John Ford Clymer, CA
During his long artistic career, John Clymer developed a highly effective process for painting the history of the American West. First, he and his wife, Doris, would painstakingly research the subject of the painting, down to the smallest details of setting, climate, and historic period. After completing their research, they would then travel to the proposed site for the painting to get a firsthand feeling for the area. As a result of these intensive preparations, Clymer’s paintings are both rich in accurate historical detail and successful in capturing the essence of their geographical settings. Clymer was adept at recreating an historical event or era while, at the same time, drawing the viewer into the physical scene.
Clymer was born in Ellensburg, Washington, in 1907. By the time he joined the Cowboy Artists of America in 1969, he had achieved a highly successful career as both an illustrator and easel painter. Through his work for the Saturday Evening Post, he brought images of the West to literally thousands of Americans. From 1942 to 1962, Clymer painted more than seventy cover illustrations for the magazine, many of them Western scenes. In the era before television, Clymer’s illustrations served to introduce countless people to the many stories of the American West, from the fur trade to the cattle drives. He literally bridged two generations of Western artists – the early twentieth century illustrators such as Harvey Dunn, with whom he studied, to the members of the CAA, for whom he served as mentor and role model.
Clymer was particularly interested in depicting the history of the Pacific Northwest, where he grew up. He attempted to tell the whole story of the region, creating sensitive and detailed depictions of Native American life and the meeting of Native and Anglo cultures. One of his featured subjects was the great fur trade era, which led to the exploration of the region. Clymer was also equally talented in depicting the native wildlife of the Pacific Northwest. Fittingly, his life and work is now commemorated in the Clymer Museum in his native town of Ellensburg.
Source: Cowboy Artists of America
James Bordeaux: Trading with the Sioux, 1856
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1976) | Image Size: 30”h x 60”w; Framed Size: 41”h x 71”w
Antagonism between the Indian and the White Man is a common thread throughout the history of the American West; even a casual purview of the relations of these two peoples reveal an abundance of conflict, confrontation and tragedy. Yet, there are notable exceptions to this shadow over the Old West.
There were men who came as friends and were able to live at peace with the Indian. One of these men was the independent trader, James Bordeaux. In 1856, when many bands of the Sioux left Fort Laramie and Major Twist, the Indian agent, moved the agency away from the Fort, James Bordeaux went among the Brule Sioux on the White River with his Red River carts to trade.
Bordeaux was married to the daughter of the Chief of the Brule. His interest in the Sioux people went much deeper than the considerations of commerce. He found the Sioux way of life to be in harmony with creation; a quality already lacking among the whites as they sought to subdue nature and turn it to their own purpose. This unusual man considered the Sioux as his friends. He conducted himself as a guest in their camps and dealt with them fairly in his business at their camps and at his trading posts.
The name of James Bordeaux is not as familiar as are those of the white men who made their reputations as Indian fighters. We can only speculate about the course of history had there been more men like James Bordeaux in the vanguard as white civilization pushed into the land of the Indian in the early West.
The Trade Boat
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1983) | Image Size: 30” x 48”; Framed Size: 40 ½”h x 58 ½”w
By the mid-1830’s, steamboats were navigating on the Missouri River between St. Louis and Ft. Union more than 2000 miles to the west. This was the avenue of commerce for the fur trade. From Ft. Union, the trappers and traders outfitted and moved on up the Missouri and the Yellowstone in sturdy, flat-bottomed keelboats. Their destination was beaver country and the Indian villages closer to the headwaters of the western rivers.
This scene is of a trade boat of the American Fur Company out of Ft. Union and bound for the more remote Ft. McKenzie. The boat was anchored in mid-stream to trade with Indians for beaver pelts, furs, buffalo robes and fresh dried meat. The traders would not bring their boat into shore in fear that the Indians may prove to be hostile.
The chiefs come aboard first to talk and receive presents from the traders. Then men and women eager for the white man’s goods begin to swim out to the boat pulling their own trade materials in bullboats made from buffalo hides stretched over willow frames.
The white traders become concerned as more and more Indians approach and attempt to board the already crowded vessel. Heavily out numbered, the crew hoists a crude sail and begins to move on upriver, forcing the Indians to disembark. They are told by the traders to come on to Ft. McKenzie for further trade. There the traders will feel more secure in the company of their own kind.
