In the Black Hills, South Dakota, 1849. WHi 31284
An Artist on the Overland Trail
The 1849 Sketches & Diary of James F. Wilkins
The drawings featured in this gallery are 50 of the original 200 or so created by artist James F. Wilkins on his 151-day journey from Weston, Missouri (near Independence), to the California gold fields in 1849. Wilkins captured the landscapes and events along the way with the sole purpose of creating a huge panoramic canvas from them, hoping to capitalize on the public's love of this form of entertainment.
These sketches (the only ones to survive, as far as we know) were purchased in St. Louis in the early 1850s, evidently from Wilkins, for $1,000 by druggist Rudolph Adams. In 1925 his son, C.R. Adams of Portland, Oregon, offered to sell them to the Missouri Historical Society, which was unable to acquire them. Mr. Adams next offered them to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (now known as the Wisconsin Historical Society).
Superintendent Joseph Schafer purchased the sketches, which were unsigned and unidentified, and then attempted to identity the artist, inconclusively considering likely candidates Lt. Andrew Jackson Lindsay, George Gibbs, and William Henry Tappan. Although all of them had journeyed on the Overland Trail, none of them had traveled the exact same route depicted in the drawings. James F. Wilkins, a relatively obscure artist in his own day and largely forgotten by 1925, was not identified as the creator until the 1960s, when his previously undiscovered journal came to the attention of experts, who found that the sketches matched exactly the notes in his diary.
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