Edgar Paxson

Edgar Paxson

Edgar Paxson was born in East Hamburgh, New York in 1852. After leaving school Paxson worked with his father as a sign painter.

As a young man he developed a great love of the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. Paxson had a great desire to visit the American West and in 1877 he headed for Montana. He worked as a cowboy and as an army scout in the Nez Percé War (1877-79). He also served in the Spanish-American War.

Paxson and his family eventually settled in Butte. He became an artist and over the next few years painted important events in the history of the American West. This included the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Indian Wars and the discovery of Yellowstone Park .

Paxson most important work was Custer's Last Battle of the Little Bighorn (1899). He took care to make the painting an accurate representation. The men use the weapons carried that day (many paintings mistakenly show the men with sabres). Custer also wears the same clothes as he did on that day. Paxson attention to detail is emphasized by the fact that it shows that Custer had his hair cut before the Little Bighorn expedition. In the painting Custer is seen holding his left side (examination of his body later showed he had indeed been wounded on his left side). Sioux warriors who took part in the battle also served as Paxson's models.

Some details in the painting are inaccurate. Custer and his men are shown at the top of the hill. This was highly unlikely as it would have given the Sioux a 360-degree field of fire. All the bodies were found some way down the hill. The painting also shows Custer standing by and defending the regimental flag. The flag was in fact in the pack-train several miles away.

The 6' x 10' mural, which contains more than 200 figures, took Paxson seven years to complete. It was exhibited nationally and helped establish Paxson as one of the country's leading artists.

Edgar Paxson died in 1919.


DiscoveringLewis & Clark

"Turning the Worm" (Buffalo Hunt)

Whitney Gallery of Western Art Collection, gift of Mr. & Mrs. Ernest J. Goppert, Sr., in memory of Mary Jester Allen

Oil on canvas, 39 by 26 in.

This work has several possible titles: Turning the Worm, Buffalo Hunt, When He is Bad, and When He's Mad.

I n many quarters, Edgar Samuel Paxson (1852-1929), who was entirely self-taught, was one of the most admired, although certainly not the most prominent, of the whole fraternity because his works were the most truthful to the appearance of the land and the people in the northern Rockies where he spent most of his life. Whereas Western artists tended to express nostalgia for a bygone era, Edgar Paxson captured the essence of the fast-disappearing Old West as he personally experienced it. He was not merely an artist-illustrator but a documentary picture maker&mdashan artist-historian.

In 1876, after a few years of painting elaborate scrollwork on carriages in his father's Buffalo, New York , shop, and already inspired by the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar set out for the West, empowered by a growing sense of the importance of the events transpiring throughout the American West, and aroused by the injustices suffered by the Sioux in the Black Hills and the ensuing debacle on the Little Bighorn River in southeastern Montana. The Old West was passing away, and he wanted to be in the thick of it. To our everlasting benefit, his driving ambition was to do his part as an artist by documenting those turbulent times for the edification of future generations.


Edgar Paxson - History

1852 – 1919

Edgar Samuel Paxson arrived in Montana in 1877, the year after the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Paxson’s interest in the battle would become a defining element in his artistic career, culminating in his major work, Custer’s Last Stand, now in the collections of the Buffalo Bill Center of the West.

Paxson researched the Battle of the Little Bighorn and spent several years completing the painting. He then circulated Custer’s Last Stand as a traveling exhibition. As part of the explanatory material on the painting, he prepared an outline key that identified the major figures.*

Paxson was born in East Hamburg, New York, near Buffalo, on April 25, 1852. His father, William Hamilton Paxson, had a carriage-building business. After attending the Friends’ Institute school, Edgar entered his father’s business, painting carriages and signs. His experience as a sign painter probably introduced him to skills he would later develop as an artist, but there is no evidence that Edgar Paxson received formal art training at this time. In 1874 he married Laura Johnson, and the following year he set out for the West.

Paxson worked for a stagecoach company, as a guide, and at other frontier jobs that provided experiences he would later use in his art. In 1878 he brought his family to Deer Lodge, Montana, where he painted signs and scenery for theatrical backdrops. In 1881 they moved to Butte, where Paxson continued painting scenery, but also established a studio and produced easel paintings of historical subjects and portraits of Indians. The artist also maintained his love of the outdoors, going on hunting and camping trips. Under the name “Pistol Grip,” he wrote articles about trapshooting and subjects of interest to the hunter for The American Field, a sportsman’s journal. He also enlisted in the Montana National Guard, where he developed friendships with military leaders of the region.