The Trapper's Tree
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1984) | Image Size: 30”h x 48”w; Framed Size: 41”h x 59”w
Of all the hardy men who challenged the western wilderness of the early nineteenth century, none were more resourceful and tenacious than the free trappers. There was money to be made in trapping to be sure. But, it was something more than greed that drew these rugged men so far away from the comfort and convenience of settled America back east of the Mississippi.
Beaver pelts were a way to pay the bill for living out a grand adventure. Men alone in a strange and hard land tested their mettle to a degree more than city-dwelling wage earners would ever know. Out there, in the silence and isolation, a man came to grips with his essence. He gloried in his strengths and fought to overcome his weaknesses. This was no life for those of timid spirits.
In the dead of winter, snow lies in deep drifts across the land. Everything is white and the silence is overwhelming. Two men are drawn together by the scant warmth of a small fire and a shared feeling of intense loneliness. Few words are spoken. The men are within themselves, thing perhaps of homes and families thousands of miles away. Maybe they try to muster up memories of last years rendezvous when Indians and trappers came together to barter furs with the traders. Long summer days of noise and zest, and nights of wild tales and raw whiskey. But it all seems so long ago.
Now, they huddle near the fire and wait for the cooking pot to boil. Their earthly worth is represented by the fresh furs draped on the bare tree and the traps that hang there, or lay beneath the icy water of a nearby stream where the fox drinks and beaver builds his home.
Sacajawea at The Big Water
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1974) | Image Size: 24”h x 48”w; Frame Size: 35”h x 58”w
One of the greatest adventures in all of American history was the Lewis and Clark Expedition which set out to explore the vast, unknown territory of the Louisiana Purchase in 1804. It resulted in a fantastic journey from the banks of the Mississippi to the shores of the Pacific Ocean and back. The round trip took more than two years and had tremendous influence in the subsequent settlement of the American West.
The cast of characters in this dramatic initial chapter of western history were the two leading men, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; but the most intriguing character was an Indian woman, Sacajawea. While the expedition was in winter camp at the Mandan Villages in North Dakota in 1805, they secured the services of an interpreter named Toussaint Charbonneau, a French-Canadian trapper whose young wife, Sacajawea, and her new baby accompanied her husband on the journey.
Sacajawea was a Snake or Shoshone who had been captured by the Minnetarees when she was about eleven years old. During the succeeding months she was reunited with her people from whom the Lewis and Clark party was able to obtain horses and a guide to lead them across the mountains. She proved a valuable asset to the party as an interpreter and the presence of a woman and child in the expedition was a sign of its peaceful intentions by the other Indians they met.
Sacajawea did not remain with the Shoshones but continued on with the group until it reached its goal, the mouth of the Columbia and the Pacific Ocean. In the painting, Sacajawea at the Big Water, a great moment came for her when after having accompanied Clark’s part to the ocean beach where a whale had washed ashore she was the Pacific Ocean for the first time, which she called the Big Water.
Trading on The Columbia
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1981) | Image Size: 30”h x 60”w; Framed Size: 41”h x 71”w
Trading was as fundamental to Indian life as hunting and war. The system of commerce between tribes within a particular region was quite sophisticated long before the Indian came in contact with white civilization.
This fine painting depicts two groups of Northwest Indians who have come together to trade at the Cascades of the Columbia River in what is today Washington State. One group has come up from the lower Columbia in dug out coastal canoes bringing shells to trade. These shells were eagerly sought by inland Indians for personal decoration. The Chinook Indians, who lived at the mouth of the Columbia, acquired the shells from other coastal bands and brought them upriver to trade.
On this occasion the inland Indians are a band of proud and haughty Cayuse who were outstanding horseback warriors in the area of the Blue Mountains and beyond the Tucanon River. The Cayuse obtained trade goods from other inland Indians at the Grande Ronde and the Walla Walla Valleys. Here the Cayuse, who have arrived by horse, are offering furs and mountain sheep horns in exchange for the shells of the Chinook. The sheep horns were used in making eating utensils and in the construction of bows. Among the shells on display are rare dentaliums which were found only off the coast of Vancouver Island and were highly prized trade items.
