Alfred Jacob Miller: Adventure Artist

In 1836, Alfred Jacob Miller had barely set up his second-floor studio at 26 Chartres Street in New Orleans, when he met William Drummond Stewart, the Scottish aristocrat who would effectively set Miller’s future career course. Desiring an artist to illustrate the rousing extravaganza of the Rocky Mountain fur trade rendezvous, Stewart offered the young artist his first major commission. The refined European-trained Miller scarcely thought twice about Stewart’s invitation and eagerly accepted the assignment, which entailed five to six months travel into the wilderness of the American West. Contemplating his first westward excursion, Miller must have wondered what adventures awaited him on the long journey with the rendezvous supply caravan. Upon his April 1837 arrival in St. Louis, William Sublette, who had previously been a major supplier of the fur trade, began  educating the novice traveler by handing Miller a piece of prepared meat [jerky], which gave him a literal “foretaste of mountain life.” Apparently, this dried provision did not spoil the artist’s taste for a western adventure.

En route that summer, Miller enthusiastically captured nearly every facet of the 1837 expedition as it made its way across the plains from Westport (today Kansas City) to the caravan’s final destination at the Green River Rendezvous site, near what would later become Pinedale, Wyoming. Sketching constantly, Miller documented the caravan’s daily routine on the trail, setting up and breaking down camp, picketing horses, preparation of meals and evening campfire scenes. By depicting these day-to-day activities, Miller rendered valuable details of early western travel often not recorded and thus lost to history.