Tableau 6. This almost apocalyptic view illustrates the treacherous waters of the Missouri River. The river was the longest in the country and was considered the most hazardous of all the western rivers to navigate. Edging their way between the rafts of driftwood became increasingly difficult for the travelers aboard the steamer Yellow Stone, as she made her way up river toward the mouth of the River Platte. On 26 April 1833 she passed the mouth of the Nemaha River and again encountered snags and sandbars. In his journal for that date Maximilian noted that `For a long time we could not get away from this and often ran aground… but finally with a little force of the engine we moved on’.
From the illustrated ‘Travels in the Interior of North America between 1832-34’ by Prince Maximilian Alexander Philipp Zu Wied-Neuweid, published in two volumes by Ackermmann in London 1843.
The finest work on American Indian life and the American Frontier, it is the result of an epic journey which took place at a time when the mass migrations of settlers and pioneers was about to alter irrevocably the unspoiled West. Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) was engaged by Prince Maximilian (already famed for his earlier explorations in Brazil) to provide a record of his travels among the Plains Indians of North America during 1833-34. His efforts show great versatility and technical virtuosity and give us a uniquely thorough, accomplished and detailed picture of a previously little understood (and soon to vanish) way of life.
The most important part of their travels started from St Louis, whence they proceeded up the treacherous Missouri along the line of forts established by the the American Fur Company. At Bellevue they encountered their first Indians, then went on to make contact with the Sioux Tribe, learning and recording their little known ceremonial dances, their powerful pride and dignity. Transfering from the ‘Yellow Stone’ to another steamer the ‘Assiniboine’, they continued to Fort Clark, studying there the Mandan, Mintari and Crow Tribes, then the Cree and Assiniboine tribes at Fort Union, the main base of the American Fur Company. On a necessarily much smaller vessel they journeyed through the extraordinary geological scenery of that section of the Missouri to Fort Mackenzie in Montana. Established over a month there a cautious friendship developed with the fearsome Blackfoot Tribe. From this, the westernmost point reached, it was considered too dangerous to continue and the return journey downstream began. The winter brought its own difficulties and discomforts, but Bodmer was still able to execute numerous studies of villages, dances and, especially, the people, who were often intrigued and delighted by his work. The portraits are particularly notable for capturing individual personalities, as well as forming, together with Prince Maximilian’s written studies, the primary accounts of what became virtually lost cultures.
Aquatint engraving with fine later hand-colouring by Karl Bodmer for the illustrated ‘Travels in the Interior of North America between 1832-34’ by Prince Maximilian Alexander Philipp Zu Wied-Neuweid, published in two volumes by Ackermann in London 1843. At the foot of each plate is the studio stamp, a blind embossed panel with the words ‘C Bodmer/Direct’.
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