In their efforts to understand one another, these two trading bands are probably communicating with each other in a combination of sign language and the Chinook jargon which was in common use throughout a wide area of the old Northwest. This small trading session along the banks of the Columbia is an example of the kind of trading that went on among the Indians for generations before the white men came to alter the time worn trade routes and patterns of trade that had developed among the tribes.
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1986) | Image Size: 30”h x 40”w; Framed Size: 40.5”h x 50.5”w
Many strange and wonderful creatures inhabited the remote corners of the American West. Early white visitors were amazed at the endless herds of the shaggy, hump-backed buffalo. They marveled at the spiny porcupine, the fierce badger, and at the architectural enterprises of the beaver. The great grizzly bear struck terror in the hearts of all those who heard its mighty roar. Stories were told of yet another strange animal that lived up above the timberline on the barren and wind-swept slopes of the rugged western mountains.
The mountain goat was seldom seen by man. His high country domain was secure from such predators as the wolf and the bear. Indian and white hunters rarely ventured up among the saw-tooth crags and lofty peaks scoured long ago by ancient glaciers. Few creatures would ever know the solitude of that place where eagles soared on the wind of canyon currents and the sure-footed mountain goat made its home.
Part goat, part antelope, this unusual dweller of the high places exhibited an amazing ability to live beyond the law of gravity, bounding at ease up and down walls of sheer rock. Great neck and should muscles rippled beneath a tick, Arctic white coat of hair. Flint-life hooves surrounded a soft, inner pad and enabled the goats to maneuver across slick rock and ice, and to paw down through the snow to feed on the sparse vegetation which grew at extreme elevations.
To those who first saw him, the mountain goat was a mythical creature of grace and power, sure-footed and at ease in a harsh environment far removed from the natural haunts of man.
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1972) | Image Size: 20”h x 40”w; Framed Size: 31”h x51”w
Some hunts were so successful that not all of the meat and hides could be brought into camp before nightfall. Small fires were lighted, and a number of women and children of the tribe remained with the carcasses all night to guard them from lurking wolves, coyotes or other predators. In the morning, as soon as it is light enough to see, the women will be back at their work of removing the hides and cutting off the meat.
The Salt Makers – Lewis & Clark Expedition 1806
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1975) | Image Size: 24”h x 48”w; Framed Size: 34”h x 58”w
When the Lewis and Clark party reached the mouth of the Columbia River, they decided to winter near the Pacific Ocean. They chose a spot on the south side of the Columbia, on a high point of land above a small river emptying into a small bay. There they built a fort and established their winter quarters which they called Fort Clatsop.
From the fort, they sent a party of men out to the coast for the purpose of setting up a camp and a salt-making operation. The camp was on the coast about fifteen miles southwest of Fort Clatsop near the lodges of some Killamuck and Clatsop Indians. There they found a place near a fresh stream of water running into the ocean and plenty of wood for fires. They built a stone cairn which would accommodate the five large kettles for boiling sea water. By keeping the kettles filled and the fires going day and night, they were able to obtain from three-quarters to a gallon of salt a day. On February 21, 1806, when they abandoned camp, they had about twenty gallons in all. They thought this would be sufficient to last them until they reached their caches on the Missouri River.
Captain Clark Buffalo Gangue
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1977) | Image Size: 24”h x 48”w ; Framed Size: 35”h x 59”w
On March 23, 1806, the men of the Lewis and Clark party began their return journey to St. Louis and civilization. The expedition split into two groups. Lewis, along with nine men set out to explore and map the Marias River. The remaining men under Clark continued to the Three Forks of the Missouri in present day Montana.
At the Three Forks, they recovered the boats which had been left on the journey westward. Clark then dispatched nine men to meet the Lewis contingent at the junction of the Marias and the Missouri Rivers. Clark and the remaining men set out overland to explore the Yellowstone River. They build two crude canoes, lashed them together and began their trip down the river. This painting, Buffalo Gangue shows Clark and his small band on the afternoon of August 1, 1806, encountering an enormous herd of buffalo crossing the Yellowstone. Consequently, the men were forced to land their canoes until the herd passed. It was a magnificent sight. The buffalo herd seemed to have no end. Clark described them as gangue of buffalo. This incident was but one of many dramatic episodes which were a part of the grand adventure of the Corps of Discovery. Each member of the group retained vivid impressions and memories of scenes such as this.
