Given the sophistication of drawing and the similarity of the composition and poses in this work, this is considered a preliminary study for a watercolor in the William Walters commission titled Trappers (CR# 288A). There is no evidence in Miller’s writing on this piece, in either the Walters portfolio descriptions or in Miller’s Rough Draughts, that these are portraits of Auguste or Louis, two of Stewarts’ hired hunters. If they are portraits of the two, however, they were not really trappers at all, merely providers for the larder of Stewart’s small troop of ten people who traveled with the larger band west to the rendezvous during the summer of 1837. Nonetheless, the portrait of the man on the right seems to resemble the solo likeness of Louis (Louis – A Rocky Mountain Trapper, CR# 55).
Peter H. Hassrick
In this on-the-spot sketch Miller shows two buckskin clad trappers reclining underneath a tree in which a shot pouch and powder horn have been hung. Louis, wearing a feather-garnished hood, enjoys a smoke on what appears to be a white clay trade pipe. Many pipes produced for the Rocky Mountain fur trade were made from a white pipe clay known as Kaloin or china clay. Found in the southeastern US as well as China, England, France and Bohemia, this clay was also used for dishes and as a whiting for leather garments. In Colonial America a long stemmed white clay pipe, called a tavern pipe, was in use. However, a shorter stemmed version was preferred by hunters and working men. Most of the clay pipes shipped to the fur companies in the early 1800’s were the short stem style.
The style of leggings in this Miller drawing appear to be “Indian style,” made of brain-tanned buckskin, tight fitting from the knee to the ankle, and, like the buckskin coat, heavily fringed. The bottom of the leg hole is cut in a “V” to fit around the foot and appears to be held tight by a stirrup which passes under the arch. Miller indicated the men were wearing leggings however the trappers were also known to wear fringed pantaloons, or pants, made from buckskin. The pantaloons, true to the style of the era, were made with a narrow, front fall flap held up by buttons, cut to fit tight from the knee down and held in place around the foot with stirrups.
Two general styles of moccasins were in use by the trappers. The side seam style was easy to make and worn by most northern Plains and mountain Indian tribes. This style could be obtained by trappers via trade with the local Indians or purchased from the fur companies. In this sketch the moccasin on Auguste’s right foot appears to be made with a decorated vamp and gathered above the toes creating the “pucker toe” style. The vamp or pucker toe style of moccasin is worn by the trappers in most of Miller’s paintings and sketches and is recognizable because Miller usually shows the vamp as red in color. This could mean that the vamp was made from red cloth or a piece of leather overlaid with red cloth. While Miller’s art indicates wide spread use of this moccasin type by trappers in 1837, historians are puzzled as to how the trappers became familiar with this style and where it was produced.
The seated Auguste has a rather peculiar looking head covering also decorated with large feathers. Miller’s notes about a later version of this sketch indicated that they made the caps themselves to replace felt hats which had worn out. The hoods in this drawing do not show the pronounced ears or horns typical of the ones on the hood of central figures Miller’s sketch such as, "Picketing the horses– at evening." In several other Miller drawings after 1837, he depicts these hoods with shorter ears and includes bunches of feathers as adornments. Similar cloth hoods were worn by Indian people of the Great Lakes region and Canada throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. Cloth hoods could have been an item adopted by the 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 Alfred Jacob Miller became popular with the Rocky Mountain trappers is not clear. The ones seen and painted by Miller may well have been an 1837 Rendezvous fad. The mountaineer hat style of choice, and the easiest to document, is the round crown, broad-brimmed, wool felt hat. The invoices and trade records of fur companies show hundreds of round crowned felt hats being shipped to rendezvous and fur trade forts of the upper Missouri River region.
For Further Reading:
Chronister, Alan and Clay Landry, “Clothing of the Rocky Mountain Trapper, 1820 to 1840,” Book of Buckskining 7
Hanson, Charles E. Jr., “Clay Pipes of the Fur Trade,” Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly, Volume 25, No. 1
Hanson, James A. and Kathryn J. Wilson, Mountain Man’s Sketch Book, Vol. 1
Landry, Clay J., “Going Indian! The Use of Leggings and Breech Clout by the Euro-American Trapper of the Rocky Mountains,” The Rocky Mountain Fur Trade Journal, Volume 4, 2010
LL: Trappers. LR: Half Breeds. Verso: Portrait of a Young Man
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