John Mix Stanley
Distribution of Goods to the Assiniboines, ca. 1860
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lithograph with color wood engraving, Sarony, Major, & Knapp Lith.
6.25 x 9.25 in
In the mid-nineteenth century, the United States government set out to survey and document its newly acquired lands and territories west of the Mississippi. The goals of these surveys were manifold: to produce topographical maps, to document flora and fauna, and to document natural resources to build the emerging US economy. These surveys, and the images from them, also functioned to build the new sense of American identity with the landscape, condensing vistas into the 'picturesque' tradition of European image making. Thus, the entire span of US territory could be seen as a single, cohesive whole. This lithograph comes from one of six surveys commissioned by the Army's Topographic Bureau in 1853, which sought to find the best route to construct a transcontinental railroad. The result was a thirteen-volume report including maps, lithographs, and technical data entitled 'Explorations and Surveys to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a Railroad from the Mississippi river to the Pacific Ocean.' When it came to depicting the Assiniboine people, as seen in the present print, Stanley chose to juxtapose their encampment, marked by tipis in the distance, with the encampment of the Isaac Stevens survey party. In the foreground, commemorating this moment, Isaac Stevens can be seen presenting trade goods, which are known to include thirty two dressed skins and two robes. The survey leader Isaac Stevens noted being grateful for the generosity of the Assiniboine, commenting: "I felt very grateful indeed to those Indians, for their kindness to my men, their proffer of kind feeling and hospitality to myself and the survey." This description and this image, however, are arguably depicted through rose-colored glasses: to the Assiniboine people, this meeting may well have included stressful diplomatic relationships and have indicated a threat to the sovereignty over the territories agreed to be theirs by the 1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie. 5.75 x 8.75 inches, image 6.5 x 9.25 inches, stone 17 x 19.75 inches, frame Artist 'Stanley Del.' lower left Entitled 'Distribution of Goods to the Assiniboines' lower center margin Publisher 'Sarony, Major & Knapp. Lith.s 449 Broadway N.Y.' lower right Inscribed 'U.S.P.R.R. EXP. & SURVEYS — 47th & 49th PARALLELS' upper left Inscribed 'GENERAL REPORT — PLATE XIV' upper right Framed to conservation standards using 100 percent rag matting with French accents; glazed with UV5 Plexiglas to inhibit fading; housed in a gold reverse ogee moulding. Print in overall good condition; some localized foxing and discoloration; frame in excellent condition.