trappers mastered these gesticulations and were generally able to converse well with most tribes. Trapper Warren Ferris explained:
These mountain Indians have an unusual language of signs by which any Indian of any tribe can make himself clearly understood by any other Indian of any other tribe, although neither of them may understand a word of their different languages or tongues. These signs are made by graceful movements of the fingers, hands and arms, and are natural and expressive. These signs embrace animate and inanimate things; thought, hope, light, darkness, truth, each has its sign, which is well understood as well as all other things, animate or otherwise, that is known to them. These signs are employed to give form and emphasis in their discourses.
Clothing and Accoutrements:
Miller provides an excellent example of typical mountaineer dress. Pants and shirt made of buckskin, moccasins, and feather-adorned caps were common. A container made from a buffalo horn is suspended from the shoulder for ready access to gun powder and a knife scabbard tucked in his belt at the small of his back is handy for carving meat or other camp chores. Trapper Osborne Russell gave a description of trapper garb which included:
his personal dress is a flannel or cotton shirt (if he is fortunate enough to obtain one, if not Antelope skin answers the purpose of over and under shirt) a pair of leather breeches with Blanket or smoked Buffaloe skin, leggings, … a hat or Cap of wool, Buffaloe or Otter skin … his feet which are covered with a pair of Moccassins made of Dressed Deer Elk or Buffaloe skins with his long hair falling loosely over his shoulders complets his uniform.
The Indian’s clothing is suggestive of ceremonial attire rather than every-day clothing, but is stereotypical of Miller’s romantic view of the noble savage.
Ferris, Warren, Life in the Rocky Mountains
Russell, Osborne, Journal of a Trapper
Swagerty, William, The Indianization of Lewis and Clark
The artist; by descent to Louisa Whyte Norton; [Old Print Shop, New York, NY, 1947]; The Boatmen’s National Bank of St. Louis, MO; Bank of America, New York, NY; present owner, 2013