LET US SAY that when peace threw open the West that had lain neglected from 1861 to 1865, the regions beyond the Missouri were still, to most Americans, the same Idea they had been before. That idea was complex; it took in both desert and garden, sterile wilderness and happy hunting ground, danger and adventure and opportunity, sanctuary and exile. In any of its phases it was big, grandiose, fabulous. It stunned the imagination or detonated words of prophecy. It was Ophir, it was Canaan, it was New Jerusalem, it was the high road to Asia. The interior West which was at first leaped over — Great Plains, Rockies, Plateau Province, Great Basin — had its own gaudy claims on the popular imagination which were later in being corrected by observation. This West too was fable. Between 1846, when the western part of it came into American possession and the eastern part became not a frontier but an interior, and the end of the eighteen-seventies, when the realities had been partly assayed, its history was in many ways a transition from fable to fact.
Before the nation in any numbers took out to Oregon or California or the Zion in the desert, following whatever dream of wealth or empire or heaven on earth worked upon them, there were reasonably accurate reports on what lay along the western trails. The quality of wonder did not notably distort the records of Lewis and Clark, Zebulon Pike, or Dr. James, who wrote up the Long Expedition. Scientists, explorers, fur traders — Bradbury, Brackenridge, Nuttall, Bonneville, even Schoolcraft, even Catlin, wrote essentially what they saw. Actualities were very specific in Gregg’s Commerce of the Prairies. Maximilian of Neuwied came into the upper Missouri country in 1833 with a zeal for fact that would have done credit to a German candidate for a Ph.D. Sportsmen, buffalo hunters, historians on a holiday, artists such as Seymour, Miller, Bodmer, Catlin, coursed the West for forty years between Lewis and Clark and the Mexican War, and though they did not hit it all and did not learn everything about what they hit, they did bring back in words and pictures (and flora, fauna, artifacts, tame Indians) a good deal of uncolored fact.
Yet something happened to the facts they returned with. They went into the maw of that great machine that at once creates and obeys public opinion, and they came out something else. In the popular mind the West stayed fabulous, partly because many of its very facts were fabulous. Who could resist the persuasion of the Comstock or Central City or the Yellowstone? What convert yearning toward Zion could contravene the evidence of the desert blossoming as the rose? Fantasy won also because ideas are like dye thrown into moving water, and American minds two or three generations later and thousands of miles away could be tinged with the coloring of a Rousseau or a Chateaubriand, the German romantics or Samuel Taylor Coleridge. It won because what people wanted was not facts at all, but corroboration of legendry and lore. Though the reports of sober scientific gentlemen circulated, the prints of Mr. Currier and Mr. Ives circulated much better, and these were art, not fact, and were painted by men who had not been there. Look at the Currier and Ives print called “The Last Warwhoop,” “One Rubbed Out,” or any of that marvelous series, and remind yourself that this pictures Kansas. Fantasy, plus the exciting fact of buffalo and Pawnees, made Kansas a near-delirium in the imaginations of thousands of young Americans a hundred years ago. The reaction, plus certain exterminations, has shrunk it now until in the mind of the hurrying tourist it is flat, dull, blistering, drouthy, dusty, uncouth, the abode of the clodhopper and the cyclone. Both versions of that region are almost pure fiction.
Some variant of the same strain of ideas that led William Gilpin to aggrandize the political and economic future of the West, distort its climate and resources, and falsify its natives misled many kinds of Americans — novelists, travelers, painters, reporters, speculators, railroad or Mormon proselytizers among Europe’s poor — into doing the same. The best copy was sensational copy. As art or promotion one does not quarrel with this. Some of the Currier and Ives prints are spectacularly good, far better than any buyer had a right to expect for fifteen cents. It is only as geographical, historical, or sociological record that these pictures and the journalism and dime-novel literature that matched them are impeachable. There was too little factual corrective, too little allowance for swiftly changing times, and trouble ensued when people ignorant of the West and needing to know a lot about it mistook imagination for observation and art for life.
