- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
On another day, Miller was engrossed in drawing Independence Rock, a towering outcrop in central Wyoming that was to become a famous landmark on the Oregon Trail. Suddenly, he was seized from behind and his face forced down into the dirt. Miller later wrote in his journal that he thought he had been taken by Indians. Determined to meet his end bravely, he lay silent, breathing what he expected to be his last. However, his assailant was Stewart, who had crept up and overpowered him to make the point that Miller must always remain alert.
Miller was well aware of the artistic and historical opportunity that the trip offered and so put up with Stewart and the hardships. But he wouldn't pretend to be a frontiersman. During the course of a long, hard, rainy spell, Miller griped about the mud and bad working conditions. "Mr. Miller," chided Stewart, "you should not be downcast by inclement weather. On days of rain I am more exhilarated, if possible, than when the day is clear. There is something to contend against." (Half a century later, young Teddy Roosevelt would lie in the freezing rain on the Dakota prairie and shout over to his guide, "By Godfrey, but this is fun!") Also in Stewart's party was Antoine Clement, a young half-Cree, half-French, trapper who was one of the best shots among the mountain men and perhaps the handsomest. Stewart had met him in 1833 and thereafter engaged him as a permanent companion. He went so far as to make the young man a gift of one of the splendid Manton rifles. In New Orleans, Clement had proved to be exceptionally favored by Bourbon Street society, though, as was the case whenever Clement visited civilization, Stewart was often occupied trying either to keep or get his protegé out of scrapes.
Beyond using him as a model, Miller found that Clement had a remarkable talent that facilitated the artist's work. Using the heavy Manton, Clement could hit a bull buffalo on the horn in such a way as to leave the animal temporarily paralyzed but standing on its feet. Miller was then able to approach the stunned and weaving animal and make detailed studies of it.
One morning, Stewart, Clement and Miller rode off on a private excursion. Some 20 miles from camp, according to Miller, "Antoine and our leader commenced quarreling over some order that had been given but not attended to.... Both were well mounted, armed with Manton rifles, and neither knowing what fear was, it was a question of manhood, not social position. As they rode side by side, and were not at all choice in their language, I expected every moment to see them level their rifles at each other.... While things were in this critical situation but every minute growing worse, as Providence would have it, a herd of Buffalo was discovered.... The ruling passion overtopped everything else, off went Antoine at a full gallop, under whip and spur, & in a moment our Captain followed suit. The result in a short time was two noble animals biting the dust, each of the late belligerents in great good humor, and the subject of the quarrel entirely forgotten."
In June, Fitzpatrick brought the caravan to the banks of the Green River near the rendezvous site of 1833. There, it was met by the mountain trappers and 1,000 Snake Indians, then the warrior masters of the central Rockies. In a gaudy pageant of welcome the Indians swept down on the white captains, saluting them ceremonially with their 10-foot, feather-bedecked battle lances. Again, Stewart had obviously given thought to how to make a rendezvous splash. He sent to his wagon for a crate that had been hauled across the plains. Opening it, he solemnly displayed and then presented to Bridger—Old Gabe, the jokiest and most loquacious of the mountain men—a suit of medieval armor, consisting of a steel cuirass and the plumed helmet of the Life Guards, the most ancient and elite of British regiments. Bridger pulled the armor over his buckskins and mounted his horse. Slowly, at a gait he imagined suitable for a fancy foreigner, Old Gabe rode in medieval splendor between the assembled ranks of cheering red and white warriors—surely one of the most improbable scenes ever seen on the frontier. Miller was to record it in two paintings.
From the rendezvous, Stewart, Clement, and Miller returned to New Orleans. Along the way, Stewart had received some marvelous news—his brother John had died. Another letter confirmed that because John had remained childless, William was henceforth the Seventh Baronet of Murthly.
Stewart didn't rush home that fall to claim his inheritance, but dawdled in the U.S., amassing an exotic collection of souvenirs. When he finally sailed the next spring he was accompanied by a bull buffalo and cow, a half-grown grizzly bear, several deer, a pair of cardinals, a bale of seeds, the roots and cuttings of Western plants, two Indians of unspecified tribal connections and a number of Miller's paintings. The menagerie was under the supervision of Clement, now attendant to the new Sir William.
On his arrival at Murthly, Stewart declared that his sleeping quarters would henceforth be in a distant outbuilding rather than in the castle, thus keeping the angry promise made to his brother seven years before. Stewart showed little interest in the affairs of the estate. Rather, he turned to arranging his American booty. Sheepfolds were converted to buffalo and bear paddocks. A section of what had once been Birnham Wood was replanted with spruce, pine and birch from the Rockies. Miller's paintings were hung throughout the castle and new furniture, carved to resemble buffalo heads, with real horns and hooves, was ordered for the main hall.
Miller was brought over from Baltimore to work up more paintings from his expedition sketchbook. He stayed at Murthly for a year, enjoying from his host a hospitality and solicitousness that had been completely absent in the Rockies. (Miller seems to have contracted a case of rheumatism from his previous working conditions.) The artist called his watercolors (which are reproduced here) "sketches" for subsequent oil paintings. Often he would re-create scenes that he hadn't witnessed, such as in Crows Trying to Provoke the Whites to an Act of Hostility (page 68). This picture illustrates an incident of particular cool-headedness on the part of Stewart that took place sometime after his first rendezvous. Stewart's party was surrounded by a larger band of mean-tempered Crows. Apparently Stewart ascertained that the Crows' medicine man had predicted they would prevail in battle only if the enemy struck the first blow. Stewart's response was to stand silent as his assailants menaced and taunted him and jumped up and down. Discouraged, they eventually gave up and wandered away. A London churchman, on seeing the finished painting, was so moved by Stewart's heroism that he used the incident in a lecture on the virtues of turning the other cheek.
In 1840, perhaps to shake his American obsession, Stewart took Clement on a six-month tour of North Africa and Asia Minor. Exactly where they went and how they entertained themselves was never recorded, but they ended up in Constantinople. However, if the trip was intended to cure Stewart's homesickness for America, it wasn't successful. Back in Scotland, Stewart, despite the protests of his relatives, sold one of Murthly's oldest properties to a neighbor for the equivalent of a million dollars. He used part of the proceeds to pay off old debts. Much of the rest was spent, in 1843, on his final American tour, which was conducted with truly regal extravagance.