Alfred Jacob Miller’s Art and the Historical Record

When artist Alfred Jacob Miller, as a member of the American Fur Company caravan, reached the 1837 Green River valley rendezvous he became the only Euro-American artist to meet and draw the mountain men during the Rocky Mountain fur trade era. His art work provides the only known images of the mountain men’s dress and equipment. From a historical accuracy perspective a comparison of the clothing items and styles depicted in one of Miller’s paintings with the AMFC records of actual clothing purchases by mountain men may be edifying.

From 1829 to 1841 the Upper Missouri Outfit of the American Fur Company used the company’s St. Louis based Retail Store to outfit its Rocky Mountain expeditions. Referred to in the invoices as “made up works”, meaning locally produced, this store’s inventory included both cloth and buckskin ready-made clothing items.

The Retail Store records also show a majority of the men employed as trappers and hunters during these 12 years purchased “ready-made” buckskin hunting coats, buckskin “pantaloons”, and calico, linen or flannel shirts. The term “pantaloons” during this time period referred to a style of men’s pants which fit tight through the lower leg and were held in place by a “stirrup strap” around the arch of each foot.

Miller’s ca. 1858-1860 watercolor titled “Trappers” (CR# 288A) depicts two trappers relaxing under a tree. While the central figure is shown wearing a rather curious styled feathered head wrap or hood, his calico print shirt, fringed buckskin hunting coat and fringed buckskinned leg wear are consistent with the trapper clothing style shown in many of Miller’s other works. The image of the sitting trapper’s lower left leg presents the contour of a tightly fitted garment and a stirrup strap in the arch of the left foot is also visible. These tailoring details indicate that “pantaloons” styled buckskin leg ware are illustrated in this watercolor. Combining this garment with a cloth shirt and buckskin coat completes this rendition of trapper dress.  In this case Miller’s illustration coincides exactly with the documented clothing style and materials preferred by American Fur Company trappers during the rendezvous era.