The romanticizing of the West as the final and culminating home of the American Dream, of free land, of individual liberty, of adventure, action, drama, color, left us a great deal of charming literature, from the journey of Moncacht-Apé to Hopalong Cassidy; and some delightful pictures, and some colorful notions about the Red Man, and these even yet exert a remarkable influence on the West’s notion of itself and on the notions of others about it.1 Dime novel, pulp magazine, comic book, radio and television and movie, horse and tomahawk opera, have perpetuated it as the abiding place of the picturesque: it is appropriate that two of the most active suburbs of Hollywood which produce westerns are at Sedona, in Oak Creek Canyon in Arizona, and at Kanab, Powell’s old headquarters under the Vermilion Cliffs — both in the heart of the Plateau Province, the last home of romance. It is perhaps unkind to observe that the romanticizing of the West also led to acute political and economic and agricultural blunders, to the sour failure of projects and lives, to the vast and avoidable waste of some resources and the monopolization of others, and to a long delay in the reconciling of institutions to realities.
The attempt to prevent the spread of misconceptions about the West would enlist a great amount of Powell’s energies during many years. He and his survey supplied some of the essential factual cor rectives, not the least in the pictures they made and distributed. Yet here too, though he was a thorough and convinced scientist and a believer in facts, Powell.was a child of his own time, touched by the excitement and wonder of new country and new knowledge. He was committed to the philosophy of progress and perfectibility, he had on occasion played the public hero just a little, he affected the romantic poets. It would be misleading to call him a completely objective realist. He liked a dash to things; he also liked things accurately stated. Hence his choice of illustrators.
If he had deliberately tried, he could not have found two men farther apart in their artistic intentions than Thomas Moran and William Henry Holmes, or two who better satisfied the opposed drives of his own nature. With an odd insistence they emphasize the double quality of Powell’s own mind. Like Gilbert and Dutton, they reflect him.
In 1871 Scribner’s Monthly was a brand new magazine looking for brand new ways of attracting a public. One of the inescapable devices, used by every other magazine as well, was to cater to popular interest in the West, with the result that early volumes of Scribner’s are salted with articles on trans-Mississippi topics. Another device was to follow the lead of Harper’s Weekly and specialize in striking illustration. Often it could combine the two, as when in May and June of 1871 it ran two articles on “The Wonders of the Yellowstone” by N. P. Langford, who had visited that little-known region with a party of Montana dignitaries the summer before. Langford’s articles appeared while Powell and Thompson were running the second river expedition down the Green.
Every part of the West has been at some time a county of Cocaigne, a province of Canaan. Langford’s articles, like Powell’s explorations, were factual corrective; though they dealt with wonders, they helped make the Yellowstone a verifiable part of Montana and Wyoming. They had further important effects: they were the opening move in the agitation that would within a year result in the reservation of Yellowstone National Park and the beginning of that philosophy of conservation which has led us to set aside twelve million acres of the public domain as national playgrounds and shrines. And finally, they were the means of introducing to the West the young artist who in the opinion of some became its greatest landscape painter.
