Crows Trying to Provoke the Whites to an Act of Hostility; Threat by Crows; Attack by the Crows
After Miller arrived at Murthly in 1840, Stewart commissioned him to do ten more large paintings of scenes from his western adventures. His Crows Attempting to Provoke an Attack from the Whites on the Big Horn River, East of the Rocky Mountains is one of those pictures and depicts what was to Stewart his most dramatic moment in the mountains. The story varies, depending upon the source, as to why the incident occurred, who was really there, and its resolution. Suffice it to say that as the traders were returning from the 1833 rendezvous—Stewart’s first—they split up, with some going down the river and others, including Thomas “Broken Hand” Fitzpatrick, who headed the Rocky Mountain Fur Company (RMFC), and Stewart, returning overland through Crow Indian country. It was a passage that called for much diplomacy, for the Crows were in the process of switching their loyalty from the RMFC to the American Fur Company. Fitzpatrick left Stewart in charge of the camp while he visited a large Crow village to try to restore relations. In his absence, a large party of young Crow warriors arrived at the camp and, heavily outnumbering the traders, proceeded to steal virtually everything in the camp—furs, traps, weapons, horses. Stewart ordered the traders not to resist, probably preventing a fight that they could not have won. That confrontation is the scene that Stewart asked Miller to depict (Ross, 1968, 179; Irving, 1837, 163 – 165; Beckwourth, 1931, 184 – 186; Troccoli, 52; Benemann, 118 – 122).
This is perhaps Miller’s masterpiece. Although he did not witness the scene, he produced, in effect, a glorious history painting that in the terms of nineteenth-century romanticism presents the classic confrontation between hero and villain, good and evil, civilization and savagery. This is made more apparent by the fact that Miller places Stewart and Antoine in a bright light while many of the Indians are shrouded in darkness at the right and left.
The artist; Sir William Drummond Stewart (ca. 1840); Frank Nichols [Chapman’s, Edinburgh, 1871)]; purchased by a collateral descendant of Stewart; by descent to D. Steuart Fothringham, Murthly Castle, Perthshire, Scotland; Philip Anschutz, Denver, CO; present owner