Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Curious Case of Currier & Ives’ Buffalo

Currier & Ives has always been a printmaking firm of great interest to me, so when I moved to Denver about three years ago, I naturally began to focus on their western prints. One of my favorites is “The Rocky Mountains,” published in 1872-74, which shows an purported scene of a valley in the Rockies with a lake and a herd of buffalo. From the appearance of the mountains and the animals, it is clear the artist who made this print had never seen either!

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.

Now that is not to say that there wasn’t an effort made to make the prints at least somewhat accurate. It is recorded that Nathaniel Currier took A.F. Tait and Louis Maurer, both of whom made western scenes for Currier, to the Astor Library in New York City to look at the prints of Karl Bodmer, prints which were based on first-hand renderings.

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 Currier/Currier & Ives prints were based either on other images, on western artifacts, or on the accounts of travelers. This did cause some disapproval at the time, with the artists criticized for their “curious mixture of truth and fantasy,” and for trying “to visualize the plains grasslands from the security of their New York studios.” Still, the large folio prints were, on the whole, relatively accurate in terms of landscape and the appearance of the actors in the scenes depicted.

Not so much with the small folio prints, however, as “The Rocky Mountains” nicely illustrates. I always found the buffalo in this print to be particularly wonderful, looking something like a cross between African lions and poodles. It was a lot of fun, then, when I recently realized that a print which we had in our shop was the original source for these buffalo.

The print in question is “The American Bison,” from Sir William Jardine’s The Natural History of the Ruminating Animals, which is volume XII in Jardine’s famous Naturalist’s Library (Edinburgh, 1836.) About his report on the American bison, Jardine wrote “Our information regarding this important animal is, thanks to the intrepid travelers in the artic regions, and particularly to Dr. Richardson, much more authentic than most of that we have been able to collect regarding one or two others.” (p. 252)
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

Shaping the Trans-Mississippi West: 1866-69.

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.

Just three years later, in 1866, the same thing happened again. Beginning in 1865, a rumor appeared of new mineral riches, including perhaps the legendary silver mountain, located in what became the Pahranagat Mining District. It was not known at the time if this area was located in Nevada or Utah, so to be sure, Congress once again shifted the border one degree further east to the 114th degree line.

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.

As I discussed in the last blog, when Montana was created in 1864 from the northeastern part of Idaho Territory, the southeastern part of that once very large territory was attached to the Dakota Territory, giving it an odd, butterfly-like shape. This shape and the huge size of Dakota was not practical, so in 1868, the southwestern rectangle of Dakota was reformed as a new Wyoming Territory.

Wyoming was created so that it was essentially a rectangle of equal size to its southern neighbor, Colorado. Its northern border was the southern border of Montana, and its eastern border drawn south as a continuation of Montana’s eastern border at the 104th meridian, until it met Colorado’s border, which then became its southern line. This border was extended along the 41st parallel for seven degrees to the 111th meridian. This had the effect of taking, once again, territory from Utah, as well as Idaho, as their borders with the Dakota Territory had been the 110th meridian.

This perfect rectangular shape ended up having a rather strange, and unintended effect-—the creation of a “thumb” of the Dakota Territory separated from the rest of that territory by Wyoming. When Montana was created, its southern border ran along the 45th parallel as far as the 111th meridian, then straight south to 44°30’, then west to the Continental Divide. Idaho’s northern border stopped at the continental divide, so there was a small triangle of land north of Idaho’s border, south of the 44°30’ line, and west of the 111th meridian. In 1864 this gore of land had been part of Dakota and when Wyoming was created to the east of the 111th line, this area remained part of Dakota. This small thumb of Dakota was thus over 360 miles from the rest of the territory, as it remained until 1873, when it was finally given to Montana.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Shaping the Trans-Mississippi West: 1862-65.

As discussed in the previous blog, once the Southerners had left Congress in 1861, the Federal government was able within one year to create three new territories. Nevada had been created to give the miners on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas, hitherto living within in the jurisdiction of the government of Utah Territory, a local government independent of the Mormons. Not only would this bring the wealth of the Comstock Lode more directly within the control of Washington, but also the Federal government had no love for the Mormons and so was always willing to limit the scope of their power.

Thus it was that when silver was discovered further east in 1862, in what became the Reese River Mining District, there was little hesitation in Congress to move the border of Nevada one degree further to the east, from the 116th meridian to the 115th meridian, which was done in March 1863. The Congressional bias towards Nevada was further demonstrated in October 1864 when the territory, created only three years before, was admitted as a state. In contrast, Utah, which became a territory in 1850, didn’t become a state until 1896!