When he was called upon to help illustrate the Langford articles, Thomas Moran was compelled to do what dozens of other illustrators were doing all the time — produce on-the-spot drawings without ever having been near the spot. He drew some “singular pictures, from description,” 2 of Langford’s wonders, including one of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone in which the chasm appears about four feet wide and four miles deep, and several of mud volcanoes in which the cones look as if they had been cut out of sheet metal with ,tin shears. None of the woodcuts engraved from his drawings should have made him famous, and yet in a way they did. Langford’s descriptions of the clean wilderness and of scenery on the grandest scale made him itch to get out and paint these things from life, for in training and inclination he was Turner superimposed upon Bierstadt. As it happened, Langford’s first article plus Moran’s imaginary illustrations caught the eye of the alert Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden, director of the Geological and Geographical Survey of the Territories. Hayden’s staff artist, Henry Elliott, had little of Moran’s obvious skill, and could stand reinforcement. Moreover, though Hayden had planned to continue in 1871 his survey of southern Wyoming, overlapping the northern edge of Powell’s territory, he could adjust himself to circumstance when publicity was involved. Yellowstone, with Langford, General Washburn, and others writing about it, was very much in the news. So Hayden turned his whole party northward, and he invited Thomas Moran to come along. Almost by the time his singular Yellowstone woodcuts were in print, Moran was on his way to the Yellowstone in person.3
It was a party almost as well staffed with artists as with the military. Besides the painters Elliott and Moran, there were three photographers along. W. H. Jackson, Hayden’s official cameraman for many years, was one. The others were J. Crissman of Bozeman and J. T. Hine of the Army Engineers expedition which accompanied Hayden’s group part of the way. But not all the artists brought back records. The unhappy Crissman lost his camera over the edge of the Yellowstone Canyon. Hine, after making many negatives, carried them back to Chicago just in time to have them destroyed in the Chicago fire. Elliott got a good many sketches, some of which, undistinguished and unremembered, may be seen in Hayden’s Annual Report for 1871. But the prize artistic products of that summer were Jackson’s photographs and Moran’s sketches and water colors. With Elliott’s cruder efforts, they are the first pictorial record of the Yellowstone country. In the winter following, when Hayden and his colleagues were vigorously agitating for the creation of a national park, it was the pictures, both real and phony, that converted reluctant Congressmen. Four hundred copies of Langford’s articles with the Moran woodcuts were distributed to Congress; Jackson’s photographs and Moran’s water colors from life were spread before suddenly galvanized committees. Yellowstone became the first national park by act of Congress on March 1, 1872.
In the summer of 1872 Moran did not visit the West, but worked at oils based upon his 1871 sketches, especially on his enormous “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.” Then, as later, he used photographs to corroborate his own observation, and the results of his work from life, when compared with the Scribner’s pictures, are instructive evidence that it pays to know what you are painting. The Grand Canyon has widened out from its gothic narrowness, has acquired magnitude and space; the sunny colors which are its greatest beauty have perhaps never been so successfully captured. This picture alone would have been a big step toward the creation of the new palette that the West demanded. The process that is triumphantly concluded in Moran’s “Yellowstone” was one that had begun forty years before in the water colors of Alfred Jacob Miller, when the painter’s eye first began to adjust to prairies that were not green meadows, mountains whose rocks were other than the Appalachian granite, scrub growth whose shades were those of gray and brown and yellow, earth which showed its oxidized bones, and air without the gray wool of humidity across its distances. The new descriptive vocabulary that Captain Dutton helped to provide in his Tertiary History was matched in advance by the new palette of Moran.
So much credit accrued to Hayden from the Yellowstone Park lobby and from Moran’s spectacular paintings that he was eager for further association. He could not have been insensible, either, of the enormous public acclaim that had come to Powell by virtue of his Colorado River adventure, and to Clarence King because of his exposure in 1871 of the spectacular diamond swindle based upon a salted mine in the Uintas. And Powell and King, each with a survey in the field, were Hayden’s rivals for publicity, appropriations, and credit for the scientific survey of the West. Moran was the best stick he had to hit the competition with. “There is no doubt,” he wrote Moran in August, 1872, “that your reputation is made. Still you must do much to nurse it. The more you get, the greater care.... The next picture you paint must be the Tetons. I have arranged for a small party to take you from Fort Hall up Snake River, thence to the Yellowstone, etc.... Put in your best strokes this summer so as to be ready for a big campaign next summer....” 4
But Hayden’s plans were disrupted by an order from the Secretary of the Interior instructing him to make a survey of Colorado, where mining strikes and the beginnings of agriculture and the steady spread of settlement had made knowledge of the local resources necessary. Moran therefore did not visit the Tetons — he did not see them for some years, and never from the east side. Instead, he struck off on a tack of his own by accepting a commission to illustrate three articles in William Cullen Bryant’s ornate picture-and-text report on the nation, to be called Picturesque America.5
As it turned out, the changed plans of Hayden and Moran permitted further association, for in May of 1873 Moran and his writer, W. H. Rideing, accompanied one of Hayden’s parties from Estes Park southward, and out of that hasty trip came sketches for fourteen woodcuts illustrating “The Rocky Mountains.” The standard landmarks are all there — Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods, Estes Park, Long’s Peak, and that Mountain of the Holy Cross whose cruciform snowbanks excited the awe of the seventies.6 These are by no means the first pictures of the Rockies. The very earliest Western artist, Samuel Seymour, had painted them from the camps of the Long Expedition in 1820; R. H. Kern, John Mix Stanley, Baron von Egloffstein, and other official artists with exploring expeditions had been across them; and since the war Alfred Mathews, Theodore Davis, Joseph Becker, and other illustrators had added their bit.7 Nevertheless Moran’s pictures are important, and simply as pictures of authentic Rocky Mountain scenery they excel their predecessors. Their reproduction in Picturesque America, in Hayden’s 1874 Annual Report, and later in the Santa Fe Railroad’s tourist bait, The Rocky Mountain Tourist, made Moran something like an official interpreter of the Rockies as he already was of the Yellowstone.
