Saturday, July 16, 2011

Indian prints by W.M. Cary

Next week I am heading off for another Antiques Roadshow taping, this time in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For those interested in western art, this means one thing: the Gilcrease Museum, one of the greatest museums of the art of the West.

My pending visit to Tulsa, together with our recent acquisition of a good collection of prints of the American West from Harper's Weekly, got me thinking about William de la Montagne Cary (1840-1922), better known to print collectors as W.M. Cary. That is because when Cary died, a large collection of his paintings and drawings were acquired by Thomas Gilcrease and they now reside at the Gilcrease Museum.

Cary was one of the significant contributors to the depiction of the American West in illustrated newspapers. His Western prints appeared beginning in the late 1860s and then continuing in subsequent decades, mostly in Harper's Weekly, but also in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper and other illustrated periodicals. Like most of his fellow Western illustrators, Cary based his drawings on his own experience in the American West.

Cary began his art career at age fourteen as an apprentice to a commercial engraver. By age 20, he had worked in watercolor and oil, done some sculpture and had contributed a number of drawings to illustrated periodicals, such as the Aldine. Though encouraged by his family to pursue his artistic career through formal study abroad, Cary decided he wanted to seek adventure in the American West.

In early 1861, with two friends, Cary set off on a “sporting expedition” to the West, traveling from St. Louis, aboard American Fur Company steamers, up the Missouri to Montana, surviving a fire and exploding boiler along the way. They spent six weeks at Fort Union, hunting and befriending the Indians camped around the fort. Then the young men joined a wagon train and set off to Fort Benton. Along the way they were captured and then released by a band of Crow Indians, and upon arriving at Fort Benton they stayed for another two weeks hunting and exploring the area. From thence the threesome set off by foot and horseback across the Rockies to Washington State, subsequently returning back to New York City about a year after they had set out.

In 1867, Cary went West again, where he painted portraits of George Custer and William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, the latter becoming a lifelong friend. In 1874, Cary made a last trip to the West, joining in with the U.S. Northern Boundary Survey Commission on the last part of their expedition.

In New York City, Cary had set up a studio and became a well-established artist, known particularly for his western themed art. Cary produced paintings and also a number of images which were made into lithographs, etchings and book plates. His most prolific work, however, were the images he provided for the illustrated publications.

His periodical illustrations are of considerable interest. Many were based on first-hand observations and others were “imaginary scenes suggested by events at the time of their depiction,” (Robert Taft, Artists and Illustrators of the Old West, p. 53) though always informed by his considerable experience in the West. With our recent acquisition of a group of Harper's Weekly wood-engravings of the West, I was particularly struck by W.M. Cary's images of Native Americans.

Relationships between the Plains Indians and the EuroAmerican emigrants from east of the Mississippi, who passed through and then into the region in increasing numbers, had been problematic from 1850s on, with an on-going series of conflicts scattered in among a regular succession of "wars" and treaties. With the discovery of gold and the building of railroads across the Plains, "Indian Wars" were a regular occurrence and readers in the East had an insatiable interest in news of the dramatic events on the frontier.

Accounts appeared in books and periodicals, but the most common form of visual information about the Indian affairs of the West were the wood engravings from the illustrated newspapers. Cary was one of the most prolific contributors to this body of images in the 1860s and 70s, and he probably was the artist whose drawings were the most dramatic. Thus, it is not unlikely that Cary's prints contributed a large element to the visual image that most EuroAmerican's had of the Native Americans.

So what were they like; what sort of image did Cary give on the American Indian? The sample is somewhat small and so my thoughts that follow are very speculative, but I think it is interesting see what we can discern by looking at Cary's prints.

The prints from the 1860s were drawn when Cary was still in his 20s and not long after he had lived through a number of his own adventures in the West. These prints show the Indians as blood-thirsty and with exotic customs. They are shown attacking a fort and a boat-load of trappers and sneaking up to ambush peaceful settlers. The centerpiece of his "Life of An Indian" shows a brave proudly holding up his "First Scalp," while other images show him hunting and undergoing the "Trial of Endurance." It should be noted that in this print there is a nice vignette of an Indian mother and infant and also of a brave playing a flute for his son. Still, the Cary images of this period emphasize the wild and war-like.

The prints from the 1870s do, I think, exhibit a different emphasis (that is excepting Cary's wonderful image from the Aldine in 1873, showing the results of an Indian attack on a Pike's Peak gold-rusher, illustrated at the bottom). In his prints from the 1870s, Cary shows more images of Indian life, such as a canoe race, breaking a pony, and dealing with death.