In the years after the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Paxson gathered information with the idea of portraying the famous battle between the Army soldiers, led by Lt. Col. George A. Custer, and Sioux and Cheyenne warriors. He was quoted as saying, “When Custer and his brave command met their fate on the Little Big Horn, I said, ‘Some time I will paint that scene’ during my leisure hours. I kept dabbling with brush. Each day I saw some improvement. In all this time, I never lost view of my object, and for 20 years gathered data, sifted and resifted it, conversed with participants on either side, visited the scene and became as familiar with the ground and the circumstances as with my own home.”*

According to the biography written by his great-grandson, Paxson interviewed Native Americans who had been in the battle, such as Gall (Lakota) and Two Moon (Tsistsistas), and some ninety-six soldiers from the related campaign. His primary source was General E.S. Godfrey, who had been a lieutenant with Captain Frederick Benteen’s contingent and who had been one of the first to view the site after the battle. Actual work on the canvas, which measured six feet by nine feet, probably began in 1895. The final work includes more than two hundred figures.

Click here to see a larger view of the painting and zoom in on individual figures.

In May 1898, Paxson’s work was interrupted when he was mustered into the Army and sent to the Philippines for active service during the Spanish-American War. Back home after a year, he resumed work on his painting and completed it in 1899. Paxson and a business associate sent the painting to Eastern cities for an exhibition tour, charging the public twenty-five cents to view the painting. They produced a booklet to accompany the painting, which included an outline key to the figures, a history of the battle, and information on the painting. In the booklet the painting was titled Custer’s Last Battle on the Little Big Horn, but when Paxson copyrighted it in 1900, he used the title Custer’s Last Fight. Family members have said, however, that the artist used the title Custer’s Last Stand in the latter part of his life, and it has become the generally accepted title.

Having been elected to membership in the Society of Associated Arts, Paxson traveled to Chicago and exhibited his paintings in the organization’s annual exhibition in 1903. He spent at least seven weeks in the city, where he visited several museums and spent time at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Although he seems to have been primarily self-taught as an artist, he might have had some instruction in Chicago and he took opportunities to learn by looking at the works of other artists.

Edgar S. Paxson. “Buffalo Hunt,” 1905. Oil on canvas. Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Ernest J. Goppert, Sr., in memory of Mary Jester Allen. 86.60

Paxson exhibited paintings at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904, and the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905, as well as other venues outside Montana. He moved to Missoula, Montana, in 1906. In 1911, he was commissioned to paint six scenes of Montana history for the Senate chambers at the Montana Capitol in Helena. The following year, he was commissioned to execute eight paintings for the Missoula County Courthouse. Edgar Paxson died November 9, 1919.

Other works by Paxson in the Buffalo Bill Center of the West include The Buffalo Hunt, 1905, and a group of fourteen drawings related to Custer’s Last Stand.
*Paxson, Edgar S. Paxon’s Great Historical Painting of Custer’s Last Battle on the Little Big Horn in Montana, June 25, 1876. Peoria, Illinois: Frans & Sons Print., [ca. 1900].

Select, Annotated Bibliography

Paxson, William Edgar Jr. E.S. Paxson: Frontier Artist. Boulder: Pruett Publishing Company, 1984. The most comprehensive work on Paxson. Written by the artist’s great-grandson.

Rankin, Charles E., ed. Legacy: New Perspectives on the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, 1996. A collection of essays relating to the interpretation of the battle. Especially relevant to Paxson is the essay by Brian Dippie, “‘What Valor Is: Artists and the Mythic Moment.”

Stenzel, Franz R., M.D. E.S. PaxsonMontana Artist. Montana Heritage Series, No. 14. Helena: Montana Historical Society Press, n.d. Reprint of an article in Montana: The Magazine of Western History, Autumn 1963. Supplanted by more recent biography by W.E. Paxson Jr., but provides another view of the artist.

Prepared by Whitney Gallery of Western Art, Buffalo Bill [Center of the West], Cody, Wyoming, April 20, 2001.


Edgar Samuel Paxon Auction Price Results

Description: Edgar Paxson
(1852 - 1919)
Apache Kids, 1891
oil on canvas
signed and dated lower right: E'g' Paxson / - 91' -
inscribed on artist's label verso: "Apache Kids"
24 x 18 in. (60.96 x 45.72 cm.), Frame: 29 7/8 x 23 7/8 x 2 1/2 in. (75.88 x 60.64 x 6.35 cm.) .

Location: Santa Fe, NM, US

Auction House: Santa Fe Art Auction

Lot 200 : Signal of Peace by E.S. Paxson (1852-1919)

Auction Date: Sep 19, 2020

Estimate: $8,000 - $12,000

Description: E.S. Paxson (1852-1919), watercolor on paper, 12 x 9, signed lower right: E.S. PAXSON- -1901- .

Location: Jackson, WY, US

Auction House: Jackson Hole Art Auction

Lot 3010 : EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON (AMERICAN, 1852-1919) SIGNAL OF PEACE, 1901 Gouache on artist board: 12 x 9 1/4 in. (sight)

Auction Date: Apr 25, 2020

Description: EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON (AMERICAN, 1852-1919)
SIGNAL OF PEACE, 1901
Gouache on artist board: 12 x 9 1/4 in. (sight)
Framed lower right signed and dated: E S Paxton/ 1901


Provenance: Private Collection Baltimore .

