I am going to begin with a description of the original document, and an explanation of its nature. It is called a Bill of Lading, and this type of document is still in use today. It serves the purpose of assigning responsibility for cargo being moved from one place to another. This is the third of three Bills for a Bull Train from Fort Benton, M. T., to Fort Shaw, M. T., on May 17th, 1883. The first two Bills would have documented the itemized contents of nine wagons, three wagons being pulled by sixteen to eighteen bull oxen each. They were designated or named as the Lead, the Swing and the Trail wagons.
This third of the three Bills that made up this manifest is self-explanatory, and the handwriting is easily read.
An easy one to decipher is the #5 Lead, Swing and Trail wagon team, which together accounted for twelve hundred and thirty-one and a half pounds of goods. In pencil, on the right side near the middle of the document is the amount paid for the eighteen wagons, in three wagon teams. #5 Team would have been paid one hundred twenty-three dollars and fifteen cents for its share.
T. C. Power & Brothers contracted the movement of freight to support the government troops at Fort Shaw, and the Indian Trader, J. H. McKnight at the Fort. This document came originally from the collection of Lewis Brackman of Helena, MT. The story of how he came to acquire it is for another day. Sometime after he acquired it, he sold it to Stuart MacKenzie of Chinook, MT. He graciously sold me this paper from his collection because I've been intrigued with early territorial business paper, and he knew what I intended to do with it.
After spending almost five hours removing Scotch tape from the back (all seams and intersections of seams) both horizontal and vertical were so thin I could see through them. Some paper repair was in order and archival paper repair tape (about two feet) kept it together and allowed me to remove ink, both part of the document (lines and columns) and manuscript where it would interfere with the image.
Who was the Wagon Boss?
The next part of the story involves the title of the painting, and who this gentleman was, or at least could have been. There are some hints in the picture, including the Diamond R on the canvas sheets of the first two wagons, and the Diamond R on the pouch hanging over the saddle horn. Also, hanging over the back of the saddle there appears to be a military jacket with bright buttons.
The possible names that I have and the sources for those names are as follows: The Gilcrease Museum where the original painting resides cites a passage from the book Half Interest in a Silver Dollar: The Saga of Charles E. Conrad. On page 22 "The man in the painting is sitting on his horse as he watches the progress of the wagons up the grade. Art critics believe the man pictured is Ed Trainer, wagon boss for the I. G. Baker Company."
From the CMR Museum Archives: Col #2011.8.3 Box No. Card 6, Frederic G. and Ginger K. Renner Special Collection, Wagon Boss Card No. 2 3429B The Wagon Boss in the painting is"Doc" Freeles of Fort Benton, uncle of Coburn F. Maddox. Originally sold by Nancy Russell to Fletcher Maddox.
The most intriguing name that I found I can attribute to Ken Robison, historian at the Overholser Historical Research Center in Fort Benton. In a two part story for the River Press in 2012, Mr. Robison described a fellow by the name of James W. Brown who was a Civil War veteran, and in part one of the story, his military experiences, including being wounded three times are outlined. The second part of the story, and the one that I found the most likely subject of the painting, although Charlie could very well have substituted the face of anyone for that of James Brown. The character that was portrayed may have been a combination of gear for the Diamond R, and a subject of Charlie's choice.
James W. Brown came west as a bull whacker in the Summer of 1866, driving a team of oxen and wagon from Nebraska to Salt Lake City. He loaded the wagon with freight for Helena in August, and arrived in Helena in September. Originally working for another business as wagon boss, he engaged with the original Diamond R, owned by John J Roe & Company under the business name Overland Express Company. I'm including an image of a way bill for the Diamond R below.
In 1868, Charles A. Broadwater, E. G. Maclay, Mathew Carroll and George Steele purchased the Overland Express Company, and James W. "Diamond R" Brown became their Wagon Boss. Sometime in 1870, he ceased working for the Overland Express Company and begin a business venture on shares with a fellow by the name of Kipp. He retired in his later years to ranch near Browning, married a Piegan woman and raised a family with her. He died peacefully in 1927.
I have linked to the rather lengthy article written by Mr. Robison, but I will once again link to it so that the full story can be read. James W. "Diamond R" Brown.
This past March at the Western Heritage Artists Footprints on the Trail, I took a number of pieces of paper on a commission basis. I've done an American Beauty Rose on a piece of Peter Henderson paper, but it was eight years ago when I first started this old paper thing. The commission was accepted from the granddaughter of Mr. Van Lierop. She indicated to me that I was "supposed to do my magic". His favorite was the Gladiolus. I wanted it to look like advertising art from the '20s, and I used a lettering style that was also appropriate for the period. Note the phone number. 204F2 in the upper right, and 333 bottom center, which is I assume for local calling. Note the lack of a Zip Code. This was a lot of fun. I'd do flowers again in a heartbeat.
A freight bill for "Freight all kinds" from the Curwood Company in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to Tyson Foods Inc., Spring Dale, Arkansas. This is THE newest piece of old paper I've worked on, and a relative of the owners of Epp Trucking commissioned me to put some appropriate art on it.
From the Sioux City Courier: In 1858, James Booge arrives in Sioux City. After buying a steamboat's water-logged load of wheat, he feeds the grain to a herd of hogs, butchers the animals and sells the meat to local butcher shops and the U. S. Army.
He went on to put into operation one of the largest meat packing plants in the United States at the time. In late April of 1881, Booge ships 20 sacked hams and 5 sides of bacon to J. H. McKnight, the Indian Trader at Fort Shaw, Montana Territory. It was carried by the Benton to Fort Benton, and arrived at Fort Benton on the 30th of May, or the 24th of June. One way or the the other, the pork was delivered.
Russell painted this little gem (16" X 25") in 1918, following more than one trip to New York where he was exposed to the color palettes of several well-known Eastern artists including Maxfield Parrish and Philip Goodwyn. Both of these artists were skilled in using vibrant colors and their compositions were constructed for maximum impact. Russell's fireboat would have done just fine for my version, but since the Indians had seen steamboats on the Missouri at least 30 years before the arrival of the Benton in 1881, I chose to put the Benton on this piece of steamboat history.
By 1881 when this billhead was completed, the Buffalo had all but disappeared with few exceptions. Charlie Russell arrived in Montana Territory in 1880, and perhaps did see a few small herds on the plains between the Yellowstone River and the Missouri.
When Buffalo Nos. 1, 2 and 3 are matted and framed, I will publish the completed piece. This is for a patron who brought this project to me at the Western Heritage Artists Footprints on the Trail Show at the Holiday Inn this past March.