AMS 105- American West: Images and Identities


III. Creating Images


A. The Painters of the West

     The lure of dramatic yet harsh new lands to the West have appeared in the writings as far back as the Greeks with such legends as the lost continent of Atlantis. Atlantis could have merely been island in the Mediterranean or in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, but it could have been America. European Americans from the Spanish to Anglo-Americans were driven by many legends.. Legends of an 'El Dorado' or a Northwest Passage toward the Aurora Borealis leading to Asia influenced many into the 19th century. In the days before photography it was customary to add scientific credence to expeditions by taking chroniclers and /or artists to document the expeditions' discoveries. In the early Republic of the United States, Philadelphia was the early intellectual center of the nation with scientific and art collections in the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts managed by artist-naturalist Charles Willson Peale. When Thomas Jefferson put together his "Voyage of Discovery" in 1803, what most refer to as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, he sent the young Meriwether Lewis to Philadelphia to learn how to collect, sketch and map the new discoveries they might encounter. Unfortunately they did not have a trained artist for the task and only the sketches by Lewis remain with his journal.  The Yellowstone Expedition of Major Stephen Long in 1819 into the Rocky Mountains took scientists and artists as it began from Council Bluffs, Iowa up the Missouri River. One of the artists was the 19 year old son of Charles Willson Peale, Titian Peale (1799-1885).

T. Peale 1819 "Distant View of the Rocky mountains"

     Titian Peale's connection to his father's museum in Philadelphia insured preservation of the scientific specimens collected  and his paintings of landscapes on the Long Expedition.  Subsequently, the young Peale was invited to go as artist on other expeditions even out into the South Seas and Antarctica. In his later life Titian Peale repainted those scenes from the original Long Expedition and each version became more artistic and romanticized.T. Peale 1873 "Buffaloe Kill"

     The early collections especially from the Lewis and Clark Expedition stimulated others paint the West, including George Catlin (1796-1872). Catlin was from Pennsylvania  and against his parents wishes studied art at the Philadelphia Academy. Initially he had to make a living by painting portraits. When Catlin observed a delegation of American Indian leaders traveling through in 1826, he took on the task of recording everything he could about  the, "...manners, customs, and character of an interesting race of people..." This was similar to John James Audubon's task of recording species of birds. The United States, as a young republic, was in the process of defining itself and excited about all of the new land, people and wildlife in its immense territory. In 1830, Thomas L. McKenney, Commissioner of Indian Affairs gave Catlin permission to travel  up the Missouri River. McKenney had commissioned Charles Bird King to paint portraits of American Indian leaders visiting Washington D.C. Now Catlin went to St. Louis to raise funds for a 2000 mile journey up river, basically following the footsteps of Lewis and Clark. In fact, William Clark was the governor of the territory and helped Catlin. Finally, on the steamboat, "Yellowstone", Catlin journeyed all the way up to Ft. Union. A delegation of American Indian leaders returning from Washington were on the boat with them returning to their villages. At Ft. Union, the headquarters for the American Fur Company, many tribes came in to trade and so the fort was considered neutral ground. Some of Catlin's paintings were of people that would be wiped out in a matter of years due to smallpox epidemics. In 1835 Catlin went into the Southern Plains with Col. Henry Leavenworth. In 1839 Catlin made a trip to Minnesota's Pipestone Quarry. Here he painted the secret quarry and collected some of the red soapstone, which later was named after him, 'Catlinite.'

George Catlin (1796-1872): Notice the mix of portraits, village life and landscapes so that Catlin could cover different markets to sell his work.

Bull's Backfat (Blackfeet)1834

Mandan Earth Lodges

Bison Hunt

Missouri R.


By 1840 George Catlin had amassed a tremendous collection of artifacts and paintings. He tried to sell his collection to the United States Government, but failed.  In desperation, Catlin formed the first 'Wild West Show' of sorts, that he called "Catlin's Indian Gallery" and took the production to Europe. Although quite the showman Catlin met with tragedy with the failure of his Paris show and the death of his wife and son from typhus. In the 1850s Catlin traveled to South America to produce more paintings of American Indians.

One year after (1833) Catlin's expedition up the Missouri River, a German noble, Prince Maximillian of Weid also assisted by Governor Clark set out with a Swiss artist, Karl Bodmer (1809-1893) again on the steamboat Yellowstone. Bodmer was different than Catlin and produced paintings that are considered more realistic. Bodmer painted pictures of some of the same scenes and people. Some scholars consider Karl Bodmer's portrait of Two Ravens (Hidatsa) as to be one of best American Indian portraits ever done. The Prince and Bodmer spent the winter of 1833-34 with the Mandan at Ft Clark. Ironically Bodmer's portraits were rather dispersed in Europe and were not well known until they were donated to the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha,  Nebraska.

Karl Bodmer (1809-1893:

Two Ravens (Hidatsa) 1834

Mandan 1834

Mandan Buffalo Dance 1834


In the early days of immigrants migrating beyond St. Louis and the 98th Meridian most non Indians were a mixed lot of trappers (mountain men) or traders. Alfred Jacob Miller (1810-1874) painted both American Indians and  some of the very early mountain men.

A. Miller (1810-1874):
                         Ft. Laramie  1837                                     Mt. Man Rendezvous 1841


Other painters followed the military and immigrants as they went across the Great Plains to the Northwest, California and New Mexico in the 1830s and 1840s. John Mix Stanley (1814-1872) from Buffalo, NY saw Catlin's Gallery and was so moved he trained as an artist . Stanley became the official artist on Stephan Watts Kearney's military expedition to conquer New Mexico and California in 1846. Once in California, Stanley headed up into the Oregon Territory in 1847. Most of his surviving work is of the Northwest Coast.