As further evidence of the desire of the now almost-exclusively northern U.S. government to take advantage of the absence of the pro-slavery Congressmen, the problem of the Arizona Territory was dealt with in 1863. It was clear that the vast New Mexico Territory should be divided, but Congress was loath to create a territory from the southern half, as had been originally proposed, for it would not only be inhabited mostly be pro-slave citizens, but it also would lie below the Missouri Compromise line of 36°30’, and thus could become a slave state. Instead, Arizona was created from the western half of New Mexico, so the border between the two territories would run North-South, rather than East-West.

That same year of 1863, Congress created another territory as a result of a gold rush, for similar reasons to those which prompted the creation of Nevada and Colorado. In 1860, gold had been discovered in the eastern part of Washington Territory. Prospectors swarmed into the region and began to push east across the continental divide, into the Dakota Territory, where gold was discovered in 1862 near what became Bannack and then the following year near what became Virginia City. Others miners probed into the more south-eastern part of Washington Territory, where gold was discovered in the Boise Basin in 1862.

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.

Edgerton was chosen by the miners to lobby for their cause in Congress, so he set off for Washington with $2,500 in gold nuggets to be used to aid his arguments. The nuggets and his lobbying had the desired effect and in 1864 a new territory of Montana was created out of the north-eastern part of 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.

When Idaho was cut down to manageable size in 1864, the large southeastern part of the old territory—-south of Montana—-was attached to the Dakota Territory, giving that territory an odd, butterfly shape. This, though, was simply a temporary configuration which would soon be changed by Congress.

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

St. Louis Mercantile Library

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

Shaping the Trans-Mississippi West: 1860-61.

As discussed in the previous Shaping the Trans-Mississippi West blog, the 1850s saw the division of the American West into slightly smaller, though still large territories. This was a period when many Americans were heading across the West to Oregon and California, but also when some of these emigrants from the East were settling in the wide open spaces between the West Coast and the Mississippi River. Then at the end of the decade new gold and silver discoveries brought in even more settlers, who very soon began to agitate for territories of their own.

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.

The Dakota Territory mentioned in New York Times article was created out of Nebraska, but not as originally suggested. When Minnesota had become a state in 1858, created out of the eastern part of the Minnesota Territory, the rest of old territory became officially unorganized. It was often called Dakota, and a provisional government was set up, but it had no formal status.

In 1861, Dakota Territory was created, but much expanded. It encompassed the western part of the old Minnesota Territory, which had been bordered on the west by the Missouri River, but it now extended all the way to the continental divide, adding on all of the Nebraska Territory north of the 43rd parallel. Newly created, and very sparsely settled, Dakota was now the largest territory in the country.

About the same time, Nebraska lost not only all the land north of 43°, but also a bit of its southwestern corner to another new territory, Colorado. (At the same time, though, Nebraska did gain a bit of land from the extreme eastern part of Washington Territory.) The New York Times article mentioned that there was a proposal for a new territory of Colona. This was spurred by the gold seekers who had poured into the foothills of the Rockies as part of the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of 1858-59. This region mostly lay in the western part of an very wide territory of Kansas. The new settlers in Denver City and nearby communities felt far away from the Kansas government well to the east and wanted their own, more local government.

A petition was sent to Congress by one group to create Colona, and shortly thereafter another group petitioned for the creation of a similar territory to be named Jefferson. When Congress was finally able to act after the secession of the Confederate states, southern names were definitely out of favor, so the new territory came in named as Colorado. It was created out of the western part of Kansas (the eastern part of Kansas Territory having just been accepted as the new state of Kansas), the southwestern part of Nebraska, the northeastern part of New Mexico, and a chunk out of the part of Utah east of 109° longitude.

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.

In 1861, Utah lost not only a large chunk of its eastern territory, but also all the land to the west of 116° longitude. This was used to create another mineral-rush territory, Nevada. About the same time gold was discovered in the “Pikes Peak” region, the great Comstock silver lode was discovered, leading to a huge influx in prospectors to the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in western Utah. Similarly to the Pikes Peakers, those in the Comstock region wanted their own territory. This suited Congress fine, as they could diminish the power of the Mormons in Utah and at the same time get more control of the new mineral wealth in the Nevada, the third new territory created in 1861.

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.

The dissatisfaction of those in the south continued and it only increased as large numbers of new settlers poured in after gold was discovered along the Gila River in 1858. In July 1860, another convention was held in Tucson, which drafted a constitution for a “Territory of Arizona,” to be organized out of New Mexico Territory south of the 34th parallel. The convention elected a territorial governor, Lewis Owings, and sent a delegate to Congress.

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.

When the Confederacy was created in February, 1861, Arizonians finally saw a new opportunity to create their own territory, so a convention was held in Mesilla, which voted on March 16, 1861, to secede from the Union and petition to join the Confederate States. These eastern Arizonians asked those to the west join them, resulting in a convention, held in Tucson, where the westerners voted, on March 28, 1861, to join those in the east in forming the new, secession territory. Owings was again selected as governor, but things didn’t any proceed further for a few months.

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.