Wednesday, December 18, 2013
It is a well-documented that Nathaniel Currier’s and Currier & Ives’ western prints were not based on first-hand drawings. The firm was issuing these prints for an audience most of the members of which had never seen the American West and it was easier and less expensive to make up views than to try to procure first-hand renderings. The number of such Currier/Currier & Ives western prints, issued over many years, is a strong indication that this lack of genuineness was not an issue with the print buying public.
Still, it is particularly striking that none of the four main artists who produced Currier/Currier & Ives western prints—A.F. Tait, Louis Maurer, John Cameron, and Fanny Palmer—had travelled west of the Mississippi before making their western prints, and I think of these artists only Maurer ever got there at all.
The textual information, perhaps, but the image is rather odd looking. The print was drawn by James Hope Stewart (1789-1856), a Scottish farmer who produced the images on at least 545 of Jardine’s Naturalist Library prints. Stewart was an amateur artist from Gillenbie, Scotland, and he obviously never saw a buffalo.
His picture of the buffalo was clearly the source of the images in Currier & Ives “The Rocky Moutains.” The buffalo at the front and center is simply a reversed image of the Jardine print and the other buffalo are variations of that central image. This is not, certainly, an earth-shattering discovery, but it made my day to discover finally the source of the curious Currier & Ives buffalo.
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
As discussed in the last blog, Nevada, created out of western Utah in 1861, had its eastern border moved from the 116th degree longitude to the 115th just two years later, taking that land from the Utah Territory. This was done to put newly found gold sites within the Nevada, which was closely controlled by the federal government, and at the same time take them away from the Mormons, against whom the government was strongly biased.
Nevada was on a roll in terms of increasing its domain, with the next expansion being towards the south. Brigham Young had seen the Colorado River as affording a possible route by which to bring in supplies and new recruits to Utah, so in 1864 he sent Anson Call to set up a settlement on the Colorado, which was done the following year, the town of Call’s Landing or Callville being located at the head of navigation on the river.
By 1866, the importance of this outlet for shipping was apparent to those in Nevada, so they petitioned Congress to give them the land which lay between their original border on the 37th parallel and the Colorado river. This, of course, was the western part of the Arizona territory, which complained the federal government about this land grab. However, because of its past support of the Confederacy, Congress didn’t like Arizona any better than Utah, and in January 1867 this 18,000 square mile section officially became attached to Nevada, which once again had benefited at the expense of a territory on Congress’s black list.
Monday, June 24, 2013
The miners in these areas felt isolated from the Washington Territorial government in Olympia, well to the west. When this was combined with the desire of the citizens in the Puget Sound area not to end up being outvoted by all the voting-age miners flooding in to the eastern parts of the territory, it was a popular decision all around to create a new territory of Idaho.
Thus in 1863, Washington Territory was trimmed in size to a width that essentially matched that of Oregon to the south, and the eastern part of Washington became Idaho Territory. This new territory, though, was created much larger than just that, for Idaho took in also the western half of the Dakota Territory and five degrees off the western part of Nebraska, Idaho’s eastern border being set at the 104th meridian. This not only incorporated into Idaho the gold mining region around Bannack and Virginia City, but it also cut Dakota down to about seven degrees in width, which was becoming something of a standard size for territories as they moved towards statehood. For good measure, the northeast corner of Utah was cut off and given to Idaho, the federal government once again demonstrating its bias against the Mormon government of that territory.
This new territory of Idaho was really too large to be sustained, especially as the eastern mining towns, such as Bannack and Virginia City, were separated by the rugged Rocky Mountains from the western mining towns and the capital city of Lewiston. Almost as soon as the Idaho territory was created, the settlers to the east of the Bitterroot range began to ask for a new territory and for a seat of government more accessible to them.
A champion for their cause appeared in Sidney Edgerton, who had been appointed by Abraham Lincoln as first Chief Justice for Idaho. Edgerton and his family set off for Idaho from Washington in 1863, but they ended up stranded in Bannack, unable to make it across the mountains to Lewiston. Edgerton soon realized the wealth of the eastern mining camps and he was converted by the miners there of the cause of splitting off a new territory from Idaho.
The eastern border of Montana extended to the Dakota Territory and the southern border was set at the 45th degree parallel so that there was room ultimately for two states between Colorado and Canada. Idaho was thus reduced in size close to what had been the eastern part of the original Oregon Territory, but not quite.
The original Oregon Territory had extended to the continental divide in the east, however about half-way up Idaho’s new eastern side, the border stopped following the continental divide and instead turned west to follow the Bitterroot Mountains. An old story said that this was because the survey party had gotten so drunk that they didn’t realize they had taken this wrong turn, but the true story is even more interesting.
When Judge Edgerton had first arrived to take up his judgeship, the territorial governor, William Wallace, had appointed him to a remote district east of the Bitterroots in order to show his contempt for judges imported from the east. Wallace aggrieved the wrong man, for with Edgerton's political connections, he was able to change the border between Idaho and Montana to the advantage of the new territory—-of which Edgerton was appointed first territorial governor—-by adding the fertile Bitterroot Valley to Montana instead of Idaho.
The Civil War years saw many significant changes to the political borders of the American West, something which continued for the rest of the decade, as we'll see in the next blog in this series.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Earlier this month I attended for the first time the St. Louis Fine Print, Rare Book & Paper Arts Fair. We have exhibited there for all 8 years of its existence, but it was always my partner, Don Cresswell, who attended. This year it made more sense for me to go, which I was pleased about as I had never really spent any time in St. Louis.