John Mix Stanley (1814-1872):

Ft. Nez Perces (Walla Walla, Snake River) 1857 lithograph

Paul Kane(1810-1877) was also influenced by Catlin's work but went into Western Canada, British Columbia, where he did portraits and daily life of Plateau and Northwest Coast Indians.

Paul Kane (1810-1877):

Salish House 1856

James Walker (1819-1889) actually ended up in Mexico when the Mexican American War 1846 broke out. Walker was taken prisoner by the Mexicans but escaped and joined General Scott's army as an interpreter. He ended up going to California and did not paint or publish his work until the1870s, but depicted scenes in Mexico and California from the 1840s-50s. Walker actually depicted early vaqueros roping grizzly bear in California. Many of Walkers paintings set up the idyllic images of  the California Rancho Period for later settlers like Charles Lummis, who came in 1885. Walker died in Watsonville, CA in 1889.

James Walker (1819-1889):

     After the Civil War the American West attracted new groups of explorers and settlers. Two landscape artists not only dominated the market but had a great influence on American West itself. Albert Bierstadt (1833-1902), born in Germany and Thomas Moran ( 1837-1926) born in England were East Coast immigrants influenced by the romantic Hudson River School that emphasized an almost mystical portrayal of light in landscapes often referred to as 'luminism'. Albert Bierstadt was professionally trained and worked in oils; while Thomas Moran was self-taught and worked in vivid watercolors. Bierstadt first went West on a US Land Survey Expedition led by Col. Frederick Lander in 1859. Bierstadt produced oil paintings and photographs (stereoscopic) of the trip from St. Joseph, MO across the Plains and over the Rockies. On a second trip in 1863 Bierstadt went over the Rockies and on to California visiting Yosemite in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Abraham Lincoln set Yosemite aside as a natural preserve in 1864. Bierstadt would return in the 1870s and  produced some of the most spectacular landscapes of Yosemite. Some would criticize him for over exaggerating the scenery in paintings like "Sunset In Yosemite" (1868), but Bierstadt was commercially successful and moved to San Francisco to set up a studio. Thomas Moran came West about ten years later. In 1871 a U.S. Government Expedition set out to investigate John Colter's claims of geysers and boiling waters in an area of the upper Yellowstone River. Colter had been a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition and had become a famous mountain man, never returning to his Eastern roots. The 1871 expedition was led by Ferdinand V. Hayden of the U.S. Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories and took  Henry W. Elliot and the young Thomas Moran as artists; plus William H. Jackson for photographic documentation. Actually Moran and Jackson worked together and their photos and watercolors of Mammoth Hot Springs are stunning. Moran's " Grand Canyon of Yellowstone" was purchased by the U.S. congress for $10,000, which literally launched his career. In 1872 Yellowstone became our nations first national park. Thomas Moran went on to paint scenes in Yosemite and then was hired as artist for John Wesley Powell's survey of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado in 1873.

Albert Bierstadt (1833-1902):
Oregon Trail 1868;   Looking Down Yosemite Valley 1865;       Sunrise Yosemite Valley 1865
Thomas Moran (1837-1926)
 Grand Canyon of Yellowstone 1871;     Hot Springs 1871                        ;Chasm of the Colorado 1873


     From 1880 to about 1910 marked the period of the cowboy artists of the Old West. In fact the cowboy lifestyle occurred after the destruction of the bison and Plains Indian culture after the Civil War, so that the cowboy basically took over in the 1870s and 1880s. Once the railroads were more efficient and barb wire was in place the open range and cattle drives changed the role of the cowboy. Cowboys continued to function but within shorter distances and tighter spaces. The romantic image of cowboy lifestyle was maintained through increased media, rodeos, wild west shows and eventually with film. At the end of the 19th century a number of 'cowboy artists/illustrators' were able to make a living because of an increase in commercial illustrations in advertising posters, books and magazines. In the early part of the 20th century magazines like Collier's and Harper's Weekly became popular and embellished the so called 'myth' of the 'Old West'. The most famous of these artists were Frederic Remington and Charley Russell. They were very different men in that Remington was a New Yorker and continued to operate out of a studio in New Rochelle, NY; whereas Russell went from St. Louis , MO to Montana to become a cowboy at age 16. From 1880 -1903 Russell worked in various capacities on ranches, but eventually built a log cabin studio in Great Falls, Montana to produce art fulltime. The Old West was kept alive through the art of Remington and Russell in conjunction with the likes Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. The cowboy became an epic hero, larger than life, who was elevated to high moral standards and values that certainly were exaggerations of reality. One of the problems with images of the West was that some of the portrayals are a blend of fact and fiction. It is a fact that many pioneers were tough, independent, and pragmatic survivors in rough conditions. Yet, many were also unscrupulous, crude, greedy and selfish. Once we settle for the contradictions between fact and fiction and realize that the imagery is a projection of what we Americans admire and value.

    Frederic Remington ( 1861-1909) was a prolific painter and sculptor between 1881-1909 portrayed a melodramatic and violent American West of Indian wars, outlaws and cowboys that tried to chronicle the last days of men with what he called, "men with the bark on." Remington went out West to witness the experience in Montana and Kansas in 1881. Remington tried to invest in a saloon, but failed and started to sell drawings to Harper's Weekly. He traveled to the wilder New Mexico and became an artist/correspondent for Gen. Miles campaign against Geronimo. In 1886 Remington returned to New York and sold a number of drawings/ illustrations to prestige magazines like Century Magazine. Remington became friends with Theodore Roosevelt, who was also interested in chronicling the American West. Remington became very successful with print making and bronze sculptor series that allowed for duplication of  his original 2,750 paintings/drawings and 25 bronze sculptures. Critically, Remington has been considered a failure and a racist war hound. When he finally witnessed war in the Spanish-American War he was aghast and found no glory. The kinetic energy in his sculptures are the most lasting. Later film director, John Ford, tried to emulate the grandeur of his paintings.