Location: Alexandria, VA, US

Auction House: Potomack Company

Lot 68064 : Edgar Samuel Paxson (American, 1852-1919) Covered Wagon, 1908 Oil on canvas 31 x

Auction Date: Nov 01, 2019

Estimate: $20,000 - $30,000

Description: Edgar Samuel Paxson (American, 1852-1919)
Covered Wagon, 1908
Oil on canvas
31 x 24 inches (78.7 x 61.0 cm)
Signed and dated lower right: ES Paxson / 1908

PROVENANCE:
Private collection, Nevada.

Location: Dallas, TX, US

Auction House: Heritage Auctions

Lot 94 : EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON | Covered Wagon

Auction Date: Mar 06, 2019

Estimate: $30,000 - $50,000

Description: oil on canvas .

Location: New York, NY, US

Auction House: Sotheby's

Lot 68019 : EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON (AMERICAN, 1852-1919) NEZ PERCE, 1917 WATERCOLOR ON PAPER 9

Auction Date: Nov 08, 2018

Estimate: $7,000 - $10,000

Description: Edgar Samuel Paxson (American, 1852-1919) Nez Perce, 1917 Watercolor on paper 9 x 7-1/2 inches (22.9 x 19.1 cm) (image) Signed and dated lower right: E.S. Paxson / 1917 Titled and inscribed verso: "Nez Perce" / 2[..] / [..]. Myers PROVENANCE: The artist Private collection, acquired from the above By descent to the present owners. HID04901242017 .

Location: Dallas, TX, US

Auction House: Heritage Auctions

Lot 3 : Edgar Samuel Paxson.

Auction Date: Aug 29, 2018

Estimate: $6,000 - $10,000

Description: Very good to excellent. Note: Paxson is a renowned Western artist known for his depiction of cowboys and Indians in particular.Dates: (American, 1852 - 1919).Frame: Handsome, Contemporary, Antique-Style Molded Gold Frame.Medium: Watercolor on Paper.Signature: Lower Right "E.S. PAXSON 1917".Title: "Portrait of Indian Brave". Condition: Dimensions: Framed: 22 - 1/2" x 19". .

Location: Denver, PA, US

Auction House: Morphy Auctions

Lot 2064 : Edgar S. Paxson (1852-1919) Art Print

Auction Date: Jul 07, 2018

Description: ? Custer?s Last Stand?. In Good Condition. Frame Measures Approximately 27? X 33? And Artwork Measures Approximately 16? X 22.5?. Mp18046 .

Location: Glendale, AZ, US

Auction House: EJ'S Auction & Appraisal

Lot 219 : Edgar Samuel Paxson (American/Montana, 1852)

Auction Date: May 19, 2018

Description: Edgar Samuel Paxson (American/Montana, 1852-1919), "Blackfoot Chief", 1901, watercolor, signed and dated lower right, 10 in. x 7 7/8 in., unframed. Note: Born in New York in 1852, Edgar Paxson had an interest in traveling to the American West from an early age. Settling in Montana, Paxson worked as an artist, as well as painting signs, buildings, and theater sets. Paxson was intrigued by the Native Americans of the area in which he had settled just one year after the Battle of Little Bighorn. He decided to paint, after painstaking research including interviews with members of the Indian tribes as well as American soldiers, a view of the famous battle, which he completed in 1899. At that same time, Paxson also painted many portraits of Native Americans in watercolor, such one offered here, depicting a Chief of the Blackfoot people of Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia, and Montana. The empathetic portrayal of the man in profile with a headdress and jewelry is characteristic of Paxson?s style and displays his use of strong highlight and shadow, as well as his skill with watercolor. .

Location: New Orleans, LA, US

Auction House: Neal Auction Company

Lot 55 : Edgar S. Paxson, gouache

Auction Date: Mar 16, 2018

Description: Edgar S. Paxson (1852-1919) Indian Portrait, 1914 13" x 10 ½" gouache Signed and dated 1914 lower right $4,000-6,000 .

Location: Great Falls, MT, US

Auction House: March In Montana

Lot 40 : Edgar Paxson (Montana, 1852-1919) Original Artwork

Auction Date: Dec 02, 2017

Description: Edgar Paxson (Montana, 1852-1919) original artwork. Titled In Hot Pursuit on Foster Brothers, Boston, Mass. paper label on verso. Also signed in pencil by artist or publisher at top of verso. Original gouache on paper laid on thin cardstock. Image size is 20 7/8" x 15 3/8". Overall size 26" x 20". Glue residue from mat board. Overall condition of painting is very good. We ship most items in-house with the exception of furniture, large or heavy artwork, heavier items or extremely fragile items. .

