Drawing the Western Frontier: The James E. Taylor Album

A Pretend Scalping

Posed scenes of scalping underscored the image of the Native American as a savage.

Taylor’s scrapbook also demonstrates the range of his social connections. In addition to his photograph collection and his finished drawings of heroic fights, his album includes mementoes such as autographs and letters from famous people. One such letter, written to him by Elizabeth Custer, set an appointment to see his photographs. Under a portrait of Custer in the album (right), Taylor wrote, "his wife’s favourite picture." Likely it was one they had discussed.

In 1883 Taylor retired from Leslie’s and sold photographic copies of his drawings. He also continued to publish his work. Colonel Richard Irving Dodge, an important military officer, used Taylor’s drawings to illustrate his memoirs of the Indian wars. Entitled Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three Years’ Personal Experience Among the Red Men of the Great West (1882), this book was hailed by reviewers with equal praise going to Taylor for his realistic images. Dodge was considered one of the most accurate historians of the period, however, illustrations such as those done by Taylor contributed to stereotypes about "savage" and uncivilized Indians. His illustrations tended to portray Indians in battle, slaughtering defenseless settlers, or surrendering to White forces. These depictions are hardly surprising inasmuch as Taylor was specifically hired to illustrate heroic military engagements.

Gen. George Armstrong Custer

Gen. George A. Custer —
"his wife's favourite picture."

 


Learn More About It

James E. Taylor, With Sheridan Up the Shenandoah Valley in 1864: Leaves from a Special Artist's Sketchbook and Diary. Cleveland, OH: Western Reserve Historical Society, 1989.

Charles G. Markantes, James E. Taylor, Artist & Correspondent. Research Review: The Journal of the Little Big Horn Associates. Vol. 12, No. 1 (Winter 1998), pp. 2-13.

The American Memory project has digitized many drawings from LESLIE'S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER. To perform a search, type "leslie's illustrated" into the search prompt on this page (select "Match this exact phrase" below the prompt.

The American Newspaper Repository is preserving a unique collection of original newspapers and their richly colored illustrations.

Joseph Rosa, Wild Bill Hickok: The Man and His Myth. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1996.

 

Portrait of Buffalo Bill Cody and Louis Richard

An extremely early portrait of Buffalo Bill Cody (left) and Louis Richard. 01600906.

"Heroic Death of Walter Kennedy"

ames E. Taylor died 1901 in New York. He was sufficiently recognized that newspapers around the United States carried his obituary. Aside from his artwork and image archives, Taylor left little else to illuminate his life. His scrapbook, however, provides insights into many aspects of 19th-century life in America.

The album contains 118 pages of historical treasures. Discovered in a pile of old books, it was donated to the archives in 1961 with the suggestion that with few exceptions, most of the pages could be discarded. Fortunately that advice went unheeded. As it was a personal album, connections between Taylor’s life and many of the images remain unknown. Through use over the years, some of its creator’s captions have flaked off, resulting in the loss of information. While many of the album’s stories are known, there remain mysteries for researchers still to solve.


Written by Paula Fleming
Designed by Robert Leopold
Digital imaging by Becky Malinsky


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