This entire expedition reunited near the mouth of the Yellowstone in mid-August and began the boat trip back down the Missouri. They were back in St. Louis before the end of September. Theirs was a singular and distinguished accomplishment in the history of Western America.
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1977) | Image Size: 30”h x 60”w; Framed Size: 41”h x 70”w
The fur trading era was but a brief episode in the history of the early West. But it was the period when white men first ventured in any significant numbers beyond the pale of civilization to the wild country of the western mountains. Men who prized freedom and independence in its purest forms embraced the chance of a life away from the artificial restrains of the structured social order of the East.
Self-reliant men of rugged constitution wandered into the far West with long rifles, sharp knives and a set of steel animal traps. With little else, they made a life for themselves where every day became an adventure. Winters were spent in search of beaver. By day, traps were set and checked, the fresh catches were skinned and the pelts stretched to dry on willow hoop frames. At night, the men hovered around small fires in thrown-together shelters and dreamed of sunshine and springtime.
With the coming of spring, the trappers shed their heavy clothes and raised their faces to the warm sun. Here they have constructed a crude mechanical press to prepare the winter’s accumulation of beaver pelts for transportation. The dried pelts are removed from the willow frames folded and pressed into bundles. The bundles were then wrapped in the hides of deer or elk and tied with wet rawhide thongs. The rawhide would shrink as it dried, further compressing the bundles which could weight up to one hundred pounds.
Once the work was finished, the men would load the bundles on pack horses or primitive boats for the trip to the trading posts further down stream. If the winter’s catch had been a good one, the men were happy at the prospect of a celebration at the trading post. Already they contemplated where to set their traps during the next winter.
Up The Jefferson Lewis and Clark Journey
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Framed Size: 30”h x 50 ¼”w
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1972) | Image Size: 20”h x 40”w; Framed Size: 31“h x 51“w
The white buffalo was considered by most of the Indian tribes as great medicine. Its appearance in a herd was very, very rare. The white buffalo hide was used by the Sioux and the Mandans in some of their most important religious ceremonies and was valued as the greatest gift that could be offered to the Great Spirit. It was the most sought-after prize in a buffalo hunt. Here, a group of Sioux riding over the crest of a ridge have just spotted a herd led by a rare white buffalo bull.
The Peace Pipe, Overland Astorians 1811
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1979) | Image Size: 24”h x 48”w; Framed Size: 34 5/8”h x 58 5/8”w
The history of the western fur trade contains more high adventure and drama than could be created by a novelist’s imagination. There is no better example of this than the story associated with Fort Astoria.
When John Jacob Astor decided to establish a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River on the Oregon Coast, two parties were sent out. One party went by ship from New York in 1810. The other, called the Overland Astorians, started up the Missouri River in the spring of 1811 under the leadership of Wilson Price Hunt.
A primary concern of the Overland Astorians as they travelled upriver was the ever-present danger of hostile Indians. On May 31, 1811, the Astorians met a large Sioux war party that was determined to oppose their progress upriver so as to prevent trade with their enemies. The Astorians made resolute preparations for defense and were greatly relieved when the Indians, who vastly outnumbered them, made the sign for parley.
We are witness to the scene as Hunt and some of his men join the principal Sioux warriors and share in the smoking of the ceremonial pipe. It is an impressive moment as the pipe bearer lights the calumet and presents it to the sun and the four points of the compass before sharing it with the assembled circle. On this occasion the red man and the white man have indicated a mutual respect for one another. The Astorian party was allowed to proceed on its way unmolested.
Devil’s Gate: Fitzpatrick 1824
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1986) | Image Size: 40”h x 30”w; Framed Size: 50”h x 40 ¼”w
Survival depended on resourcefulness for the men who came early to the West. The Rocky Mountains were a world away from the frontiers of settled America, and the country was vast and unknown. Yet, men did come to the distant, remote places. They were lured by the promise of profit to be gained in trapping for beaver pelts and other furs.
In the spring of 1824, a band of these rugged men found their supplies depleted after a long winter of trapping in the Green River region of Montana and Idaho. Thomas Fitzpatrick and two companions were sent on the long journey eastward to carry out the furs and to bring back fresh supplies.
Arriving at the Sweetwater River, the three men found the water swollen by snowmelt. They built a bullboat from buffalo hide stretched over a willow frame in Indian fashion. It was their plan to float the furs down the Sweetwater to the Platte, then on to the Missouri which would carry them all the way down to St. Louis.