Frederic Remington (1881-1909):
Calvary Charge 1907; The Warrior's Last Ride 1907; The Snow Trail 1907


Charles Schreyvogal (1861-1912) was also born in New York and raised in a poor Lower East Side neighborhood and Hoboken, New Jersey. Like Remington he was very much influenced by the "Old West' and the military. Schreyvogal visited the West briefly but did all his work from his studio in New Jersey. He often would sketch Indian extras in Wild West Shows. However, like Remington the Indians were portrayed subjugated and often faceless in his paintings. When portrayed he would emphasize the 'dime novel' savagery of the American Indian faces.


     Charles(Charley) M. Russell (1864-1926), the 'Cowboy Genius' was less polished than Remmington, but portrayed more realistic characters. This was due in part to the fact that Russell was a storyteller and his images projected real people he met who were also the subject of his stories. Russell spent most of his life in Montana Territory and would hang out in bawdy Nevada City saloons telling stories. His ancestors actual included early explorers like the Bent Brothers who had established a trading post on the Arkansas River in Colorado. After some ranch work Charley Russell hung out with old prospectors and mountain men like Jake Hoover who continued to live in a cabin up on the Judith River. When Charley lived in Jake's remote cabin they were occasionally visited by Crow or Blackfeet Indians. Russell helped Hoover skin the game they shot and  learned their anatomy for later paintings and sculptures. Like many hunters and ranchers of the 1880s they bemoaned the disappearance of the bison and saw it as the icon of the 'Old West.'  In fact Russell used a bison skull logo as part of his signatureand also worked with conservationists to save the American Bison. Charley Russell became a local celebrity but also gained national recognition with illustrations with the Saturday Evening Post. When Russell settled down and married Nancy Cooper in 1895, she became his manger and promoter. Nancy was an astute and tough business woman and the Russell's were able to set up a studio in Great Falls, Montana. Through his wife's management and East Coast pressure Russell's colors became more vivid but the characters remain true to his earlier experiences. Russell was a prolific as Remington, but provided a richer and more accurate look of the Old West. In Great Falls, Montana you can visit the C.M. Russell Museum.

C.M. Russell (1864-1926):
Buffalo Hunt 1902;        When Sioux and Blackfeet Meet 1903;           In Without knocking 1909

     At the same time Painters of the West were entering into more commercial markets for their work so too were those that created the theatrical performances that represent the first 'Westerns'. In 1872 on a stage in Chicago's the Amphitheater presented " The Scouts of the Prairie". Based on dime novels it starred Ned Buntline and Buffalo Bill Cody. Later, in 1882, Cody went on to develop a traveling exhibit/show that continued until 1915 and bridged the gap with early silent Western films and gave life to the images depicted by painters like Remington and Russell. As the 'Old West' was disappearing the commercialization of the 'Legendary Old West' was booming. Much of this commercialism was moving along with the movies to the West Coast. The American West was becoming a tourist attraction and railroads were advertising for their scenic passenger trains. The Union Pacific Railway had promotional magazines like Sunset and pulp fiction illustrators of works by such authors like Zane Grey were hired to do promotional works of the 'Old West". A California artist, Maynard Dixon ( 1875-1946) became one the premier artists in the first half of the 20th century.

Maynard Dixon (1875-1946):

Navajoland 1927

Other painters like W.H.D. Koerner, Carl Oscar Borg, and N.C. Wyeth made pictures used in ads for the emerging film industry. From the 1930s to the present day the basic style of Western Artists has remained in tact due in part to the attraction of the Western icons like the horse and the cowboy. The deep seated impact of these images created movie and TV. heroes and even heroines throughout the 20th century. Three cowboy artists: Joe Beeler (1931-        ); John Hampton(1918-2000); Charley Dye (1906- 1972) created the "Cowboy Artists of America" in Sedona, AZ in 1964. John Hampton (1918-2000) was the illustrator for the comic 'Red Ryder' Series. Other artists continued this genre of what is referred to as Contemporary Western Art. There is also a further organizations called the National Association of Western Artists and Western Artists Association which are broader in terms of accepted styles for Western art. Artists, like John Clymer, Tom Lovell, Frank McCarthy and Howard Terpening strived for greater realism or 'authenticity'.

Charlie Dye: "Old Blue" (1967) Jon Clymer: " Lewis and Clark In the Bitterroots (1987)

     Notice that the painting on the left has a bit more dramatic color with non specific people set on a classic cattle drive of longhorns in the Southwest. The painting on the right has softer, more realistic color depicting real people and history in the Northwest. Both have appeal, but for different reasons.

       There were many other styles of painting in the American West depicting classic Old West subject or other aspects of the American West in time and place. One famous group of painters were based specifically in artist colonies in New Mexico's Taos and Santa Fe area. It began in 1898 with a group of artists from the Academie Julian in Paris, France.  These painters and other artists included Joseph Henry Sharp, Ernest Blumenschein, Bert Geer Phillips, Eanger Irving Couse and Georgia O'Keefe.  Some artists began to break away from romantic and realism styles like Georgia O'Keefe, who did striking surrealistic paintings. They often professionally went back and forth between New Mexico and New York City. The natural landscape/environment , Native Americans and Hispanic Southwest stimulated their creativity and were their most common subjects. These art colonies continue to this day with the Santa Fe Market and Galleries continuing to be one of the great art venues in America.

Joseph Henry Sharp (1859-1953) Ernest Blumenschein (1874-1960) Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)

The Governor's Son 1930

The Gift (1936)

Summer Days

     As regionalism was developing greater distinctions in the West, so too was the emergence of regional artists in California, Southwest, Northwest, and the Rockies who reflected greater distinctiveness in style and subject.. Also, different ethnic groups began to portray common Western subjects from their own perspective. The Santa Fe Indian School was developed by Dorothy Dunn (an artist and teacher) around 1932. She was inspired by San Ildefonso Pueblo painters Awa Tsireh and Julian Martinez and a group of Kiowa Artists, including Jack Hokeah, from Oklahoma. Other American Indian artists followed including Oscar Howe (Lakota), Alan Houser (Chiricahua Apache),  Fritz Scholder (Luiseo) and T.C. Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo).