Location: Davenport, WA, US

Auction House: Grant Zahajko Auctions, LLC

Lot 394 : Edgar Paxson (Montana, 1852-1919) Original Artwork

Auction Date: Jul 29, 2017

Description: Edgar Paxson (Montana, 1852-1919) original artwork. Titled [In Hot Pursuit] written on Foster Brothers, Boston, Mass. paper label on verso. Also signed in pencil by artist or publisher at top of verso. Original gouache on paper laid on thin cardstock. Image size is 20 7/8" x 15 3/8". Overall size 26" x 20". Glue residue from mat board. Overall condition of painting is very good. We ship most items in house. Exclusions include furniture, oversized framed artwork and heavier items. Please inquire for shipping quotes. .

Location: Davenport, WA, US

Auction House: Grant Zahajko Auctions, LLC

Lot 1 : Edgar Paxson (Montana, 1852-1919) Original Artwork

Auction Date: Apr 22, 2017

Description: Edgar Paxson (Montana, 1852-1919) original artwork. Titled In Hot Pursuit on Foster Brothers, Boston, Mass. paper label on verso. Also signed in pencil by artist or publisher at top of verso. Original gouache on paper laid on thin cardstock. Image size is 20 7/8" x 15 3/8". Overall size 26" x 20". Glue residue from mat board. Overall condition of painting is very good. We ship most items in house. Exclusions include furniture, oversized framed artwork and heavier items. Please inquire for shipping quotes. .

Location: Davenport, WA, US

Auction House: Grant Zahajko Auctions, LLC

Lot 138 : EDGAR S. PAXSON (1852-1919): FLATHEAD OF TODAY

Auction Date: Apr 22, 2017

Description: EDGAR S. PAXSON (1852-1919): FLATHEAD OF TODAY
Watercolor on paper, 1910, signed 'ɾ.S. Paxson'' and dated lower right, with label from Kennedy Galleries, New York Smith Kramer, Inc. 10 1/4 x 7 1/2 in. (sheet), 17 x 14 in. (frame).

Provenance: The John A. and Margaret Hill Collection of American Western Art.
Cheekwood Botanical Garden & Museum of Art, TN .

Location: Hudson, NY, US

Lot 390 : Edgar S. Paxson - In Injun Country

Auction Date: Apr 08, 2017

Estimate: $20,000 - $40,000

Description: Edgar S. Paxson .

Location: Scottsdale, AZ, US

Auction House: Scottsdale Art Auction, LLC

Lot 111 : Edgar Samuel Paxon (1852-1919) Photogravure

Auction Date: Aug 28, 2016

Description: Title: The Scouts Original Photogravure measures 13 1/4" x 10 3/8" .

Location: Ventura, CA, US

Auction House: California Auctioneers

Lot 173 : EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON (1852-1919) Indian Chief

Auction Date: Aug 02, 2016

Description: EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON (1852-1919)
Indian Chief
faintly signed ‘Paxson’ (lower right)
watercolor on paper 10 x 8in
overall: 17 1/2 x 15in
.

Location: Los Angeles, CA, US

Auction House: Bonhams

Lot 42 : EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON, American (1852-1919), "Two Scouts Watching Custer's Command, Big Horn", oil on canvas, signed lower right and n..

Auction Date: Apr 28, 2016

Estimate: $50,000 - $75,000

Description: EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON
American (1852-1919)
"Two Scouts Watching Custer's Command, Big Horn"
oil on canvas, signed lower right and numbered "716".
30 1/2 x 24 1/2 inches

Provenance: Di Tommaso Galleries, Wyoming Fenn Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico March in Montana Auction, March 17, 2007, lot 329, Great Falls, Montana. Property of a Southern Gentleman. .

Location: Milford, CT, US

Auction House: Shannon's

Lot 68 : EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON, American (1852-1919), "Two Scouts Watching Custer's Command, Big Horn", oil on canvas, signed lower right and n..

Auction Date: Apr 23, 2015

Estimate: $70,000 - $90,000

Description: EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON
American (1852-1919)
"Two Scouts Watching Custer's Command, Big Horn"
oil on canvas, signed lower right and numbered "716".
30 1/2 x 24 1/2

Provenance: Di Tommaso Galleries, Wyoming Fenn Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico March in Montana Auction, March 17, 2007, lot 329, Great Falls, Montana. Property of a Southern Gentleman. .

Location: Milford, CT, US

Auction House: Shannon's

Lot 141 : Edgar S. Paxson (1852-1919 Missoula, MT)

Auction Date: Oct 21, 2014

Description: 'ɼrow'', Portrait of an Indian man, signed and dated lower right: ES Paxson / 1915, titled verso, watercolor on board under glass, sight size: 9.75'' H x 6.75'' W, est: $5000/7000. .

Location: Pasadena, CA, US

Auction House: John Moran Auctioneers

Lot 75 : Edgar S. Paxson (1852-1919)

Auction Date: Jul 26, 2014

Estimate: $20,000 - $30,000

Description: Blackfeet Scouts (1909) .

Auction House: Coeur d’Alene Art Auction

Lot 4 : Edgar S. Paxson (1852-1919)

Auction Date: Jul 26, 2014

Description: Geronimo .

Auction House: Coeur d’Alene Art Auction

Lot 5375 : E.S. PAXSON STUDY FOR FRONTIER PAINTING W/ LETTER

Auction Date: Jul 20, 2014

Description: Edgar Samual Paxson (American 1852-1919) Frontier drawing for a painting signed, dated and noted LR. Note written on back of piece states " Aug. 10, 1975/ This is to certify that the preliminary drawing on the reverse side, of an Indian on horseback with spear in hand, is an original drawing by Edgar S. Paxson, my Grandfather, for a painting he did in 1901. This drawing has been in the Paxson family for over seventy-five years." (and is signed) William Edgar Paxson. It also has his name and address stamp affixed. image size is 17 by 14 inches, overall in frame measurement is 26.5 by 30.5 inches. Very good overall mounted condition. This Lot has a Reserve .

Location: Tallahassee, FL, US

Auction House: Affiliated Auctions & Realty LLC

Lot 9636 : E.S. PAXSON STUDY FOR FRONTIER PAINTING LETTER

Auction Date: Feb 08, 2014

Description: Edgar Samual Paxson (American 1852-1919) Frontier drawing for a painting signed, dated and noted LR. Note written on back of piece states " Aug. 10, 1975/ This is to certify that the preliminary drawing on the reverse side, of an Indian on horseback with spear in hand, is an original drawing by Edgar S. Paxson, my Grandfather, for a painting he did in 1901. This drawing has been in the Paxson family for over seventy-five years." (and is signed) William Edgar Paxson. It also has his name and address stamp affixed. image size is 17 by 14 inches, overall in frame measurement is 26.5 by 30.5 inches. Very good overall mounted condition. This lot has a reserve. .

Location: Tallahassee, FL, US

Auction House: Affiliated Auctions & Realty LLC

Lot 136 : Paxson, Edgar S.

Auction Date: Jul 27, 2013

Description: Indian Portrait (1906) .

Auction House: Coeur d’Alene Art Auction

Lot 149 : Edgar S. Paxson (1852-1919 Missoula, MT)

Auction Date: Apr 23, 2013

Description: Indian rider near a waterfall, signed and dated lower right: E. S. Paxson 1903, oil on canvas laid to canvas, 24'' H x 16'' W, est: $3000/5000. .

Location: Pasadena, CA, US

Auction House: John Moran Auctioneers

Lot 130 : Edgar Samuel Paxson (1852-1919), The Vanishing Breed

Auction Date: Mar 16, 2013

Description: oil on canvas .

Location: Great Falls, MT, US

Auction House: C.M. Russell Museum

Lot 180 : Edgar Samuel Paxson (1852-1919), Lawman

Auction Date: Mar 16, 2013

Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000

Location: Great Falls, MT, US

Auction House: C.M. Russell Museum

Lot 76012 : EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON (American, 1852-1919) Apache Kids,

Auction Date: Nov 10, 2012

Estimate: $10,000 - $20,000

Description: EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON (American, 1852-1919) Apache Kids, 1891 Oil on canvas 24 x 18 inches (61.0 x 45.7 cm) Signed and dated lower right: E.S. Paxson / ➑ Artist's label verso PROVENANCE: J.N. Bartfield Galleries, New York, #C563, 1999 Private collection of Gregory Perillo. .

Location: Dallas, TX, US

Auction House: Heritage Auctions

Lot 1149 : Edgar S. Paxson (1852-1919 Missoula, MT)

Auction Date: Oct 16, 2012

Description: ''The Sioux Warrior'', signed and dated lower right: E.S. Paxson 1908, titled verso, watercolor with gouache highlights on paperboard under glass, 12'' H x 10'' W, est:$4000/6000 *** Please click ''view more'', below right for more information. *** .

Location: Pasadena, CA, US

Auction House: John Moran Auctioneers

Lot 119 : EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON, (AMERICAN 1852-1909), "INDIAN BRAVES"

Auction Date: Jun 03, 2012

Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000

Description: EDGAR SAMUEL PAXSON
(american 1852-1909)/span
"INDIAN BRAVES"
Signed and dated ɾ.S. PAXSON / 1909' bottom right, watercolor on paper laid to board
19 5/8 x 13 in. (49.8 x 33cm) (sight)
provenance:
/spanMcClees Gallery, Ardmore, Pennsylvania.
The Pew Estate, Gladwyne, Pennsylvania.
.

Location: Philadelphia, PA, US

Auction House: Freeman's

Lot 197 : Edgar Samuel Paxson (American, 1852-1919)

Auction Date: May 01, 2012

Estimate: $10,000 - $15,000

Description: After the shower in the land of the Crows
unsigned, titled ➯ter the shower / in the land of the Crows' on the artist's label (on the stretcher bar) and numbered '#4' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
22 1/4 x 36in
overall: 32 x 43 3/4in .

Location: Los Angeles, CA, US

Auction House: Bonhams

Lot 188 : Edgar Samuel Paxson (American, 1852-1919) Sioux, 1905 Poker Jim, Flathead, 1910 (two) first 9 x 7in second sight: 7 x 5in

Auction Date: Nov 21, 2011

Description: Sioux, 1905 Poker Jim, Flathead, 1910 (two)
first signed and dated ɾS Paxon 1905' (lower right) and titled 'Sioux' (on the reverse) second signed ɾS Paxon / 1910' (lower right)
each watercolor and pencil on paper
first 9 x 7in second sight: 7 x 5in
first overall: 19 x 17in second overall: 14 1/2 x 12 1/2in .


New Study Debunks Tales of Mass Suicide at Custer’s Last Stand

It’s among the most famous and controversial battles ever fought on American soil. At Custer’s Last Stand, in June 1876, the U.S. Army was outnumbered and overwhelmed by Native American warriors, along the banks of the Little Bighorn River. By the end of the battle, some 268 federal troops were dead.

But how many were killed and how many died at their own hands? Often-cited historical accounts tell the story of many Cavalry suicides, with the men choosing to shoot themselves rather than risk death and dismemberment at the hands of Native American fighters. Now, new research presented earlier in April 2018ਊt the Society for American Archaeology’s annual meeting raises more questions about this historic bloodbath.

Instead, said bioarchaeology researcher Genevieve Mielke, from the University of Montana, preliminary skeletal analysis suggests suicides among army troops may have been few and far between. “No doubt suicides happened among Custer’s men,” she told Science News, 𠇋ut perhaps not on the grand scale previously suggested.”

Custer’s Last Stand from the Battle of Little Bighorn. (Credit: GraphicaArtis/Getty Images)

A few months into the Great Sioux War, federal troops clashed with Lakota Sioux and Cheyenne warriors in southeastern Montana Territory. Gold had been found on Native American lands, and relations were growing strained. When tribes missed a federal deadline to move to reservations, tensions rose still higher. The U.S. Army, led by Lieutenant Colonel George Custer and his 7th Cavalry, were sent off to confront them.

According to historical accounts, the Army expected no more than 800 Native American warriors. Instead, they were met with as many as 2,500, to their 700 Cavalrymen and Scouts. It was a crushing, consequential defeat—though precisely what happened has often proved contentious.

Native American oral histories often assert that Custer and his men committed suicide when they realized they had lost. One account from Wooden Leg, a Northern Cheyenne Indian, describes a chaotic scene up on the ridge: “Right away, all of the white men went crazy. Instead of footing [sic] us, they turned their guns upon themselves. Almost before we could get to them, every one of them was dead. They killed themselves.”

Custer’s Last Stand from the Battle of Little Bighorn. Painted by Edgar Samuel Paxson, 1899.

But archaeologists have often wondered at a lack of physical evidence to support the story. Mielke’s own analysis, reported in Science News, suggests something similar: Though 14 of the 30 written battle accounts from Native American fighters tell tales of Custer’s men killing themselves with revolvers, this doesn’t bear out in the scant figures available.

According to data on skeletal injuries of 31 of Custer’s soldiers, only three committed suicide by firing their gun into their head. Meanwhile, 22 soldiers showed signs of having been scalped, dismembered, or mutilated at the hands of their victors. Though the findings are new, the data is not and does not include the skeletons of Custer’s men. Instead, it comes from two projects dating from the 1980s and 1990s, where 7th Cavalry Soldiers were excavated and then reburied.


Biographical Note Return to Top

Edgar Samuel Paxson was born to a Quaker family in East Hamburg, New York, in 1852. His father, William Hamilton Paxson, had a carriage-building business. After attending the Friends' Institute school, Edgar entered his father's business, painting carriages and signs. In 1874 he married Laura Johnson, and the following year he set out for the West. Paxson worked for a stagecoach company, as a guide, and at other frontier jobs. In 1878 he brought his family to Deer Lodge, Montana, where he painted signs and scenery for theatrical backdrops. In 1881 they moved to Butte, where Paxson continued painting scenery but also established a studio and produced easel paintings of historical subjects and portraits of Indians. He is best known for the painting he titled "Custer's Last Fight."

In May 1898, Paxson's work was interrupted when he was mustered into the Army and sent to the Philippines for active service during the Spanish-American War. He returned home after a year.

Paxson exhibited paintings at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis in 1904, and the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland in 1905, as well as other venues outside Montana. He moved to Missoula, Montana, in 1906. In 1911 he was commissioned to paint six scenes of Montana history for the Senate chambers at the Montana Capitol in Helena. The following year, he was commissioned to execute eight paintings for the Missoula County Courthouse. Edgar Paxson died November 9, 1919.

