This appears to be a conceptual study for one of the finished versions of this frequently-visited theme in Miller’s work, Pawnee Indians Watching the Caravan (CR# 397C). In this sketch version, the Pawnee warriors, who Miller referred to as “insinuating and prying rascals,” hover almost directly above the passing caravan. Although no confrontations occurred, Miller and his compatriots were anxious to pass through the Pawnee territory as quickly as possible.
Peter H. Hassrick
Traveling beyond the borders of civilization left many traders and trappers with the feeling of being under the constant surveillance of Indians. This image shows the caravan of wagons and pack animals being surreptitiously observed by Natives through whose land these frontiersmen crossed on the way to the Rocky Mountains.
Of all the tribes the 1837 caravan encountered, it was the Pawnee which apparently gave the most trouble. However, among the native peoples of the west, “eternal vigilance is the price of safety,” according to Miller. In demonstrating his paranoia, the artist wrote:
Whether they were within the Camp or in our vicinity it was requisite to put a double guard over the horses. Then when we were en route we were continually under their surveillance, and we knew it. From the tops of bluffs, behind rocks, and out of the long grass on the prairie, they watched us and kept themselves posted; transmitting no doubt intelligence to “headquarters.”
Jim Beckwourth described a similar experience, with both sides observing the other;
Our spies kept us advised of the movements of the enemy, and intelligence was brought us that he was manifestly concentrating his forces at the Three Forks of the Missouri for a grand attack. I knew that we were also vigilantly watched by the enemy's spies, and I determined to make no movement that would warrant the suspicion that their movements were known to us.
Such vigilance was a requisite for survival in an often hostile environment. Miller, himself, admitted that the Indian’s “cunning eye sweeps the horizon in all directions & from long practice, he discerns and object … much sooner than an ordinary observer.” This diligence informs the Native “in what direction game is to be had [or] the approach of an enemy or emigrant train.”
Ross, Marvin C., The West of Alfred Jacob Miller
Beckwourth, James P., The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth
LL: AJM. LL: Watching the Caravan
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