Oscar Howe (Dakota)(1915-1983) Alan Houser Fritz Scholder

Sioux Warrior ChiefEagle Dancer 1953

Sneaking Out American Indian 1970

      Mexican American artists revitalized mural art and religious iconography from painters from Los Angeles, California to Austin, Texas. Other themes incorporate struggles for independence of Mexico to the plight of farm workers today. The civil movements of the 1960s and 1970s launched the Chicano movement with its own artists groups. Some, like Luis Jimenez modified earlier icons from painters like Remington and Russell.

Luis Jimenez (1940-2006)

Man of Fire                                 End of the Trail w/ Electric Sunset 1971

     Finally, artists today continue to use the West or Western themes often with unconventional methods or styles such as installation or multi-media art. Christo created a running fence in the California desert and Michael Heizer (1944- ) carved canyons in the Nevada desert. James Luna (Luiseo) (1950-   ), also on the staff at Palomar College, creates installation/ performance art dealing with images of Native Americans.

B. Photographers

      In the 1830's photography was developed in Europe, most notably when Louis Daguerre introduced his technique in 1839.  The American Civil War was the first time photography documented American warfare and a number of early photographers started with the Civil War and then headed West in the late 1860s. Charles L. Weed (1824-1903) and Carleton E. Watkins (1829-1916) were the earliest to go West and produced large albumen prints of scenes, especially of Yosemite Valley in California. San Francisco became an early center for photographic art. The photograph, even though black and white, allowed for greater distribution of images, especially with stereoscopic viewers. Another photographer, Eadweard Muybridge came from England to San Francisco in 1855. Muybridge took early photos of San Francisco and Yosemite and was hired as a photographer for the California Geological Survey of 1871. Later he went to the Alaska gold fields. Muybridge also worked with early action and multiple image photography that he is most famous for. Some feel he set the stage for motion picture photography.

 Charles L. Weed (1824-1903) Carleton Watkins (1829-1916) Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904)
The Valley, Mariposa Trail 1860s Yosemite Valley 1864 Yosemite Falls 1868

     The building of the Transcontinental railroad from 1864-1869 brought another group of early photographers West to document the U.S. feat of connecting the country by rail. Andrew J. Russell (1830-1902) spent the year 1868-69 with the Union Pacific Railroad and traveled to Promontory Point, Utah where it met the Central Pacific on May 8, 1869.

A. J. Russell 1830-1902 Citadel Rock, Green River, Wyoming 1868

     A number of photographers documented the Transcontinental Railroad and then were hired to photograph landscape for US Geographical Survey's Expeditions. These expeditions initially followed the railroad route and later branched out in various directions, with the intention of identifying mineral resources and mapping public domain. In 1867 US Congress authorized the explorations and promised financial support. The principle members of the expeditions were geologists and topographers, but collectors, guides and photographers also accompanied the expeditions.


Survey & Years Leader Photographer Areas
King Survey 1867-1873 Clarence King , US Geological Survey Timothy O'Sullivan (1840-1882) 40th Parallel California, Nevada
Hayden Survey 1868-1871 Ferdinand V. Hayden, M.D. William Henry Jackson (1843-1942) Upper Missouri, Yellowstone
Powell Survey 1869-1872 John Wesley Powell, Geology Professor; US Geological Survey John K. Hillers (1843-1925) Colorado R./Grand Canyon
Wheeler Survey 1869-1874 Lt. George Wheeler, Army Engineer Timothy O'Sullivan; William Bell (1830-1910) 100th Meridian/west Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado

     William Henry Jackson was the most prolific of these photographers and at times would emphasize the human subjugation of nature to views of the primacy of nature. After taking pictures of the dead at the Battle of Gettysburg, O'Sullivan photographed expansive landforms with humans barely visibly or missing. On the surveys O'Sullivan felt that it was job to be scientific in his composition and photographed spectacular scenes in Canyon de Chelly.

William Henry Jackson (1843-1942)  Timothy O' Sullivan (1840-1882)
Monmouth Hot Springs (Yellowstone) 1871 Canyon de Chelly 1874

     At the end of the 19th century the last of the Indian Wars took place and the frontier officially closed. Some photographers documented the violence and attempted to record for posterity the lifestyle of Native Americans. Native American populations had been reduced by 90% and scientific study of the American Indian became more important with the emerging field of anthropology. The most dramatic and controversial photographer was Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868-1952). Curtis was born in Wisconsin and moved to Seattle, Washington in 1887 where he established a photographic studio. Curtis did routine portraits, but happened to do a portrait of Chief Sealth's (Seattle) daughter, Princess Angeline (Kikisoblu) (1800-1896) in 1895. Curtis also met George Bird Grinnell, who invited him on an expedition to Montana to photograph Blackfeet Indians in 1900. This started a 30 year quest to document American Indian people, similar to Catlin. Eventually, Curtis produced photograph 40,000 images of 80 different Native American groups. In 1906 the tycoon, J.P. Morgan funded Curtis to do 20 volume series on the North American Indian. Through many trials and tribulations with business and broken marriages a limited set of these volumes were privately published in 1930. These limited volumes were basically lost to wealthy or exclusive collections until their rediscovery in 1972. Many photographs have been reprinted since. However, the composition of his photographs and the authenticity of the costumes have been questioned by many scholars. American Indian people were not always happy to be photographed by this pushy 'white man' and called him the 'shadow catcher'. In the final analysis as with all the image makers Curtis' photographs projected a lasting set of impressions of many Native Americans that are accurate in terms of the physicality.

