In all four versions of this hunting scene, Stewart is the primary protagonist (this and CR#s 128, 128B and 128D). He and two others have chased a bull elk, pursuing it until exhaustion has caused it to stumble into a small stream. Slowed by the water’s current, it is especially vulnerable, thus allowing Stewart to bring it down using only a pistol as a weapon. Elk are large and strong animals, so such an outcome would not be common unless, because of extreme fatigue, the prey had reached a point of near collapse. Miller evidently sided with the elk that day, referring to Stewart as the “enemy” who is accomplishing a “Coup de Pistolet.” (Rough Draughts, no. 78 and Conrads, 2010, 94)
Miller recalled years later that the elk was especially favored as “an addition to the larder.” (Ross, 113) The chase was then worth the effort come dinnertime, no doubt, assuming that Stewart’s aim was sure.
Peter H. Hassrick
Chasing a Wounded Elk
In this painting, William Drummond Stewart can be seen about to administer what Miller called a “Coup de Pistolet” after chasing an elk into a shallow stream. Apparently a powerful scene he enjoyed capturing, Miller painted several images of elk hunting during his career. In notes of a similar work, he added that the hunters in the background were hurrying forward, in case Stewart’s pistol ball did not bring down the mule-sized animal.
Hunting and Elk Meat
Wild game provided a primary food source for inhabitants of the Rocky Mountain West. Elk headed up the list of most popular meats. “Although somewhat coarse,” Miller reported the meat, “is excellent when the animal is in good order.” However, he was convinced that elk venison was inferior to buffalo, bear, mountain sheep, and deer meat.
While on the Gallatin River in 1835, Osborne Russell recounted that he had: “…encamped on a small clear spot and killed the fattest Elk I ever saw. It was a large Buck the fat on his rump measured seven inches thick he had 14 spikes or branches on the left horn and 12 on the right … A large fire was soon blazing encircled with sides of Elk ribs and meat cut in slices supported on sticks down which the grease ran in torrents.”
Elk Hide for Clothing
An elk hide with the hair left on was used like a blanket for warmth. De-haired and tanned to softness, the buckskin was often made into clothing such as leggings or shirts. The raw hides were often made into a container called a parfleche. Several tribes crafted powerful bows from the animal’s antlers or used its horns to make saddles.
Elk on the Prairie
Unlike today, where the range of wild elk is pretty much confined to the rugged mountain ranges of the west, in the early 1800s many mountain men recorded vast herds of elk grazing the prairies. On his trek to the headwaters of the Missouri area in 1809, Thomas James stated that on the plains, some 700 miles above Council Bluffs, “We saw Elk and Buffalo in vast numbers, and killed many of them.”Likewise, some twenty years later than James’ encounter, mountaineer Zenas Leonard, while traveling across the plains along the Laramie River, commented that “on a clear morning, by taking a view with a spyglass, you can see the different kinds of game that inhabit these plains, such as Buffaloe, Bear, Deer, Elk, Antelope, Bighorn, Wolves, &c.”
Leonard, Zenas, Adventures of a Mountain Man, The Narratives of Zenas Leonard.
James, Thomas, Three Years Among the Indians and Mexicans
Russell, Osborne, Journal of a Mountain Man
Ross, Marvin C., The West of Alfred Jacob Miller
LR: Elk Taking the Water
The artist; by descent to Louisa Whyte Norton; [Old Print Shop, New York, NY, 1947]; The Boatmen’s National Bank of St. Louis, MO; Bank of America, New York, NY; present owner, 2013