"Lewis and Clark's Camp at Traveler's Rest, Lolo Creek 1805"
Oil on linen, 5½' by 10'
Commissioned for the Missoula County Courthouse
Missoula County Art Collection, Missoula Art Museum
Photographed by Carl Basner
On September 9, 1805, the Corps of Discovery turned west from the Bitterroot River up the stream they dubbed "Travelers' Rest Creek," and stopped a mile or so above its mouth at a heavily used Indian campsite on its south bank. In this scene, Paxson portrays a meeting that took place the next afternoon.
George Drouillard, who is proficient in the common intertribal language of "signs or jesticulation," is introducing to Captain Lewis three Nez Perce Indians whom Private John Colter met while hunting somewhere up the creek.1 Lewis extends the universal open-handed gesture of welcome. Afterwards one of the Indians, perhaps the best-dressed man, with a buffalo robe draped over his arm, will consent to join the Corps as a guide. However, he will grow impatient with their delay in departure on the 11th, and go on by himself, assuring them it will take only six days to cross the mountains. (Actually it will take them almost twice that long!) The mounted man beyond the oxbow in Travelers' Rest Creek, at right, may be John Colter, leading one of the Indians' fine horses to pasture with the Corps' herd.
At Lewis's right is Clark's servant, York, dressed in blue as befitted a personal slave at that time. The Indian squatting at Lewis's left hand is "Old Toby," the Shoshone guide the captains had hired to lead them across the Bitterroot Mountains toward the Columbia River; he is displaying a map he has drawn for the captains with charcoal on deer skin. Behind Lewis, Captain Clark is apparently asking Sacagawea—who cradles her seven-month-old son, Jean Baptiste—and her husband, Toussaint Charbonneau, whether they understand the strangers' language. The young Shoshone woman's averted gaze betrays her suspicion of these men from the Chopunnish nation, her peoples' enemies.
Sometime before leaving Pittsburgh in August of 1803, Lewis paid $20—half of a captain's monthly salary—for a "very active strong and docile" Newfoundland retriever he named Seaman. Paxson knew only that Lewis had a dog, but not its name, breed or appearance, since Lewis's eastern journal had only recently been rediscovered and was not published until 1916. He has compromised by depicting a typical Indian dog like the ones described elsewhere in the journals.
Frontispiece from The Trail of Lewis and Clark, Volume 2
Titled "Lewis and Clark in Camp on Traveller's[sic]-Rest (Lolo) Creek, Montana," the original oil painting, which Paxson created in about 1900 for Olin Wheeler's book, The Trail of Lewis and Clark4 , turned out to be a study for his 1913 mural (above). A few of the groupings and details are similar. Drouillard is introducing to Clark and Lewis the three Nez Perce he has just met. Old Toby wears a blue robe and carries a knife on his hip. At right is the captains' tent (of Civil War design); York is at its door. Sacagawea is seated nearby; 7-month-old Jean-Baptiste sits next to a Plains-Indian style cradleboard. At left foreground is one of the company's pack saddles.
Headgear worn by the Corps was one of the most problematic details in all 20th-century illustrations. Paxson's good friend and fellow Montanan, Charlie Russell, solved the problem for most of those who followed him by topping the captains with broad-brimmed hats turned up into tricorns. That had been the official military style throughout the Revolution, and it remained popular with some civilians for a while afterward. But fashion statements will not tolerate restraint, and new styles were adopted by the end of the 18th century in both military and civilian life. Nevertheless, in the absence of adequate research into the Jeffersonian era—and notwithstanding the testimony of those anonymous drawings that appeared in some early reprints of Gass's journal—the tricorn remained the hat of choice for artists until historian Robert Moore and artist Michael Haynes finally provided alternatives at the outset of the bicentennial observance.2 In these two murals Paxson ignored the cliche of the tricorn and instead chose a style that had first appeared in Canadian paintings after 1825, a trimmed fur cap with ear-flaps turned up, and a stiff, narrow bill.3 The enlisted men wear less formal hats of fur, resembling those often seen on late-19th-century paintings of mountain men; their G.I. hats, narrow-brimmed beaver-felt toppers with low crowns, were worn out and discarded by this time.
All members of the party were clad in buckskins and shod in moccasins from the time they left Fort Mandan. In the mural, details such as the generous lapels on the captains' coats are Paxson's compromises between the mountain-man look and military formality. All wore moccasins for the rest of the journey. It is not known for certain whether the captains still had boots to wear at this time, but they had other parts of their dress uniforms until at least the time they started home from Fort Clatsop.
1. It was the Corps' Shoshone guide, Old Toby, who first engaged the three strangers in conversation "by signs or jesticulation, the common language of all the Aborigines of North America, it is one understood by all of them and appears to be sufficiently copious to convey with a degree of certainty the outlines of what they wish to communicate." (Lewis, 10 September 1805.)
2. Robert J. Moore, Jr., and Michael Haynes, Lewis and Clark Tailor Made, Trail Worn; Army Life, Clothing, & Weapons of the Corps of Discovery (Helena, Montana: Farcountry Press, 2003), 166-85.
3. Michael Haynes, personal communication, February 24, 2005. Inexplicably, Paxson reverted to the tricorn for Lewis in his mural, "Lewis and Clark at Three Forks" (1912), for the Montana state capitol building.
4. Two volumes; New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904.
This page funded in part by a grant from the Montana Cultural Trust.