The Original Document
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 thousand fifteen 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 the fact he was wounded three times is outlined. The second part of the story, and the one that I found tells of 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.