Edward Curtis (1868-1952)
   Custer's Crow Scouts 1908                   Chief Joseph, Nez Perce 1903         Hopi Maiden 1910

     In the 1920s and 1930s there was an emphasis of regionalism in various genres of art, including photography. One of the most enduring, dramatic and effective groups of photographers were working for the Farm Security Administration in the Depression years at the time the 'Dust Bowl'  events occurred between 1934-1937. Dust Bowl wind storms blew millions of tons of dust east as far as Buffalo, New York. In May of 1934 350 tons of dust blew across the Plains and in March and April of 1935 Dodge City and Liberal, Kansas were obliterated by what was referred to as a "Black Blizzard".  Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein and Russell Lee were among the still photographers who there. Over 30 % of the people of the high Plains left their homes, with 300,000 going to California. So essentially we had a new western migration. John Steinbeck wrote a novel, The Grapes of Wrath, and Woody Guthrie wrote songs. John Ford directed the film version of Steinbeck's book. However, the photographers made 270,000 pictures that still endure in many history books and art photo books.

Dorothea Lange Arthur Rothstein

Family 1938

Fleeing A Dust Storm 1936

     Another photographer emerge out of the 1930s with a unique and vivid technique with black and white landscapes. His name was Ansel Adams (1902-1984) and he came to symbolize the preservation of Western landscape. He began in the 1930s celebrating John Muir and the Sierra Nevada in an effort by the Sierra Club to get Sequoia and Kings Canyon designated as National Parks, which ultimately came to fruition in 1940. During World War II as Adams was doing murals for the Department of Interior he became aware of the plight of Japanese Americans as they were sent to internment camps. Adams got permission to visit the Manzanar in the Owens Valley and created a photo essay. Ansel Adams went on to engage in many projects but tended to emphasize landscapes of the West. He regularly ran a small photographic school at Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park. He developed with other photographers a 'zone system' of specific densities of light in black and white photography. The Center for Creative Photography at U. of Arizona houses his archives and the Ansel Adams Gallery has quite of few of his works.

    Color photography started early in 1861, but always had a washed look and photographers like William Henry Jackson produced color images based on colorizing black and white negatives, called photocroms.(El Capitan ~1897)  It really was not until 1936, with the advent of  Kodachrome 35 mm, vivid color was available. By 1973  color film achieved stability in negative or positive (slides) emulsions. Starting in 1991 digital SLR cameras came on the scene and now the resolution is equal  to film. The same is true for motion pictures that are being replaced by digital projection in your movie theatre. From 1970 to the 1990s color photography of the American West was featured in galleries, magazines and 'coffee table" art books. There are many photographers of landscapes, nature and human culture of the modern American West. Steven Yochum, Bill Johnson, Steve Kossack and Jerry Jacka are exemplary examples of these photographers. Jerry Jacka is famous for producing landscapes and Native American art/culture photographs featured in Arizona Highways.

Jerry Jacka Steve Kossack
Saguaro Sunset Canyon deChelly 1978 Acoma Pottery 1984

Aqueberry Bolt 2006


C. Movies of the American West

     Westerns are one of the primary genres of film and combine literature, live stage, visual arts and music. Many consider the live performances of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show as the influential format and precursor to the early Westerns. The earliest motion pictures were silent b/w shorts filmed on the East Coast by Thomas Edison's cameraman Edwin S. Porter between 1898 -1907. "The Great Train Robbery" (1903) is considered the first true Western for commercial purposes. The setting is Wyoming, but the film was shot in New Jersey and Maryland. Max Aronson (Bronco Billy Anderson) (1880-1971) was Porter's first star and went on to play numerous roles depicting the first movie hero "Bronco Billy". Studios moved to Hollywood by 1906 with Biograph's "A California Hold Up" (1906) the first produced in the West. D. W. Griffith and Cecil B. DeMille produced early silent Westerns.  Lawrence B. McGill did the first feature length film "Arizona" (1913) followed by the DeMille's all Hollywood feature "The Squaw Man (1914). Thomas Ince started the studio system with the Bison Company and bought the Miller Brother's 101 Ranch and Wild West Show to bring in a slew of props and cowboy actors. John Ford and his brother started out working for Ince in 1910. Ince also discovered William S. Hart (1870-1946).Hart and his pony Fritz became one of the great duos with over twenty films between 1915-1925. Hart combined the Western values of survival and self reliance (with a good horse) with difficult moral choices with films like Wild Bill Hickok (1923). Often it was a woman that was the catalyst for men to make better choices. Certainly this was the case in the 'Real West', since family was what produced a future, not a tough loner wandering off into the sunset. Even more popular was Tom Mix who followed Hart in the 1920s and became " America's Champion Cowboy" with his horse "Tony the Wonder Horse". Mix started in wild west shows and worked on the 101 Ranch as a 'real' cowboy, that contributed to the fact that he did most of own stunts. Tom Mix played to the action side of the West and avoided high handed morality or even romance. Mix is seen as the precursor to later singing cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Mix also made the transition into talkies in the 1930s with Destry Rides Again (1932),  renewing his own career. There were many cowboy actors in the silent and early talkies such as Harry Carey, Buck Jones, Ken Maynard and Hoot Gibson. In 1929 a young Gary Cooper starred in The Virginian and in 1930 John Wayne (Marion Morrison) starred in The Big Trail.

     These Western actors usually played fictional characters, but sometimes portrayed Wild West heroes like Wild Bill Hickok, Jesse James, Billy the Kid , Wyatt Earp, Davy Crockett and General Custer. In the 1900s there were a number of fictional characters that were serially produced in a variety of medias well into the 1950s. Some like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers used real or stage names to create fictional context. Country and Western music played a greater role with the concept of the singing cowboy the was most developed in the work of Gene Autry's,  " The Singing Cowboy". Other singing cowboys included Tex Ritter and Rex Allen. For the most part these cowboys and a few other Western characters were highly idealistic and sometimes unbelievably 'squeaky clean'.