Content Description Return to Top

This collection consists of E. S. Pasxon's commemorative badges for annual meetings of groups including Montana Pioneers, USWV(United Spanish War Veterans), IOOF (International Order of Odd Fellows), BPOE (Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks), and M.S.S.A. (Montana State Sportsman's Association), as well as army artillery insignia pins, a Butte badge, an artist's palette-shaped pin, and a Cape Cod Pageant badge.

Use of the Collection Return to Top

Restrictions on Use

Researchers are responsible for using in accordance with 17 U.S.C. and any other applicable statutes.

Preferred Citation

[Name of document or photograph number], Edgar Samuel Paxson Commemorative Badge Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library, The University of Montana-Missoula.

Administrative Information Return to Top

Arrangement

Each badge with a fastener was fastened to a folder for organization and preservation. The badges without fasteners were placed in envelopes.

Custodial History

The custodial history of this collection is unknown, though it was donated to a University of Montana museum from the Paxson estate, probably in 1956.

Acquisition Information

Transferred to the archives circa 1968.

Detailed Description of the Collection Return to Top

Container(s) Description Dates
Box/Folder
1/1 Three badges with ribbons commemorating reunions of the USWV(United Spanish War Veterans) 1914-1915
Microfilm
1/1 One badge with ribbon commemorating a Montana Pioneers annual meeting in Deer Lodge, Montana 1912
1/2 One badge with hanging attachment commemorating a Butte, Montana, July 4th celebration 1912
1/2 One badge with ribbon and hanging star commemorating an IOOF (International Order of Odd Fellows) meeting in Missoula, Montana 1912
1/2 One badge commemorating the Hellgate 333 BPOE (Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks) at an annual meeting in Portland, Oregon 1912
1/2 One badge with ribbon and hanging attachment commemorating a tournament of the Montana State Sportsmen's Association in Anaconda, Montana 1902
1/2 One badge attachment hanging on ribbon commemorating a Montana Pioneers annual meeting in Missoula, Montana 1922
1/2 One badge celebrating Butte undated
1/3 Three army artillery collar insignia undated
1/4 One badge with ribbon commemorating a Montana Pioneers meeting in Deer Lodge, Montana 1912
1/5 One badge with ribbon commemorating a M.S.S.A. (Montana State Sportsman's Association) meeting in Deer Lodge, Montana 1916
1/5 Artist's palette-shaped pin inscribed with "E.S. Paxson," back pin missing undated
1/5 One badge commemorating the Pageant of Cape Cod with leather strap attached undated

Names and Subjects Return to Top

Subject Terms

Corporate Names

  • Elks (Fraternal order)
  • Independent Order of Odd Fellows
  • Montana State Sportsman's Association
  • Society of Montana Pioneers
  • United Spanish War Veterans

Form or Genre Terms

Finding aid prepared by Teresa Hamann 2010


Butte, America’s Story Episode 198 - Edgar Paxson

Welcome to Butte, America’s Story. I’m your host, Dick Gibson.

Edgar S. Paxson was born in 1852 near Buffalo, New York, and spent his teen years there working in his father’s carriage-making business. He also got his start as an artist painting signs.

After Paxson arrived in Montana in 1877 he held various jobs including stagecoach guard, but he settled in Deer Lodge with his wife Laura and found work painting scenery and backdrops for theatrical productions. He became part of Butte’s first boom when he moved here in April 1880, building a small home at 30 East Woolman Street. At that time, the Steward Mine was barely more than a claim and trees covered that part of the Butte Hill, which the local children called “Hickory Nut Hill.” East Woolman ended at a stream that was still flowing in Dublin Gulch, where the Anaconda Road would develop.

In Butte, Paxson worked for ten years as the artist for the Maguire Opera House on West Broadway (where the Leggat Hotel stands today). In 1889 or 1890 he established his own studio in a log cabin at 17 East Broadway, a building that was demolished within a year to make way for the new City Hall that was built there. Soon after, Paxson began to use his Woolman Street home as a studio.

Paxson’s iconic work includes many portraits of Native Americans, who he considered friends, but his definitive piece is probably “Custer’s Last Stand,” produced in the Woolman Street studio between 1895 and 1899. Paxson had become fascinated by the battle that took place just a year before he arrived in Montana, and interviewed both Native Americans and U.S. soldiers who had been involved in the campaign as part of his research for the painting. Completion was delayed by Paxson’s service in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War, but once finished he sent the painting on an American tour, where people paid 25 cents to see it. This six-by-nine-foot masterpiece hangs today at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming.

He’s best known as a painter and illustrator, but he also created the monumental archway that stood in the intersection of Granite and Main Streets in Butte to welcome the veterans of the Spanish-American War home in 1899.

Edgar Paxon was known in Butte as “a modest, gentlemanly man.” He had some health problems that led him and his wife to move to Missoula in 1906, but he continued to work prolifically, producing eight murals for the Missoula County Courthouse and six large paintings of Montana history for the state capitol in Helena.

When Paxson died in 1919, his friend the artist Charles M. Russell celebrated him by saying, "Paxson has gone, but his pictures will not allow us to forget him.” The Paxson home and studio on Woolman Street were gone by 1951.