A few miles upstream from Independence Rock which would become a prominent landmark for a generation of travelers on the Oregon Trail, Fitzpatrick and his men passed through a notch in the rock called Devil’s Gate. Ingenuity was not always enough to overcome the challenge of the wilderness. Shortly after passing through Devil’s Gate, the water became too shallow to float the fur-laden boat, and the men were forced to hide their cache. They continued on foot to the Missouri for the trip down to St. Louis for the supplies which would sustain the party through another season of trapping. In those long ago days, civilized men had no clear advantage in dealing with life in a wild and primitive land.
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1972) | Image Size 24"h x 40"w; Framed Size: 34.25"h x 50.25"w
There was a time when hunters and warriors rode along dim and rugged paths of the mountain wilderness of the Northwest and survival challenges were many. Deep snow and the freezing bitter cold added a seasonal harshness to the Indian’s primitive way of life. But he understood his environment in a way that the white man never would and survived by being in tune with nature rather than against it.
In this painting there is a sense of beauty in the oppressing cold. The rough edges of the landscape have been softened by the drifting snow, and the sunlight shining through the frosty crystals in the air produced that rare and beautiful natural phenomenon known as a “sun dog,” a bright ring around the sun.
It is apparent that these Indians have come in contact with white traders. They carry rifles and the figure in the foreground wears a coat made from a Hudson Bay trade blanket. These coats were called capotes, and they were much more suitable to wearing on horseback than bulky buffalo robes.
As the frost shines from the trees and brush, the warm breath of men and horses condenses in the frigid air. Yet, the Indians show no sign of real distress. They are descendants of generations of men who learned to be at home in their surroundings regardless of the conditions.
Pride of the Nez Perce
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1977) | Image Size: 30”h x 48”w; Framed Size: 40½”h x 59”w
One of the intriguing chapters in Western American history is that of the Nez Perce and their horses. The Nez Perce’ native land was between the Cascade Range and the Bitterroot Mountains of present day eastern Washington and Idaho. They were simple fisherman for generations with small villages along the Salmon, Clearwater and Snake Rivers.
In about 1700, the Nez Perce acquired Spanish horses from their neighbors, the Shoshone. Nez Perce country was ideally suited for raising horses… ample rainfall, abundantly rich grass and protected valleys for winter range. The herds multiplied dramatically in this perfect horse country.
The Nez Perce were the only Indian tribe known to have learned the principles of selective breeding on their own. The undesirable stallions were castrated and the poorer geldings and mares were traded to neighboring tribes. When the Lewis and Clark Party visited the Nez Perce in 1805, they were impressed by the number and quality of their horses. The spotted horses that the Nez Perce particularly prized came to be known as the Appaloosa.
In only a century, the Nez Perce had gone from primitive fishermen to accomplished horsemen. Their culture flourished and by 1850 the reputation of the Nez Perce’ superior horses had spread throughout plains country. Lucrative commerce developed as other tribes came to trade for their horses. The horse also allowed the Nez Perce to make annual hunting trips east of the mountains to the buffalo range. In this painting, the men are looking proudly over a group of their horses, the attention centers on the spotted colt.
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1972) | Image Size: 20”h x 40”w; Framed Size: 29”h x 49”w
Winter presented a dramatic threat to the survival of the fur trappers who challenged the northwestern wilderness. John Clymer’s “Night Visitors” depicts two trappers who set up a primitive overnight camp with only a small fire, their blanket coats and companionship to ward off the freezing weather.
A harsh winter was not the only difficulty faced; food was a prime concern of both man and beast. Lean and hungry wolves were attracted by the scents of the trappers’ camp and their presence was threatening as they waited and crouched at firelight’s edge. The trappers had to keep the fire going all night in order to keep the wolves at bay. Even then, acute hunger might have overcome the wolves’ fear of the fire. In that event, the men would have to defend themselves and their supplies.
Modern studies have shown that wolves are not man hunters. At the time, however, the trappers did not know that the animals were attracted only by the smell of the men’s food. The danger seemed genuine and quite close. It was a long, cold, sleepless night. In the silence broken from time to time only by the wolves’ snarls, the men reflected upon the reasons why they chose trapping and think of home and family a world away. Scenes such as this were commonplace in the daily existence of this rugged breed of men.
