Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874) - Attack by Crow Indians

Alfred Jacob Miller (American, 1810-1874) Attack by Crow Indians

Miller did not see this scene, which occurred during one of Captain Stewart's earlier trips to the mountains, but it was explained to him in detail and he painted several versions of it, including a large painting approximately 5 x 9 feet for Murthly Castle and this fine watercolor. According to LeRoy R. Hafen's account of the incident ("Broken Hand," p. 134), a band of young Crows invaded the camp while Fitzpatrick was away and Stewart was in charge. They carried off stock, pelts, and other property. They encountered Fitzpatrick on their return and stripped him of everything of value as well. As Stewart described the incident, the Crow medicine man had told the braves that, if they struck the first blow, they could not win. Thus, they had to provoke Stewart or someone in his party into striking the first blow. Stewart stood firm, refusing to strike. The Crows left, and the captain survived a situation in which he would have surely lost the battle. Fitzpatrick managed to talk the Crows into returning most of what they had taken.

The Crow are a Native American tribe who lived in the Yellowstone Valley in Wyoming, Montana, & North Dakota. The Crow/Apsaroke moved from Ohio further west due to pressure from the Ojibwe & Cree, & the Crow & Cheyenne would fight against each other before both being pushed farther west by the Sioux. The Crow became bitter enemies of both the Sioux & Cheyenne, & the Crow allied with the United States during the Indian Wars, being friendly to the whites & being granted a reservation of 5,779 miles at the Crow Agency, south of Billings, Montana. 

In July of 1858, Baltimore art collector William T. Walters commissioned 200 watercolors at $12  apiece from Baltimore-born artist Alfred Jacob Miller. These paintings were each accompanied by a descriptive text written by the artist, & were delivered in installments over the next 21 months & ultimately bound in 3 albums. These albums included the field-sketches drawn during Miller's 1837 expedition to the annual fur-trader's rendezvous in the Green River Valley (now western Wyoming).  These watercolors offer a unique record of the the lives of those involved in the closing years of the western fur trade & a look at the artist's opinions of both women & Native Americans.  The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland.