Plains Artwork

Peggy O'Neal painted many of the murals in the California Trail Interpretive Center. She is also co-owner of Ko-Kwow Arts and Exhibits, which is responsible for producing the 3-D diorama elements which blend so seamlessly into the background murals. Kodiak Studios produced the life size and realistic figurines and animals which populate the dioramas.

Encampment on the Prairie

This painting is an undated oil on paper on board measuring 6.75 inches by 22.5 inches. The original is held at the Autry Museum of the American West, Los Angeles, CA.

Thomas Worthington Whittredge (May 22, 1820 - February 25, 1910) was an American artist of the Hudson River School. Whittredge was a highly regarded artist of his time, and was friends with several leading Hudson River School artists including Albert Bierstadt and Sanford Robinson Gifford. He traveled widely and excelled at landscape painting, many examples of which are now in major museums. He served as president of the National Academy of Design from 1874 to 1875 and was a member of the selection committees for the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition and the 1878 Paris Exposition, both important venues for artists of the day.

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South Pass

This work was painted by William Henry Jackson in 1937. It is a watercolor illustration used in the book Westward America by H.R. Diggs. The caption in the book was "South Pass. The Gateway of the Rockies. Over this easy upland way during open months of the year passed the high tide of covered wagon migration." The 7.5 inch by 11.5 inch colored plate is held at the Brigham Young University Harold B. Lee Library, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Salt Lake City, UT. The image below was also painted by Jackson and is housed at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

William Henry Jackson (April 4, 1843 - June 30, 1942) was a man driven to record the world around him. He is best known as a pioneering photographer, who captured the first images of Yellowstone, The Tetons, and Mesa Verde. Jackson was an active professional photographer for almost 50 years, and in that time he amassed a huge body of work. After a lifetime devoted to photography and approaching the age of 90, Jackson picked up a paintbrush and produced a series of paintings to illustrate books on the American West. These paintings are impressive enough for their attention to detail and the telltale photographer's eye for perspective and composition, but they are all the more remarkable since Jackson had no formal training as an artist.

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Mormon Party in a Snowstorm, 1866 (W.H. Jackson)
White Men Hunting Buffalo

Another watercolor by William Henry Jackson, painted in 1936. It is also held at Scotts Bluff National Monument in the WHJ Collection.

Oglala Sioux Village

The U.S. Government Peace Commission, comprised of civilian and military leaders with experience in Indian affairs, traveled to Laramie, Wyoming to investigate the conditions of the Arapaho, Northern Cheyenne, Crow and the Brule, Oglala and Miniconjou Sioux. The purpose of their mission was to put a permanent end to Indian hostilities, restrict Indians to reservations and open up land for settlement. Treaties were signed with the various tribes in the spring of 1868.

Alexander Gardner (October 17, 1821 - December 10, 1882) is well-known for his Civil War photographs as well as his work in the American West. He was the government photographer accompanying the Peace Commission to document the participants and the area in and around Fort Laramie. His set of 89 photographs of this event can be viewed at the Minnesota Historical Society website at

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Two Moons' Lodge

Two Moons' wife and children, Native American (Cheyenne) woman and girls, sit near a tepee frame in Lame Deer, Montana. Metal pots and pails are on the ground. A tepee and meat that dries on a rack are nearby.

Laton Alton Huffman (October 31, 1854 - February 28, 1931) was an American photographer of Frontier and Native American life. Born in Winneshiek County, Iowa, Huffman arrived in Miles City, Montana Territory in December of 1879. He was 25 years old and had come to seek the recently vacated position of post photographer at nearby Fort Keogh.  Fort Keogh was a military post established shortly after the Custer incident in 1876 to provide a military presence in eastern Montana. He was appointed post photographer, an unpaid position that provided a dirt floor log studio and an opportunity to make and sell photographs.

This was a rapidly changing time in Montana's history. Hostilities between early settlers and Native Americans were drawing to a close and reservation life was beginning. The demise of the great buffalo herds was near, clearing the way for large scale cattle ranching. The railroad arrived in Miles City in 1881 and changed everything. The arrival of large numbers of farmers with their plows and fences would permanently alter the landscape of eastern Montana. During all of this, Huffman was there taking photographs - landscapes, animals, early ranches, street scenes and, especially, people doing their work. His photos of buffalo hunting taken between 1880 - 83 are some of the few that exist and are among the most historically significant images he produced.

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Emigrants Crossing the Plains

This engraving appears in Samuel Bowles' book Our New West, published in 1869. The book can be viewed at and the engraving appears on page 30.

Samuel Bowles III (February 9, 1826 – January 16, 1878) was an American journalist born in Springfield, Massachusetts. Beginning in 1844 he was the publisher and editor of the Springfield Republican, a position he held until his death in 1878.

In 1865, he made a journey to the Pacific coast with a large company, and in 1868 traveled as far as Colorado. In 1869, he again crossed the continent. He visited Europe in 1862, and again in 1870, 1871, and 1874. Bowles then published two books of travel, Across the Continent (1865) and The Switzerland of America (1869), which were combined into one volume under the title of Our New West (referenced above).

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Advice on the Prairie

Advice on the Prairie presents an optimistic view of western settlement. A family, traveling along the westward trail, listens intently to the mountain man who spins stories of what they will encounter. One of the listeners is a young mother, holding her rosy-cheeked baby who represents the promise of the future. Painted only four years before William Tylee Ranney’s death, Advice on the Prairie signals the artist’s sustaining belief in the value of the western experience. The painting is an oil on canvas measuring 38.75 inches by 55.25 inches. The digitized photo was downloaded here. The original is displayed at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, WY.

William Tylee Ranney (May 9, 1813 - November 18, 1857) was born in Middletown, Connecticut. He devoted his career to depicting the West. As a young man, he apprenticed to a tinsmith in Fayetteville, North Carolina, having abandoned his study of art in New York City after the death of his sea-captain father. To find adventure, he joined in 1836 the Texas army in its fight for independence against Mexico, and this period, very brief, was his only experience on the frontier. It is likely that he met trappers on this venture, as several of his most popular paintings were based on a rowdy rendezvous with trapper Joseph Meek in Yellowstone Park.

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Tremendous hailstorm on a mountain after leaving the Platte river

"Tremendous hailstorm on a mountain after leaving the Platte river" is a pencil sketch from one of Bruff's diaries dated June, 1849. It measures 7.5 inches by 9.5 inches. The original is housed at the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.

Joseph Goldsborough Bruff (October 2, 1804 - April 14, 1889) is best known as a topographer, journalist, and artist of the gold rush era. Bruff was born in Washington, D.C. He attended West Point from 1820 until his resignation in 1822. From 1827-1836 he worked as a topographical engineer, predominantly at Gosport Naval Yard in Norfolk, Virginia. He returned to Washington, D.C., in 1837 and from 1838-1849 worked for the U.S. Bureau of Topographical Engineers. Bruff then organized the Washington City and California Mining Association, which he accompanied to California. While in California he produced extensive journals and drawings of the mining camp experience. In 1853 Bruff returned to Washington, D.C., where he worked in office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department until his death. You can view images of many of Bruff's original diaries and artwork here.

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Camp Comanche (Josiah Gregg)

Josiah Gregg's (July 19, 1806 - February 25, 1850) book Commerce of the Prairie, published in 1844, is based largely upon entries made into his own journal over the nine years that he lived in Northern Mexico and traversed the Prairie as a proprietor in the Santa Fé Trade. In utilizing his entries to create this work, Gregg's aim is to provide readers with an account of the history and the "present" condition of trade in the new west and the people of the Prairies. As an amateur naturalist, Gregg's work describes the plant, animal, and mineral resources of the area, while also providing unique information on the Native American tribes of the region. The maps he included were prepared largely by himself, with "portions of the country which I have not been able to observe myself, chiefly been laid down from manuscript maps kindly furnished me by experienced and reliable traders and trappers, and also from the maps prepared under the supervision of United States surveyors." Gregg's love of the area is evident in his work, drawing readers in and giving them an unprecedented insight into the area and people around Santa Fé in the mid-nineteenth century.

View a digital copy of Josiah Gregg's book here. The Camp Comanche etching can be found on page 123.

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Wagon Train Through the Mountains

This ledger drawing can be found in the Making Medicine book of drawings in the National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institution. It is dated in 1875 and bears the inscription Wagon Train Through the Mountains. The standing figure smoking a pipe is probably George Fox, who collected the book. The drawing is graphite, colored pencil, and crayon measuring 8.5 inches x 11.5 inches.

Fort Laramie

This painting of Fort Larmie is a watercolor on paper measuring 8.5 inches by 11.75 inches. The painting can be viewed at The Walters Art Museum.

Alfred Jacob Miller (1810 - 1874) produced the only known visual records of the fort, because the original fort was torn down in 1840 before any other artist had traveled the Oregon Trail; it was replaced with another structure, located perhaps on the same site in 1841. -The painting was extracted from "The West of Alfred Jacob Miller" (1837). In July 1858 William T. Walters commissioned 200 watercolors at twelve dollars apiece from Baltimore born artist Alfred Jacob Miller. These paintings were each accompanied by a descriptive text, and were delivered in installments over the next twenty-one months and ultimately were bound in three albums. Transcriptions of field-sketches drawn during the 1837 expedition that Miller had undertaken to the annual fur-trader's rendezvous in the Green River Valley (in what is now western Wyoming), these watercolors are a unique record of the closing years of the western fur trade.

Miller's own descriptions of these watercolors can be downloaded from the OCTA Journals website. His description for this painting is:

"This fort built for the American Fur Company, situated about 800 miles west of St. Louis, is of a quadrangular form with block houses at diagonal corners to sweep the fronts in case of attack. Over the front entrance is a large block house in which is placed a cannon, the interior of the fort is about 150 feet square surrounded by small cabins whose roofs reach within 3 feet of the top of the palisades against which they abut. The Indians encamp in great numbers here 3 or 4 times a year, bringing peltries to be exchanged for dry goods, tobacco, beads, and alcohol. The Indians have a mortal horror of the "big gun" which rests in the block house as they have had experience of its prowess and witnessed the havoc produced by its loud "talk." They conceive it to be only asleep and have a wholesome dread of its being waked up. On entering the principal room of the fort we noticed 5 or 6 first class engravings, one of which was Richard and Saladin battling in the Holyland and from these immediately surmised that the Commander of the fort was a refined gentleman. When he came in we found our surmise correct. His name was Fontenelle already famous in Indian history. He tendered at once the hospitalities of the place and attendants and gave orders for crocks of milk to be brought to us, a luxury we had been deprived of for a length of time and to which we did ample justice; and while we rested here seemed never tired of extending to us every comfort and aid that he could command."

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Wagons Crossing a River

This photograph is held in the collections of the University of Nebraska Lincoln. It can be viewed as part of the Center for Digital Research collection.

Fort Laramie

This original wash drawing of Fort Laramie, Wyoming (actually Fort John; see note below) is held by the Wisconsin Historical Society.

It was sketched by James F. Wilkins (1808 - 1888) on June 24, 1849 during his 151-day journey from Missouri to California on the California Trail. Wilkins stayed here for a few days to stock up on supplies and rest before another long leg of their journey. Wilkins writes in his diary: "Arrived this morn by 8 o'clock at Fort Laramie where we shall stay a day or two to fix up, get our tires cut and other repairings. This is a great resting place for emigrants. Most of them by this time have seen enough of the elephant to know what they really want, and what they can dispense with. Wagons, especially heavy wagons, can be bought here for an old song. A great many parties abandoning their wagons at this point and take to mule packing on account of the rumours of no grass and bad rocky roads, their object being to get thro' at some price and as quickly as possible."

The drawing is 8 inches by 10 inches. During this journey, Wilkins was compiling a series of sketches and associated notes in his diary from which he planned to produce large panoramic paintings for display and profit.

From the Fort Laramie Official National Park Handbook (#118), p 40-41: "Fort Laramie's soft cottonwood logs were rotting. Instead of trying to patch the decay, the American Fur Company decided to outdo Fort Platte by erecting, at a cost of $10,000...a whitewashed adobe fort of its own. The site chosen was the top of a low bluff bordered south and east by the coiling Laramie. It was a little more than a mile upstream (south) from Fort Platte and a short distance from the original Fort Laramie. The company named the new structure Fort John after John Sarpy, an influential stockholder. Everyone else continued calling it Fort Laramie. Fort John (Laramie) was somewhat larger than Fort Platte. Its walls, surmounted by pickets to make scaling difficult, stretched to approximately 121 feet by 167 feet. Each of the 18 rooms inside the stockade was equipped with one door and one window opening, as usual, onto the courtyard. Across the courtyard from the main gate was a two-story structure whose upstairs room housed the post's chief trader and his family. The usual horse corral occupied the eastern part of the plaza."

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Solomon Yeakel c. 1850-55 (The Bancroft Library BANC PIC 1905.16242:021--CASE)

This is a three-quarter length daguerreotype portrait of a young man (Solomon Yeakel) with a beard, holding a hat, measuring 2.5 x 2 inches. He is dressed in work clothes, with a revolver tucked in his belt. The mat and possibly preserver are not consistent with date of image, and presumed to have been added later. The original image is in the collections of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley, CA and can be viewed here.

Interior of Fort Laramie, painted 1858. Alfred Jacob Miller's depiction of Fort Laramie in 1837. (The Walters Art Museum)

Alfred Jacob Miller is described above. This painting is held in the collection of The Walters Art Museum. In the spring of 1837, Miller accompanied the Scottish adventurer Captain William Drummond Stewart (died 1871) to the fur traders' rendezvous held that year on the Green River in western Wyoming. At these gatherings trappers and Indians sold their furs and replenished supplies for the following winter. Miller subsequently used the sketches drawn on the trail as the basis for oil paintings for Stewart's ancestral estate, Murthly Castle in Perthshire, Scotland. After returning to Baltimore in 1842, he continued to replicate his sketches in oils and watercolors for American clients. In this scene Miller has provided the only visual record of the first Fort Laramie, erected in 1834. Located in eastern Wyoming, the fort marked the beginning of what would later become the Oregon Trail, the route that was taken by settlers moving west.

Miller's descriptions of these watercolors can be downloaded from the OCTA Journals website. The description that he wrote for this painting is:

"The view is from the great entrance looking west and embraces more than half the court or area. When this space is filled with Indians and Traders as it is at stated periods the scene is lively and interesting. They gather here from all quarters; from the Gila at the south. the Red River at the north, and the Columbia River west, each has its quota and representatives, Sioux, Bannocks, Mandans, Crows, Snakes, Pend-Oreilles, Nez Perces, Cheyennes and Delewares, all except the Black Feet who are "betes noirs" and considered "de trop." As a contrast there are Canadian trappers, free and otherwise, half breeds, Kentuckians, Missourians and Down-Easters. A saturnalia is held the first day and some excesses committed. But after this trading goes briskly forward. There was a cannon or two sleeping in the towers over the two main entrances, the Indians having an aversion to their being wakened, entertaining a superstitious reverence for them. They are intended to "keep the peace." This fort was built by Robert Campbell who named it Fort William in honor of his friend and partner William Sublette. These gentlemen were the earliest pioneers after Messrs. Lewis and Clarke and had many battles with the Indians. Once in an encounter with the Black-feet they made their wills in true soldier fashion as they went along, appointing each the executor of the other. We had almost daily intercourse with Messrs. Soublette and Campbell, and Governor Clarke in St. Louis before we started. Captain Lewis bad at that time deceased. In an encounter with the Black-feet Mr. Sublette received a poison ball from which he never recovered."