By the light of dawn, the wolves will slink back into the forest. The men will welcome the sun and once again find delight and pride in their life in the wild and its wonderful freedom which few have ever known.
Bon Jour! Visit to a Métis Camp
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1982) | Image Size: 24”h x 48”w; Framed Size: 34 ½”h x 58 ½”w
Two old French Canadian Métis trappers with their families welcome traders arriving in their camp with pack horses laden with trade goods. The heyday of fur trapping was over for their older men. With their wives, children and numerous relatives, they had moved west to live. The Métis were the half-breeds; products of the Quebec Frenchmen and Indian wives. In their day they were the best boatmen, the best trappers, the best hunters and the best guides.
One old trapper wears a capote, the coat made from a single Hudson Bay Point blanket. Although the Hudson Bay Company had traded blankets with the Indians since 1681, the new Point Blanket introduced in 1780 was especially popular. It was the French trapper in the Canadian wilderness who gave this blanket coat the name, capote, a French name for a long, hooded overcoat. The capote was known all across Canada, the Western Plains and the Northwest.
Present in this Métis Camp is their serviceable Red River cart in which they can move family and goods. An invention and trademark of the Métis was the Red River cart made entirely of wood and rawhide with no metal parts. It could be easily mended with the materials at hand. The cart could be pulled by one horse or one ox. One cart could carry as much as five pack horses and make fifty miles in a day. First constructed in Pembina in 1801, it spread rapidly to the West and South and was used in the Northwest by Indians and Frontiersmen.
The time of this meeting is fall. The trader coming into the camp is welcomed bringing news of the outside world and a chance to barter for guns, ammunition, new traps and wares. Hopefully, there will be some liquor in the packs for celebration.
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1972) | Image Size: 20”h x 40”w; Framed Size: 30 ½”h x 50 ¼”w
The Oglala Sioux were superior horsemen, fierce warriors and efficient buffalo hunters. These were the people of Crazy Horse, part of the group who would defeat Custer and his troops at The Little Big Horn. “Sioux Camp” exhibits that time before the white man had begun to push into Sioux country from the East. The location of the scene is along Bear Butte Creek, the eastern edge of the Dakota Black Hills. Plains Indians used this campsite for centuries. It offered mountain spring water, wood, game and wild fruit and berries each season. It was near here in 1857 that a great Indian Council was held when it was determined to hold the Black Hills inviolate from the white man. For the next two decades, the Sioux and their allies defended their land valiantly.
The life of the Sioux was tied closely to the great buffalo herds of the northern Great Plains. Meat, robes and skins were basic to their survival. During this time of abundance there was ample meat for drying and hides to cure.
In this piece as the men are preparing to leave camp for yet another hunt, a proud brave parades his prized buffalo horse and shows his confidence as a great hunter. The older men look at the young brave and recall the days when they, too, gloried in such moments. The beginning of a hunt was an important occasion in any Sioux Camp. Legends grew out of the feats accomplished by individuals like the bold brave since everything associated with the hunt was memorable to these people who lived their lives in the wake of the great buffalo herds.
It was a time in the West when the Oglala Sioux were in harmony with the land. The day was not long off when the white man would drastically change this. For now, though, they were the Lords of the Great Plains and happy in their lives.
The Fur Seekers
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1977) | Image Size: 24”h x 48”w; Framed Size: 34 ¾”h x 58 ½”w
The first European trappers into the wilderness of the upper Missouri River and beyond to the slopes of the Rocky Mountains were rugged and free-spirited. They set their traps in a strange and alien country that was at once both beautiful and threatening. The grandeur of the mountains and the forests was largely untouched and remained as it had been since creation. The ever-present dangers not quite seen, yet sensed, were a part of the strange new environment. Wild animals, the weather and rival trappers tinged the primal beauty of the western mountain wilderness with an edge of imminent hostility.
Traveling together in small bands, strong bonds of friendship and loyalty grew between them. As a result, dangers seemed less intimidating as did their feelings of isolation and loneliness so far from civilization.
In early spring, as seen here, the wild western beaver country never looked more beautiful. There was ample evidence that numerous beaver were working along the streams. Successful trapping and grand profits at season’s end seemed promising. Frequently, the trappers took back more than the highly prized beaver pelts; they were often affected deeply by their experiences in a land that few white men had ever seen.