Western Character(s) Sidekicks Actors Literature Film Radio/TV Notes
Gene Autry "The Singing Cowboy" Horse: Champion

Smiley Burnette


Orvon Gene Autry (1907-1998)   1934 Radio 1928 Will Rogers discovered

him in 1928

Roy Rogers " King of the Cowboys"

and Dale Evans "Queen of the West"

Horse: Trigger; Dog: Bullet

Pat Brady and Gabby Hayes

Dale's Horse: Buttermilk

Leonard Slye (1911-1998)   1935- Radio1947-1950;TV 1951-1957 1st music group:

Sons of the Pioneers

Cisco Kid
Horse: Diablo (Cisco)


 Horse: Loco (Poncho)
Film:  William Duncan, Cesar Romero, Duncan Renaldo, Gilbert Roland

Radio: Jackson Beck

TV: Duncan Renaldo w/ Leo Carillo as Poncho

Steve Reeves

Jimmy Smits  w/ Cheech Marin as Poncho1994

1907" The Caballero's Way" (O'Henry)

also comic book series

1914-50 Radio 1942-56; TV 1950-56

Made for TV movie 1994

Music group War had a hit song "The Cisco Kid" on The World Is a Ghetto album (1972)
Hopalong Cassidy Horse: Topper

Windy Holliday (Gabby Hayes; later Andy Clyde as California Carlson) and young a kid  (Various actors)
William Boyd 1904 series by C.E. Mulford; also comic books 1935-1948  Radio 1950-52; TV reruns of movie 1949 thru 1950s William Boyd bought the rights in 1944 and got all of the residuals from future releases as well as toys, lunch boxes, plates, etc.
The Lone Ranger

(Dan Reid)

Horse : Silver


Horse: Scout

Radio: LR-John Barrett, Jack Deeds, Brace Beemer;Tonto-John Todd

TV: Clayton Moore (John Hart 1952-54; Tonto Jay Silverheels (Mohawk)

Zane Grey: The Lone Star Ranger (1915), Comic series and 18 additional novels Film serials1939

1981 "The Legend of the Lone Ranger"

2013 "The Lone Ranger"

        ( Armie Hammer; Johnny Depp) 

Radio show- 1933-54 (2,956 episodes)


Lone Ranger Theme Rossini's William Tell Overture

Much debate exists as to the meaning of 'Tonto' and 'Kemosabe' with sentimental to vulgar translations

Zorro (Don Diego de la Vega) Horse: Tornado Film-1920 Douglas Fairbanks; 1925 Don Cesar; 1940 Tyrone Power; 1974 Frank Langella; 1975 Alain Delon; 1981 George Hamilton; 1998 Anthony Hopkins; 2005 Antonio Banderas

TV-Guy Williams

1919 J. McCulley The Curse of Capistrano;

many sequels Comic Books

Silent Film -"The Mark of Zorro" 1920; 1925 sequel

The Mark of Zorro (1940); LaGran Adventura del Zorro (1974); Zorro (1975); Zorro, The gay Blade (1981) The Mask of Zorro (1998); The Legend of Zorro (2005)


TV: Walt Disney series filmed at San Luis Rey Mission 1957-59 inspiration comes from Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel (also inspiration to Batman, Green Arrow, The Phantom, etc.)

"Dora The Explorer' influenced by Zorro

     Even though these characters were highly idealistic, it is difficult to minimize their impact of images on the American psyche. Certainly basic values of courage and loyalty were prevalent with these characters, but the reality of the 'Real West' was lacking. Over time a number of directors raised the stakes and created epic Westerns that became more thought provoking after WWII and beyond.

     The most famous of these directors was John Ford (1884-1973), who actually started very early during the silent film era with Harry Carey as a bit more realistic hero than some of the more idealized characterizations. Often Fords leading roles were a bit flawed and more reluctant to 'save the day'. Ford's grandest silent work was The Iron Horse (1924) where he got support to go away from Hollywood and film on location in Nevada and bring in 'real' Indians from local Paiute bands. During the 1930s Westerns degenerated a bit and Ford only came back with Stagecoach (1938) with a young John Wayne playing the Ringo Kid. This was a more serious Western with less than ideal characters dramatically filmed in Monument Valley, Arizona. Throughout his career John Ford would contrast the contradictions between the lies perpetrated by civilization/society versus the reality the survival of community/family faced with the reality of nature, Indians, corrupt immigrant settlers, or big business tycoons. John Ford's Irish immigrant background influenced his overall attitude to society and the need to portray a more realistic view of the Western and American experience. Ford produces a number of color Westerns in the 1950s again using John Wayne and Henry Fonda with such pictures as She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Rio Grande and Ft Apache.  In 1955  John Ford directed The Searchers, often considered his best film. John Wayne plays a driven, almost fanatical, racist out to rescue his sister who has been taken captive by the Comanche. The film is set for post civil war Texas, but is shot in Monument Valley again. In 1962, Ford directed an even darker statement with The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, that left out his beloved Monument Valley and was done in black and white. In ...Liberty Valance, John Ford not only criticizes civilization itself, including studio moguls, but he also criticizes his own misconceptions of masculinity, heroism and the American West. The extreme contrast with Jimmy Stewart's character, Ransom Stoddard, who washes dishes and John Wayne's character Tom Doniphon swaggers around with a maudlin attitude yet secretly rescued Stoddard and make him the hero of the town. Lee Marvin's Liberty Valance is a totally psychotic bad guy (studio moguls) that gets his but with highly displaced valor. John Ford finished his career with homage to the American Indian in a dismal film, Cheyenne Autumn (1964) and never did another movie.

