Miller probably made this sketch of starving trappers sometime after 1848, perhaps in preparation for an oil painting that he made in 1851 (CR #163A). He depicted “an incident of two mountain Trappers, found near Independence Rock, in a starving condition” that probably occurred in 1843, if it occurred at all. The story is, in fact, a rather famous one from George Frederic Ruxton’s Life in the Far West (1849), a semi-fictionalized account in which he follows the adventures of two trappers using the pseudonyms of Killbuck and Le Bonté. Although completely out of ammunition, they had managed to kill two rattlesnakes that morning and were in the process of cooking them when the traders’ caravan arrived at this well-known campsite. Stewart saw to it that the men were well fed and, “On parting with them, our Captain presented each with a horse, a supply of powder and shot, & a blanket, sending them on their way rejoicing, and with an equipment better than ever.” (Ross, 1968, text accompanying plate 163; Ruxton, 1951, pp. 130 – 138)
Even in this preliminary sketch, Miller was careful to provide precise information as to the dress of the figure on the ground, including the fall-front fringed pantaloons and a single suspender worn over the left shoulder and buttoned in front. He also appears to be wearing a neckerchief of some. An earlier version of this painting (private collection, CR# 164), shows one trapper sitting on a rock and the other lying on the ground, but pushing himself up with one arm. Miller has provided a more classic pose in this sketch, perhaps reminiscent of one of the—no doubt—many versions of paintings of the Good Samaritan of the Bible that he saw in Europe. Miller also illustrated this event in another 1851 painting, which is unlocated but referenced in his account book, titled Killbuck and La Bonté, Trappers (Ruxton, 1951, pp. 235 – 244, esp. 137 note 5; CR# 56)
LL: AJM. LC: Trappers without Ammunition & in a Starving condition near Independence Rock.
The artist; The Porter Collection; Mae Reed Porter, Kansas City, MO; [M. Knoedler and Company, New York, NY]; InterNorth Art Foundation, Omaha, NE; present owner