Alfred Jacob Miller: Rocky Mountain Rendezvous Artist

In 1837, Alfred Jacob Miller became the first and only artist to document the annual gathering (1825-1840) of mountain men, fur traders, and Indians known as the Rocky Mountain Rendezvous. His patron, Scottish aristocrat Sir William Drummond Stewart, had been a participant of the rendezvous for several years prior to hiring Miller to pictorialize this extraordinary event. Perhaps in the same manner as Prince Maximilian, who famously engaged Karl Bodmer to record his scientific excursions in the Upper Missouri, Stewart may have believed that the rendezvous as well as his western adventures should be visually chronicled. While his motivation will never be known, Stewart’s employment of Miller gave the artist an opportunity to create a one-of-a-kind illustrative testimony of one of the most unique eras in the history of the American West.

In a letter to a friend, Miller acknowledged that he clearly understood the wholly different artistic venture he was embarking on when he penned, “I speak candidly and truthistically when I say…it’s a new and wider field for both the poet & painter…what a subject her wild sons of the West present, intermixed with their legendary history.” Upon his arrival at the 1837 rendezvous Horse Creek location near present day Pinedale, Wyoming, Miller was captivated by the enormity of the gathering. Climbing a nearby hill, he painted an abridged version of the rendezvous panorama that actually sprawled for miles beneath the majestic Wind River Mountains. Miller later painted a large canvas of this scene for Stewart to hang in his Scottish home, Murthly Castle.