It was even more of a pleasant visit than I anticipated, though, for I was totally blown away by the venerable St. Louis Mercantile Library. This is one of the many private libraries (such as the Library Company of Philadelphia and the Cincinnati Mercantile Library) founded in order to provide a library to the community in the era before public libraries were established.
The St. Louis Mercantile Library was founded in 1846 and it is the oldest library west of the Mississippi. It was originally established to be a subscription library "where young men could pass their evenings agreeably and profitably, and thus be protected from the temptations to folly that ever beset unguarded youth in large towns."
The Mercantile Library has moved several times-—it is now housed at the University of Missouri-St. Louis—-and its purpose has changed over the years as well. Today it’s purpose is to serve as a community cultural asset, as a research library, and a repository of its impressive collection which its makes available to local and national users.
The collections concentrate on Western Expansion and the history, development, and growth of the St. Louis region and of the American rail and river transportation experiences, and they encompass a wide variety of objects including rare books, manuscripts, paintings, sculptures, newspapers, drawings, and of course, maps and prints.
To have such a great research resource is terrific, but a visit to the library itself is a real experience. The library is on the lower floors of the university library and the rooms are simply packed with not only shelves and shelves of books, but sculpture, models, paintings, maps, and prints hung in, it seems, every nook and cranny.
My visit for the fair was my first opportunity to visit and I didn’t have nearly enough time, but I wandered about looking at familiar and unfamiliar items with a huge grin on my face. Anyone interested in the Western Expansion would be well served to use this resource, but anyone visiting St. Louis should make it a point to stop by and experience what is, in effect, a twenty-first century version of the enlightenment's cabinets of curiosity.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Thus, as the decade of the 1850s came to a close, there was great pressure to create new, smaller territories in certain areas of the American West. The New York Times reported on Jan. 11, 1859 that there were six applications for new territories before Congress. Five of these were for trans-Mississippi regions: one was for the creation of Arizona “out of the southern half of New-Mexico,” one for Dakota from the eastern part of Nebraska, one for Laramie from the southwestern part of Nebraska, and then two for mineral-rush related territories, Colona and Nevada, to be formed out of the western parts of Kansas and Utah, respectively.
Some version of four of these proposed territories were created within five years, though most with different borders and in one case with a different name. The citizens who proposed the creation of Laramie, which would have been somewhat similar to the eventual Wyoming Territory, did not get their territory for almost a decade.
Despite these, and other petitions for territorial creation, Congress did not act. The reason was, not surprisingly, the simmering issue of slavery. With a roughly equal balance in Congress between the free and slave states, neither side was willing to let in a new territory which would lead to one side gaining a numerical advantage. Thus as the 1860s began, no new territories had been created since the Kansas-Nebraska act of 1854.
This changed suddenly, beginning in December 1860, when eleven slave states declared that they were seceding from the United States, whereupon their representative left the U.S. Congress. All of a sudden, the Northern states controlled Congress and could create territories as they wished. Within the first three months of 1861, three new (free soil) territories were created and Kansas had become a new (free soil) state.
This was the first part of a long series of instances where the Utah Territory had its borders shrunk down. Utah was dominated by the Mormons and there was definitely an anti-Mormon prejudice in Congress in the 1850s and 60s. Not only was there the Mormon War of 1857-58, but there was a general suspicion of the religion and a strong anti-polygamy feeling in Congress. Thus there was little hesitation in taking land away from Utah whenever it was convenient, as we will see several more times in the future.
There was one other territory which made its appearance in 1861, at least according to some: Arizona. This territory had its genesis in the vast size and character of New Mexico. This territory had its capital in Santa Fe, which was located in the northeastern part of the territory, a region settled mostly by an Hispanic population. In 1854, the Gadsden purchase had added almost 30,000 square miles of land in the south to New Mexico, a region into which settlers from Texas and elsewhere in the American south moved into in the 1850s.
The settlers in this southern part of New Mexico--called either “Gadsdonia” or “Arizona”--strongly felt they needed a local government. Not only were they separated by distance and difficult-to-traverse terrain from Santa Fe, but they were separated by culture and beliefs from the New Mexican government. In 1856 conventions were held in Tucson and Mesilla calling for a new territory to be created from the southern part of New Mexico. The U.S. Congress, however, deemed that the population was still too small to create a new territory.
This time Congress refused to accept the new territory because of the slavery issue. Many of those in the proposed new territory were pro-slavery, with business connections with the southern states, and this new territory lay below the old Missouri Compromise line of demarcation between slave and free states. Thus anti-slavery Congressmen were convinced the new territory would eventually become a slave state, something they were keen to avoid.
That summer, Col. John Robert Baylor, from Texas, moved his troops into the area to support the Arizonians’ cause. He fought and won the Battle of Mesilla and then on August 1, 1861, declared the creation on the Confederate Territory of Arizona. This act was authorized by the Confederate Congress on January 13, 1862, and then officially recognized when President Jefferson Davis signed the proclamation on February 14, 1862.
The initial victories and political success of the Arizonians lasted only a short time. In March, 1861, at the Battle of Glorieta Pass—-just southeast of Santa Fe—-a Confederate army was victorious on the field, but their supply train was destroyed and it soon became clear that it was militarily and logistically impractical to try to maintain their forces in New Mexico and Arizona. Thus by July 1861, the Confederate troops had retreated to Texas and the Arizona territorial government set up shop in El Paso. The Confederacy never again wielded any control within the borders of its purported territory of Arizona, but still the territory continued to be represented in the Confederate Congress and troops fought under its banner until the end of the Civil War.
The political fall-out for the American west from the absence of Southerners in Congress continued in the years after 1861, as we will see in the following blog in this series.