As writer Edwin Dobb has said, "Like Concord, Gettysburg, and Wounded Knee, Butte is one of the places America came from." Join us next time for more of Butte, America’s Story.


Edgar Samuel Paxson (1852-1919) Biography

E.S. Paxson was an early Montana painter of western frontier life and Indian portraits.

Paxson was born in East Hamburg, New York, near Buffalo. After his schooling, he worked in his father's carriage business painting carriages and lettering signs. There is no evidence he had any other art training.

Paxson longed for the kind of western adventure he read about as a youth, and at age 25 he left his wife and child in Buffalo and headed for Montana Territory. There he worked as a ranch hand, stage driver, hunter, guide, military scout and other frontier jobs that immersed him in the work and experience of western settlement.

In 1879 he sent for his family and moved to Deer Lodge, Montana where he painted signs, theater backdrops, saloon decorations, and other commercial art. In 1881 the Paxsons settled in Butte where the mining boom provided more business opportunity. He continued to do commercial painting, but he also established a studio and spent more time at easel painting. Paxon served for ten years in the Montana National Guard and spent eight months in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War. In 1905, he moved to Missoula where he lived the remainder of his life.

By the end of the nineteenth century, Paxson made his living primarily from easel painting. He worked in oil and watercolor in a detailed, representational style similar to that of Charles M. Russell who became a close friend. In 1899, he completed his most famous painting, a six by ten foot canvas entitled Custer's Last Battle on the Little Big Horn. He started researching the battle shortly after arriving in Montana, interviewing Indians who had participated in it and soldiers who had first arrived on the scene. It took Paxson six years to complete the painting which he then toured around the eastern US, charging twenty-five cents to view it.

In 1911, Paxson received a commission to paint six murals of Montana history for the State Senate chambers in Helena. The next year, the Missoula County commission hired him to paint eight murals for the county courthouse showing scenes from the Lewis and Clark expedition and early pioneer life. Paxson was considered especially qualified for this work because he had both observed and participated in the settlement of Montana and his paintings were said to capture the true appearance of that time and place.

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Taking a deeper look: Mardon’s “The Battle of Greasy Grass”

The Battle of Greasy Grass, Allan Mardon, 1996. Oil on linen, 76 x 136 inches. Museum Purchase with funds from the William E. Weiss Memorial Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Gordon H. Barrows, and the Franklin A. West Memorial Fund. 6.01

Beginning his artistic career as a commercial artist for magazines like Time and National Geographic, Allan Mardon (b. 1931) moved in 1988 from New York to Tucson, Arizona, for retirement and to pursue fine arts. In this pursuit, Mardon studies Native North American cultures and explores the “spiritual, war and social life of the Indians” through painting. Developing his unique style, his art articulates an influence of Plains Indian ledger design and Indian hide paintings.

The Battle of Greasy Grass was no simple project. Mardon’s expertise as an artist and researcher are well-communicated through The Battle of Greasy Grass. The composition of the work presents duration of time by capturing the significant moments between 3 p.m. June 25, 1876, to 3 p.m. June 26, 1876, and frames the expanse of space by reducing the ten mile battleground onto a canvas approximately six feet tall and eleven feet wide.

Mardon spent one year researching the lengthy and controversial history of the Battle of Little Bighorn, taking just as long to paint the work itself. Mardon gathered modern accounts from Native Americans, striving for historical accuracy, and formulated a contemporary composite that includes individuals unrecorded by others like Paxson—Cheyenne witness Kate Bighead, Bismark Tribune reporter Mark Kellogg, and African American scout Isaiah Dorman. Powerfully titled The Battle of Greasy Grass, Mardon reinforces the painting’s Native American perspective by employing the Lakota name for the battle, termed after the “greasy” appearance of the grass in the waters near the battle site.

While Mardon adamantly worked for historical accuracy, it is important to note that The Battle of Greasy Grass is an artistic, rather than literal, representation. Mardon’s eye-catching color highlights the influence of ledger art but also his use of artistic license. He depicts Indian ponies in non-realistic colors to differentiate them from troop horses, while trails of red tracking the path of the troops were used in place of portraying the mutilating and killing effects of weaponry.

Detail of The Battle of Greasy Grass, Allan Mardon, 1996. Museum Purchase with funds from the William E. Weiss Memorial Fund, Mr. and Mrs. Gordon H. Barrows, and the Franklin A. West Memorial Fund. 6.01

Permanently in the Whitney’s collection since 2001, Mardon’s The Battle of Greasy Grass continues to perpetuate discussion of that monumental battle from more than one hundred years ago and serves as a didactic challenge to the historical constructs of the West. This unique illustration of the 24 hours of events in the Battle of Greasy Grass addresses the bygone misunderstandings and inaccurate disseminations of historical Native American accounts that have over time been assumed as prevailing fact.


Watch the video: Ride along with the 7th Cavalry to their doom