The western wilderness cast a strong spell on those who had been there and they were never quite the same as before they had gone and were never able to replicate the sense of peace and independent self-reliance back in the white man’s world.
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1986) | Image Size: 24”h x 48”w; Framed Size: 34 ½”h x 58 ½”w
The first white men who blazed trails into the western wilderness brought back tales of a terrible beast that walked like a man. They said it stalked the far country where the prairies met the mountains. It haunted the dreams of those who had seen it and heard its roar. Its Latin name was Ursus Horribilis, the grizzly bear.
Indians who called upon the spirits that dwelt within animals held the great bear in reverence. They knew it was hard to kill and many believed it had the power to heal its own wounds. Medicine men and shamans through sacred rituals invoked the spirits of bears seeking strength and courage. Those who had experienced dreams or visions involving bears banded together into secret clans and were said to possess supernatural powers. The bear men were respected for their abilities as healers and for their prowess as warriors. Others of their tribes feared them, believing them to be, like the bear, touchy and dangerous.
The grizzly in this scene has killed a bighorn ram and now challenges the wolf pack that has been attracted by the smell of blood. The bear’s fierce roar echoes down the slope of the mountain. All those who hear it, both men and animals, will quickly leave this place.
The lion may have been accorded the title of “King of Beast” in some far off land. But in the Old West, nothing that walked on two legs or four was the equal of the mighty grizzly.
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1974) | Image Size: 30”h x 60”w; Framed Size: 41”h x70”w
The trappers who sought fur treasures in the Northwest wilderness were men of abundant vitality and gusto. The lives they led were unbelievably arduous and isolating. The work was demanding and the environmental dangers were plentiful; bad weather, wild animals and hostiles. And though there were few occasions when opportunity for relaxation arose, the trappers fully embraced them.
One such occasion was in the middle of the relentless Northwestern winter when Rocky Mountain weather made trapping impossible. A fur brigade working a particular region assembled a winter camp in a sheltered spot. It was then the men could relax and enjoy the camaraderie. Throughout the day the camp bustled with activity. Hunters came and went, wild game was butchered and prepared, repairs were made to clothing, arms and equipment, and shooting and wrestling matches abounded.
At winter camp nightfall, the bitter cold was forgotten in the merrymaking around the campfire. Forgotten too was the loneliness and preoccupation with danger and survival. Trappers danced together in the firelight to the tune of “Alouette, gentille alouette, Alouette, je te plumerai.” Moments like the one captured here were remembered long after camp had been abandoned and the men returned to set traps along the mountain streams.
Artist: John Ford Clymer, CA (1907-1989)Description: Oil (1982) | Image Size: 30”h x 40”w; Framed Size: 40 ½”h x 50 ½”w
The Nez Perce were fortunate in the early days to live on good land with abundant food sources. Permanent villages located along the rivers and tributary streams were fish plentiful. After the spring floods, the salmon came to spawn and filled the rivers and streams. The annual salmon run furnished fish, properly preserved, for the whole year. Many edible plants also grew in the moist climate and multiple camas meadows furnished another important staple, the camas bulb. (Camas – a lily family genus chiefly of the Western U.S. with edible bulbs). From early June to late fall, wild berries of various kinds furnished tasty additions to their regular diet. The surplus berries were pressed into cakes and dried for winter use. The men did the fishing and hunting. The women prepared the fish for smoking and drying, and gathered the roots and wild berries in tightly woven cedar bark baskets.
There were several trails leading out of the sheltered land. The Old Nez Perce Trail or LoLo Trail was the northernmost which would, for many miles, cross the crest of the ridges of the Bitterroot Mountains to the Bitterroot Valley. It was travelled afoot long before the Indians acquired horses. It was much easier to follow the ridges from one meadow to another than to follow the narrow river gorge or traverse the steep rugged, pine clad mountains. The meadows in the midst of this heavily forested land also provided berries and roots for the travelers on the trail.
In this painting, a party of Nez Perce Indian women and children are traveling the old trail on a berry picking expedition. At this time, they had only dogs to help carry their burdens. Some of the women are wearing basket-woven hats, typical of the women of the northern plateau region.