Looking at the West: Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley!


Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley! : Now Exhibiting for a Short Time Only … this Gorgeous Panorama, with All the Aboriginal Monuments … Painted by the Eminent Artist I. J. Egan…. Newark, N.J.: Printed at the Mercury Office, ca. 1851. Western Americana Collection: (WA) E78.M75 M65e

In the history of the theater there are no productions so nearly incredible as the panoramas of the Mississippi. Five times within the 1840’s the Father of Waters sat—or kept rolling along—for his portrait. Five times artists made lengthy, laborious, and expensive trips sketching river scenery and then spent weeks and months transferring those sketches to canvas. (McDermott, 17)

Painted “panoramas in motion,” a popular touring entertainment in the 19th century, presented a perfect medium in which to capture the expanse of the Western landscape, and in 1846, John Banvard captured the imagination of Boston with an exhibition of his Panorama of the Mississippi River, self-proclaimed as “the largest picture ever executed by man” with its “painted three miles of canvas … exhibiting a view of country 1200 miles in length.” The success of Banvard’s exhibition, which left “the enterprising artist … reaping a golden harvest,” was soon followed by four competing panoramas of the Mississippi River by John Rowson Smith, Samuel B. Stockwell, Henry Lewis, and Leon D. Pomarède. Regretfully, none of these panoramas exist today.

The Western Americana collection holds a printed broadside announcing the exhibition of Professor M. W. Dickson’s and J. J. Egan’s Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley!, “a gorgeous panorama” that covers “over 15,000 feet of canvas.”  The broadside was printed in Newark, NJ, circa 1851.  Unlike the five earlier panoramas of the 1840s, however, John J. Egan’s original canvas panorama still survives.

In the summer of 2011, the Saint Louis Art Museum embarked “on an ambitious conservation project to save a historic treasure of local significance, the only surviving panorama of the Mississippi River.” A team of conservators restored the surviving 348-foot long painting in the museum’s main exhibition gallery, giving visitors an opportunity to view the painting and witness its restoration.  For an interview with Paul Haner, SLAM’s painting conservator, and images of the restoration, see “A Steampunk Movie at the St. Louis Art Museum.”  Images of the of the 25-scene panorama can also be viewed online in the Saint Louis Art Museum Collections, Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley.


Description of Banvard’s Panorama of the Mississippi River, Painted on Three Miles of Canvas: Exhibiting a View of Country 1200 Miles in Length, Extending from the Mouth of the Mississippi River to the City of New Orleans…. Boston: John Putnam, 1847. Internet Archive.

McDermott, John Francis. The Lost Panoramas of the Mississippi. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958.

Sandweiss, Martha A. “Of Instruction for Their Faithfulness” in Print the Legend: Photography and the American West (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002), 47-86.

Saint Louis Art Museum. Restoring an American Treasure: The Panorama of the Monumental Grandeur of the Mississippi Valley.

Fort Stanton, New Mexico Territory, ca. 1887

No. 230, Fort Stanton N.M. from the N.W.

No. 230, Fort Stanton N.M. from the N.W.

The Western Americana Collection recently acquired a set of four 5 x 7 albumen cabinet cards of Fort Stanton, New Mexico.  The photographs are undated and the photographer is unattributed. Three of the photographs, however, include print numbers and titles:

No. 230, Fort Stanton N.M. from the N.W.

No. 231, Fort Stanton N.M. from S.W.

No. 233, Fort Stanton from N.E.


No. 233, Fort Stanton from N.E.

An identical print of no. 233 housed in the University of South Carolina Bonneville Collection is annotated in a contemporary hand with the following inscription:

Photograph taken at Fort Stanton, New Mexico Territory, March 1887.  1) launderers’ quarters, 2) garrison, 3) Fort Hospital, and on the north side of the Rio Bonita where tents can be seen, are situated the company gardens.


Grooming Horses at Fort Stanton

The fourth photograph in the collection lacks a print number but is titled “Grooming Horses at Fort Stanton,” and several of the soldiers appear to be African Americans.  Buffalo Soldiers, African American cavalry and infantry troops that served in the Civil War and were later sent to the Western frontier to fight in the Indian wars, began serving in the New Mexico Territory in mid-1860s.  The 9th Cavalry participated in the Colfax County War in 1876 and the Lincoln County War in 1878, where they were stationed at Fort Stanton.  While the 9th Cavalry left New Mexico in 1881, the 10th Cavalry returned to New Mexico in 1887, and one of the final duties of the Buffalo Soldiers stationed in New Mexico was the dismantling of Fort Stanton in 1896. For more about African American troops in New Mexico and additional works on the history of Buffalo Solders, see William H. Wroth’s “Buffalo Soldiers in New Mexico.”


Wroth, William H. “Buffalo Soldiers in New Mexico.” New Mexico Office of the State Historian. http://newmexicohistory.org/people/buffalo-soldiers-in-new-mexico.

Looking at the West: H. H. Bancroft & Co., Booksellers, San Francisco

Plan of the Arrangement of Stock of H.H. Bancroft  & Co, Booksellers, San Francisco.

Plan of the Arrangement of Stock of H.H. Bancroft & Co, Booksellers, San Francisco.

Advertisement leaves from C. Aubrey Angelo’s Idaho: Descriptive Tour and Review of Its Resources and Route (San Francisco: H. H. Bancroft & Company, 1865). Call Number: WA 2005-0245N.


Lost In Translation: Glass Plate Negatives by Charles F. Lummis

Lummis-3   Lummis-2

Photographs of the American West and its inhabitants are a particular strength of the Western Americana Collection, and nearly 7,000 images have been digitized for inclusion in the Princeton University Digital Library. Recently, a box containing twenty 8 x 10 and 5 x 8 glass plate negatives by Charles F. Lummis were digitized for preservation purposes. The library holds over 100 prints by Lummis (available here), and a few of the glass plate negatives are represented in the print collection. The level of detail revealed in the negatives versus the prints is striking. Above are two similar images from a sitting in 1896 (notice the basket in the lower left corner is from a slightly different perspective). In the albumen print, the magazine cover is illegible, while the glass plate negative clearly reveals the title and date: Land of Sunshine: A Southern California Magazine. November, 1895.


The Land of Sunshine: A Southern California Magazine. November, 1895.

The magazine choice was far from arbitrary: Lummis began serving as editor of Land of Sunshine in 1895 (a position he would hold until 1909). While the publication began in 1894 as a promotional magazine for southern California commerce, Lummis quickly expanded the scope to include ethnographic studies of Native Americans. Lummis also refashioned Land of Sunshine after eastern literary magazines, publishing works by Mary Hunter Austin, Robinson Jeffers, Jack London, and John Muir, and he expanded the geographic scope of the publication to include the entire West (the magazine was later titled Out West).

A profile view from the same photo session, titled “A Tigua Maiden,” provides an opportunity for a direct comparison between plate number 691 and a corresponding print.

Lummis-4  Lummis-1

A second direct comparison can be made from plate number 661, titled “Desiderio, The Tigua War-Captain,”  taken in 1895.

Lummis-15  Lummis-War

All of the recently scanned Lummis glass plate negatives are scheduled for inclusion in the digital library after the metadata is compiled. In the meantime, below is a set of select images.

Select Bibliography:

Gale, Robert L. “Lummis, Charles Fletcher.” American National Biography Online, 2000. http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-01033.html

Watts, Jennifer A. “Photography in the Land of Sunshine: Charles Fletcher Lummis and the Regional Ideal.” Southern California Quarterly, Vol. 87, No. 4 (Winter 2005-2006) , pp. 339-376.