     There were many Westerns produced  from the 1940s through the mid 1960s. Most of these were considered 'B' movies were rather forgettable. Many of the 'B' movies were in serial form and were rerun on TV in the 1950s. Many directors/producers such as Howard Hughes, Howard Hawks, Raoul Walsh, Cecil B. De Mille, King Vidor and Robert Wise brought stars in like Randolph Scott, Gary Cooper, Ronald Reagan, Errol Flynn, Kirk Douglas, Walter Brennan, Walter Huston, Joseph Cotton, Robert Taylor, Robert Ryan, Gregory Peck, Henry Fonda with love interests from Olivia De Havilland, Jennifer Jones, Claudette Colbert, Vera Miles, Grace Kelly, and Fay Wray. Some women played more powerful lead roles like Barbara Stanwick, Katy Jurado, Elizabeth Taylor and Jane Russell.

     The 1950s also ushered in the media of television or TV with old radio shows like Hopalong Cassidy (1949) and Gene Autry (1950). Gene Autry invested wisely in TV Western productions with his back lot, Melody Ranch, was used as a set for many of the TV Westerns of the 1950s and 1960s. Gunsmoke ran on radio from 1952-1961 and then ran for 20 years in a TV version from 1955- 1975. Some feel that TV in general and TV Westerns slowed down the film Western; others feel that the Western genre was no longer viable. Broken Arrow (1950) was the first revisionist Western to take the side of American Indians with a white actor portraying Cochise and James Stewart playing Tom Jeffords. Fred Zinnemann's High Noon (1952) was an allegory of the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1950s at the beginning of the cold war. The film was shot in black and white and in real time. It starred an aging Gary Cooper, a young Grace Kelly and Mexican actress, Katy Jurado. George Stevens directed a low key portrayal of Arthurian influenced hero played by Alan Ladd in Shane (1953). The film Shane provided a rather accurate portrayal of frontier life with Jean Arthur, Van Heflin and Brandon DeWilde. The late 1950s and early 1960s continued with classic Westerns such as John Sturgis' Gunfight At The OK Corral (1957) and William Wyler's The Big Country 1958). As American culture changed in the 1960s, so too the  Westerns, which became more revisionist, realistic and violent. The great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) was influenced by American Westerns and in turn his The Seven Samurai (1954) influenced John Sturges' who produced The Magnificent Seven (1960) with Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen and Eli Wallach. Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961) was the prototype to Sergio Leone's first Clint Eastwood film, A Fistful of Dollars (1964). This film was done in Spain and dubbed the beginning a new genre of 'Spaghetti Westerns'. Sergio Leone introduced new camera angles, gritty depictions, harsh characters, and graphic violence in a sequence of films, For A Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good Bad and Ugly (1966) and culminated with his masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West (1969) with an aging Henry Fonda.

     Clint Eastwood went from the Spaghetti genre and TV's "Rawhide" to eventually act and direct in his own Westerns starting with High Plains Drifter (1973) and Pale Rider (1985). Westerns went out of popularity in the 1970s and 1980s, but Eastwood came back in 1992 and directed Unforgiven, which won Best Picture.

    In addition to Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood, the other 1960s director that caused quite a stir with amped up violence were the Westerns of Sam Peckinpah. Peckinpah's films were a marked contrast to John Wayne films of the late 1960s like The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and El Dorado (1967). Sam Peckinpah started out with a simple classic Western, Ride the High Country (1962) with two aging stars, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, playing aging gunslingers. McCrea's character made a last statement paraphrased from the Book of Luke, "All I want is to enter my house justified". This was a poignant observation that was a common redemptive statement that characterized the Westerns of the late 1960s and beyond. At the height of Vietnam, Peckinpah released The Wild Bunch (1969) that portrayed the passing of the frontier with slow motion 'ultra' violent scenes that still have an impact on today's films of other genres. An even darker film is Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973), with James Coburn and Kris Kristofferson.

     On the lighter side were some films of the late 1960s and 1970s that included Cat Ballou (1965), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 1969, and Blazing Saddles (1974). Although comic, these films all portray stereotypes and the tragic end to the Old West from various perspectives. Music also plays a very important role in the enhancement of these films and their success. Blazing Saddles certainly deals with every prejudice possible as an aftershock of the civil rights movement. A number of films attempt to deal with the displacement and prejudice of the American Indian beginning with John Ford's Cheyenne Autumn (1964), Hombre (1967), Arthur Penn's Little Big Man (1970), Robert Altman's Buffalo Bill and The Indians (or Sitting Bull's History Lesson) (1976) and Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales  (1976).  Later, Kevin Costner did  Dances With Wolves (1990) based on Sam Fuller's Run of the Arrow (1957).

     John Wayne came back as matured character in True Grit (1969) and received an Best Actor Oscar for his role as an aging, drunken, Marshall Rooster Cogburn. In his final film, The Shootist (1976),  John Wayne played a gunfighter seeking peace as he was dying of cancer. Wayne died a few months later, also of cancer.

     As the popularity of Westerns waned in the 1980s a few Westerns mostly revisionist remakes did get released and were met with some success.  Walter Hill's Long Riders and Lawrence Kasden's Silverado were somewhat successful. Other revisionist Westerns based on actual characters were met with less enthusiasm, such as Hill's Geronimo: An American Legend (1993) and Wild Bill (1995) or Sam Raimi's Posse (1993) with politically correct African American cowboys. A very successful TV miniseries, Lonesome Dove (1989) based on Larry Mc Murty's Pulitzer Prize novel, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall brought a new vivid reality to the American Western. This, also, produced numerous sequels and like many TV Westerns was re-released on DVD. Maverick (1994) was a lighthearted spin off a successful TV show reviving one of the original actors James Garner. A number of Westerns have been produced with horror or mystical themes like Grim Prairie Tales (1990) and Jim Jarmusch's Dead Man (1996) with Johnny Depp.

Western films had a great deal of influence on American culture and reflected the ideals and images of ourselves. There are many 'subgenres' of Western films and you can look at an overall list of Western films.


