Miller wrote about how important it was to Stewart in interrupting their travels to acquaint themselves with Indian people and their life ways. A shared pipe provided a perfect, opportunity for such intercourse. It was a universal expression of peace and good will among men of the West, and whenever the members of Stewart’s group were invited to enjoy the company of the Indians, they took the opportunity to do so.
This watercolor, though slightly compressed, is a study for the William Walters commission titled Visit to an Indian Camp (CR# 190A).
Peter H. Hassrick
This image depicts Miller’s patron, William Drummond Stewart, visiting with Indians in their camp. Though the tribe in this painting is not designated, Miller described the Shoshone as being particularly welcoming, saying they were “more friendly, sociable, and hospitable,” than other tribes met during their travels. He described having “camped in the midst of 3,000 Snake Indians near the Rocky Mountains, and have maintained their good will as long as we sojourned with them.” Among the Arapahoe, mountain man Warren Ferris noted, hospitality was considered “a virtue second only to valor.”
Smoke of Friendship:
Stewart shares a pipe with the men as an expression of goodwill. Such a ritual of cordiality was often one of the first events that occurred upon contact between these two cultures. Warren Ferris gave an illustration of tobacco as a sign of friendship and goodwill. Having met a Pawnee chief and invited him to the American Fur Company camp, “when the pipe of peace was smoked with all becoming gravity, [the chief] was so well pleased with his reception and our hospitality that he passed the night with us.” These pipes were often made of a kind of soap stone, “that is semi?transparent, and easily cut with a knife. It is highly prized by the Indians, for manufacturing into pipes.”
Ferris describes the ritual:
Chief and his retinue, who came as customary to smoke a pipe with us, and enquire our business. We seated ourselves in a ring on the grass, with our guests, and a pipe was immediately produced, and presented to a little hardy old veteran, the Chief. He placed it in his mouth, when his attendant applied to it a coal, and the Chief taking two or three whiffs, passed it to the person on his right, who in turn took a few puffs, and returned it to the Chief; he again inhaled through it a few inspirations, and passed to the one on his left, and it continued then regularly round, until it was extinguished. One of the company prepared with tobacco and weed, cut and mixed in proper proportions, and a stick for cleaning the ashes out of the pipe, replenished it, and the same ceremony was repeated.
Tobacco was important to most Native Americans, and used for recreational smoking, as well as in many solemn ceremonies. There were several indigenous varieties smoked by Indians throughout North America but the quality of that traded with Euro-American was apparently superior. Mountaineer Jim Beckwourth wrote:
The tobacco-plant grows spontaneously in the Snake country, but it is cultivated by the Crows and several other tribes. It is a tolerably good substitute for the cultivated species, for the purpose of smoking, but it is unfit to chew. The plant very closely resembles garden sage, and forms into heads similar to the domestic flax.
Beckwourth, James P., The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth
Ferris, Warren, Life in the Rocky Mountains
Ross, Marvin C., The West of Alfred Jacob Miller
LR: AJM. LR: Visit to an Indian Camp on the Border of a Lake
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