Drawing the Western Frontier: The James E. Taylor Album

The Kidnapping of Josephine Meeker

f the many photographic albums in the National Anthropological Archives, perhaps the most interesting and historically important is a scrapbook kept by an American illustrator, James E. Taylor (1839-1901). A professional artist, Taylor’s newspaper illustrations served to popularize stereotypes of the Western frontier during the post-Civil War years. Like other illustrators and writers of the period, he depicted Indian-White relations in terms of savagery versus civilization and encouraged Americans to visualize the nation’s Westward expansion in heroic terms. In many ways, Taylor’s professional legacy as a "reporter" is lodged between the technological juncture that existed between newspaper publishing and photography in the 19th century.

Until the mid-19th century, stories carried by newspapers could not be illustrated and readers had to use their imagination based solely on textual descriptions. Even after the invention of photography, it was still impossible to publish photographs until late in the century. Instead, images had to be converted into line drawings before publication. This produced a new type of artist whose legacy is now largely forgotten — an artist who was adept at translating the realistic essence of photographs and oral descriptions into simple illustrations.

In a period when the American public hungered for "authentic" images from the American West (indeed, from around the globe), these drawings had an immense impact on the public imagination. Journals such as Harper’s Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-room Companion, and Leslie’s Illustrated — newspapers published during the time of westward expansion — catered to this public craving for images. This not only contributed to the rapid growth of photographic studios, but also a small group of professional artists specifically assigned to illustrate news stories — the predecessors of today’s photo-journalists.

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Taylor's illustrations contributed to 19th century Euro-American stereotypes of Native Americans. This drawing of the kidnapping of Josephine Meeker appeared in Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper in 1880.

The caption reads, in part: "Then he placed a musket to her forehead and said 'Indian going to shoot.' The courageous girl never flinched and laughed at the burley savage."

 


Browse the Taylor Album Image Gallery

The James E. Taylor album contains 1,109 drawings, photographs, newspaper clippings and letters on 118 album pages. This exhibit includes 748 items and a selection of album pages. Because the digital images are large, a high-speed Internet connection is recommended.

  View the images

This link opens our online catalog (SIRIS) in another window. In SIRIS, you can click on a title to view the full catalog record. Then click the thumbnail image to view a full-screen image.

  View album pages:

Indians
Battle of the Washita
Meeker Tragedy
Gold Mining
Mexican Life
Frontier Life


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