In 1874, Cary did produce two images entitled "Sketches of Indian Warfare," including a scene of the Scalp Dance, but the other engraving shows the Indian less threatening than threatened. A chief stands on his horse, raising his hand to try to stop a wagon train passing through his lands. The Indian, armed only with a bow, spear and tomahawk, is facing men clearly armed to the teeth with guns and a train of innumerable wagons. One gets the sense that Cary no longer saw the Indians as wild savages (though it is not clear he ever did, for the earlier emphasis may have been more for popular consumption than his true feelings), but as members a doomed culture worthy of trying to understand.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Shaping the Trans-Mississippi West: 1810-1819

In the previous blog in this series, we saw how in the first decade of the nineteenth century, the United States approximately doubled its size with the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase, from which the Territory of Orleans—-consisting of those relatively settled lands in the southernmost part of the purchase-—was broken off as a separate entity.

While the basic outline of the Louisiana Purchase was fairly clear, essentially encompassing the lands west of the Mississippi River, drained by that river and its tributaries, the exact borders between the new American lands and those of New Spain in the southernmost part were open to debate. The Americans claimed that the Sabine River should be the border, whereas the Spanish claimed a border further to the east at the Calcasieu River.

Negotiations between the countries broke down in 1805, with Spain severing diplomatic relations with the United States. Over the next year there was conflict, in words and deeds, between the two countries over the lands between these two rivers. Finally in 1806, an agreement was signed to establish this as a neutral ground, which neither side would settle nor try to govern. Inevitably, into this lawless land, lawless individuals gathered and it became a hotbed for bandits who preyed on travelers. The border was eventually established as the Sabine River by the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819.

As I mentioned in the previous blog in this series, the large territories which were added to the United States west of the Mississippi River in the nineteenth century were divided into smaller units as they became settled; usually these smaller units were created first as territories, then later admitted as states once they reached a certain level of development.

In 1812, the Territory of Orleans became the State of Louisiana, but this had as much to do with the issue of slavery as with the region's development. Since the founding of the nation, there had been a fairly even balance between slave and non-slave states, but this was disturbed with the admission of Ohio in 1803, which would soon be followed by other non-slave states created out of the old Northwest Territory. Southerners were keen to add a new slave state to balance this trend, so Louisiana was admitted less than a decade after Orleans had been created as a separate territory.

That same year, in order that it not be confused with the new state of Louisiana, what had been the Louisiana Territory was renamed as the Missouri Territory. This was the remainder of the original Louisiana Purchase outside the new state. At that time, these borders were still not firmly established, but by the end of the second decade of the century, the borders in the north and south were defined by agreement with Britain and Spain respectively.

To the north, the border with the British in what is today Canada was established by the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, to follow the 49th parallel from Lake of the Woods to the continental divide. This in effect gave the United States the southernmost part of the Red River Valley and the British the northernmost part of the Missouri River Valley. The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819, which had fixed the border of the new state of Louisiana, also clarified the rest of the border between Spanish and American claims for the new Missouri Territory. The United States gave up its claim over Texas and also gave to the Spanish lands between the Red and Arkansas Rivers, essentially in exchange for Florida.

In the same year as the Adams-Onis Treaty, the Territory of Arkansas was established from the lands south of the 36.30 degree parallel, running from the Mississippi River to the new border with the Spanish lands. The year before, in 1818, Missouri had applied for statehood. Centered on St. Louis, the pattern of settlement in Missouri had left something of a gap between the proposed state and Louisiana, so it seemed prudent to organize those lands into this new territory, especially given the large immigration there beginning in 1810, of both Anglo-Americans and Native Americans.

The line between the proposed state of Missouri and Arkansas was set at the 36.30 degree line, the same parallel that separated Tennessee and Kentucky. The one exception was the Missouri “Boot Heel,” which consisted of the lands east of the St. Francis River between the 36.30 and 36 degree lines. The reason for this land being assigned to Missouri and not Arkansas was essentially that the economy and settlers of the boot heal were intimately connected with the rest of Missouri, but some interesting legends about its creation have been put forth.

One story has it that a farmer who lived there asked the government to not make his land part of Arkansas, because he heard it was so sickly in Arkansas, “Full of bears and panthers and copperhead snakes, so it ain’t safe for civilized people to stay there overnight even.” Another story tells of a love-struck surveyor who ran the line further south in order to spare the feelings of a window who lived there and believed she lived in Missouri.

While the Arkansas Territory was created in 1819, the state of Missouri didn’t appear until the following year---a story to be told in the next blog in this series. So at the beginning of 1820, the United States west of the Mississippi had its borders fairly well established and it consisted of the state of Louisiana, the territory of Arkansas, and a large Missouri Territory encompassing all else.