On the Trail with William Drummond Stewart

Alfred Jacob Miller’s artwork and writings help us imagine what it might have been like to travel across the Great Plains in the mid-1800s. Miller also provides perspectives on his unique experience of touring the American West in the company of a wealthy, worldly Scot – his patron, William Drummond Stewart.

Miller’s depictions of the caravan with which he journeyed suggest that one might variously walk, ride on horseback, or bump along in a covered wagon on trails established by earlier trappers and Indian peoples. These trails generally followed rivers and were punctuated by unique geological features that served as reassuring signposts.

Between stopovers at forts and Indian villages along the way, Miller and his comrades had to tote their own supplies. They lived off the land to some extent, and daily hunting furnished much of their food, but it was still necessary to carry provisions, especially camping gear. There was little room to spare in the company’s carriages and carts; heading west, they were laden with trade goods for the summer rendezvous, and returning east, they were packed full of furs. One might assume, then, that travelers carried few personal or extraneous items. This was surely the case for most of the men and women in the caravan, but not so for William Drummond Stewart.

Stewart did not exactly “travel light.” On the contrary, the Scottish nobleman was known to have hauled along with him an impressive assortment of luxury items. He hired two wagons of his own for his belongings and gifts, and from this personal stash, doled out such extravagances as canned sardines, fine whiskey, and wine. His camp set-up was likewise more lavish than most – among other comforts, he traveled with a Persian rug and a sizeable striped tent.

Journey vicariously with Miller, Stewart, and the gang. Search by the subject “Caravan” on Fur Traders & Rendezvous to call up twenty-one related results, and for further reading, check out the essay, Alfred Jacob Miller's 1837 Trip to Rendezvous.