The Mushing History Conference has a logo, designed by myself, Helen Hegener, and created by Billy L. Fikes of Raven Graphics in Wasilla, Alaska. The image is a watercolor and pencil sketch of an 1800s Indian dog team, possibly of the Mandan tribe, near Fort Clark, North Dakota, ostensibly done by the German explorer, ethnologist and naturalist Prince Alexander Philipp Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (September 23, 1782 – February 3, 1867). I can find no confirmation that the Prince actually illustrated anything, however, and I’ve become convinced that the illustration was actually done by a noted artist of the American West, Karl Bodmer, who traveled with Prince Max (as he’s still known amongst naturalists). Here’s the backstory:
In 1802, at the age of 20, Prince Maximilian Wied joined the Prussian army during the Napoleonic War, and, after rising to the rank of Major-General, retired in 1815. He led an expedition to Brazil from 1815 to 1817, and then apparently rested on his laurels for 15 years. In 1832, accompanied by the young Swiss painter Karl Bodmer, he traveled to America’s Great Plains, up the Missouri River, stayed at Fort Clark during the winter of 1832-1833 (George Catlin was there during the same time frame), and wrote a book, Travels in the Interior of North America 1832 to 1834, on his return.
During his travels, the Prince studied the cultures of tribes such as the Mandan and the Hidatsa and collected many specimens of flora and fauna of the area. His reason for the journey, as stated in the preface to his book, was to provide foreigners with a description of the natural scenery of North America and of the cultures of the indigenous inhabitants, a project he thought the United States government had neglected.
Karl Bodmer, born in Switzerland and having studied art in Paris, was asked by Prince Max to be the artist for his adventurous expedition across the American West. His duty was to make detailed illustrations of the life, habits and customs of the Northern Great Plains Indians. Bodmer recorded events occurring in the present states of Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming, sketching Indians and their surroundings at every stop. Known for his careful observation and attention to detail, he tried not to romanticize his subjects, but to depict them as they truly were. Today Bodmer’s original watercolors are recognized as among the most painstakingly accurate painted images ever made of Native Americans, their culture and artifacts, and of the scenery of the pristine Old West.
The small watercolor on the logo, the sledge with three dogs, is quite unlike other examples of Bodmer’s work, such as this more easily identified Dog Sledges of the Mandan Indians, an aquatint engraving from Prince Maximilian’s Travels in the Interior of North America, 1839-43.
The logo image is an odd little drawing, almost amateurish, but a close look shows pencilled images below the sled, as though this was merely an informal unfinished study of the subject. Perhaps an artistic bit of note-taking. Or maybe it really was Prince Max’s attempt at an illustration? Whatever the case, it’s a compelling image, and nicely portrays mushing history.
Worth noting: Bodmers Journey, Friend of the Indians and His Adventurous Voyage is a newly released documentary film about Prince Maximilian and Karl Bodmer’s incredible expedition across America’s early west.