Epic The Big Country (1958); How the West Was Won (1962) William Wyler; John Ford
Singing Cowboy Tumbling Tumbleweeds (1935) Gene Autry
Spaghetti Man With No Name Trilogy Sergio Leone
Noir Pursued (1947)  
Contemporary Hud (1963); Brokeback Mountain (2005)  
Revisionist Little Big Man (1970); Dances With Wolves (1990)  
Comedy  Cat Ballou (1965); Blazing Saddles (1974)  
Post-Apocalyptic  Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981)  
Science Fiction/Space Western Westworld (1973); Outland (1981)  
Musical  Oklahoma (1955), Paint Your Wagon (1969) Hammerstein/music; Lerner and Lowe/play

      There are many lists of Western films and I included one here that is meant to list some of the best or classic Western Films. Some of these measure up today, but many are dated, biased and even poorly acted. Some are considered groundbreaking, while others represent a subgenre of Western Film.

D. Narratives of the American West

     Stories and tales about animals, people and places of the American West have abounded for thousands of years in the oral traditions of Native Americans and later with oral traditions of early immigrant pioneers. Many of these oral traditions were put in the form of songs or ballads. Later, anthropologists and folklorists recorded some of these oral traditions.

     Written narratives started with non-fiction and early historiographies that can take the form of diaries, travel logs, expedition reports and autobiographies. Many of the explorers that had artists with them also had chroniclers to document the early explorations of the American West. The Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-06 was chronicled by Meriwether Lewis and the Lewis Cass journal. The original Lewis and Clark journals were published in 1814. In 1810 Zebulon Pike's wrote a journal of his Southwest expedition. After Lewis and Clark, a naturalist, Thomas Nuttall made numerous expeditions up the Missouri  River and recorded 'new' species in his Journal of Travels into the Arkansa Territory during the year 1819 (1821).Sego-Lily (Calochortus nuttallii)

     Other naturalists continued producing non-fiction observations of the more subtle aspects of the Western landscape. John Charles Van Dyke wrote very precise descriptions that question frontier assumptions about manifest destiny and the conquest of nature in The Desert (1901), The Mountain (1916) and The Grand Canyon of the Colorado (1920). John Muir went even further in questioning the human role in conservation/preservation and was instrumental in convincing politicians like T.R. Roosevelt to set aside National Parks like Yosemite. John Muir started the Sierra Club and published The Mountains of California (1894), Our National Parks (1901) and The Yosemite (1912).

     Francis Parkman, traveling into the West in 1846 and really launched romantic notions of the American West with his publication , Oregon Trail (1849), which came out in many subsequent editions. However, in  Mark Twain's Roughing It (1872), a more seedy and realistic point of view about the American West began. Roughing It also included Mark Twain's observation of the perception that the rumors of the latest mining strike was full of lies, unscrupulous characters and dead end dreams. As the 19th century progressed the wilderness of the West was systematically destroyed but popular literature tried to maintain the image of open space and freedom to encourage settlement with the continued justification of 'manifest destiny'. George Armstrong Custer wrote under the penname 'Nomad' and Ned Buntline (Edward Judson) wrote of 'Buffalo Bill' (William F. Cody) first in New York Weekly serials and later in 121 'dime novels'. Early frontier characters, real and not-so-real were portrayed as heroes much like the knights of old full of moral integrity in the rugged frontier. Later, the cowboy again on his trusty stead took over with Owen Wister's The Virginian (1902) (also covered in no less than 6 films). The novel's context is the Johnson County War in 1890 Wyoming, but takes the side of the cattle barons, progress and justified lynching. The unnamed hero courts an East Coast 'maiden' and exhibits gentlemanly traits combined with an animalistic toughness for survival on the Plains. Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) continued the tradition of strong, manly heroes capable of violence if needed. However, Zane Grey's heroes start out as weak Easterners who are transformed by the Western landscape that almost takes on a spiritual power to effect the heroes transcendence to manhood or hero status. The Western that focused on the cowboy, lawman, gunslinger as hero/anti-hero continued well throughout the 20th century with Max Brand and Zane Grey. After WWII, Jack Schaefer's Shane (1949) and Louis L'Amour's Westward The Tide (1950) carry on the popular Western novel tradition. Often they are more realistic and even sensitive to Native Americans or the environment.

      Fictional literature about the American West that is considered more mature and realistic tended to start with Mark Twain and Bret Harte when they published local stories about California 's Gold Rush. Mark Twain's "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is the most studied in literature courses. In the early part of the 20th century Frank Norris who wrote The Octupus (1901). Jack London with The Call of the Wild (1903) and Willa Cather with O Pioneers ! (1913) brought more realism, as well as regional points of view of to the American West. Will Cather not only brings the strength of women in the agrarian West, but also a true love for the land based upon her own experiences in Nebraska. The quest for greater realism and truth in Western literature continued with Mari Sandoz's Slogum House (1937),  John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath! (1939), Walter Van Tilburg Clark's Oxbow Incident (1940), and Frank Waters' The Man Who Killed the Deer  (1942). Native Americans also wrote novels with D'Arcy McNicle's The Surrounded (1936); and later Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn (1968) and Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony (1977). After years of popular and the more realistic writing the work of Texan Larry McMurtry transcended the concern for the true Old West versus a modern urban West. McMurtry started with Horseman, Pass By (1961) and has explored diverse aspects of the Western experience including the popular return to a very realistic treatment of the cattle drive in Lonesome Dove (1985) and Billy The Kid in Anything For Billy (1988). It is ncreasingly clear that defining the parameters of the genre of Western art and literature is difficult especially in terms of drawing lines with time and space. Some writers and artists live in the West and produce material that has nothing to do with the West.

Next: IV. Emerging Regional Identities

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Copyright by S. J. Crouthamel