In this same summer of 1873 he extended his authority to still other regions. Most of June he spent working his way westward along the Union Pacific; the second of his Picturesque America’ articles, “The Plains and the Sierras,” has a heavy coverage of orthodox wonders sketched between the Laramie Plains and Ogden: the bluffs above Green River, Castle Rock and Monument Rock, Devil’s Gate and Devil’s Slide. He drew essentially what the porter still calls passengers to the window to see.
While Moran was sketching the Rockies and the Wyoming Plateau, Powell had been back and forth from Washington on the business of a special Commission to investigate conditions among the Southern Paiutes and other tribes. With George W. Ingalls, recently appointed Agent for the Southwestern Paiutes, he came to Salt Lake on May 6, 1873, for conferences with Indian delegations, and to examine charges of fraud and malfeasance in the Indian Service of the area. By the end of the conferences the scandal seemed important enough to be carried personally back to Washington. Powell carried it, and in July brought back instructions — and an expense account from the Bureau of Indian Affairs — directing him and Ingalls to inquire into the condition of all the Indians in the area, to make a census and prepare a report on conditions and needs. He would be on that business most of the fall, but his path crossed Moran’s at Salt Lake City in July.
Whether Moran had planned to break his trip at Ogden or whether the encounter there with Major Powell changed his plans is not clear. Very probably he and Powell met accidentally. At any rate he did not go on directly from Ogden to the coast. Instead, Prof Thompson, running his topographical survey out from Kanab, got a telegram from Powell saying that Thomas Moran and another artist named Colburn wanted to accompany a party into the country around the Grand Canyon.8 Colburn was not an artist, but the writer assigned to do the piece on the Colorado Canyons for Picturesque America. He and Moran arrived in Kanab on July 30, 1873, and were taken on two pack trips, one with Powell’s photographer Jack Hillers to Mount Trumbull and one with Powell himself, when he came through on Indian business, onto the Kaibab. After starting them off on the Kaibab trip on August 14, Thompson’s journal does not mention them again. To the methodical Thompson they were probably an interruption and a nuisance.
But to Powell, who could smell the possibilities of a situation and appraise men more quickly than his brother-in-law, Moran’s arrival was a stroke of luck. The real benefits of the association did not lie in the six woodcuts which .appeared the next year in Picturesque America, though those were pleasant enough. The real benefits, for Moran as for Powell, would come in the future. Though Moran’s pictures would appear in Hayden’s publications in 1874 and again in 1878, he was never part of Hayden’s survey again. For the next seven years, insofar as he was an illustrator for the Western surveys at all, he was a Powell man, and he helped to illustrate four of the most important Powell Survey reports. Moran himself got from the Grand Canyon trip essentially the same thing that he had got from his Yellowstone trip two years before — sketches from which one of his most famous landscapes would later come. A companion piece to his “Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone,” his “Grand Chasm of the Colorado” would draw the same eventual price from the Congress of the United States — $10,000 — and become a Washington fixture, a trophy brought back from the wild West to match the Crow lodges and the Sioux war bonnets and the titanotherium bones of the National Museum.
Both the Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon pictures emphasize what should not be forgotten, that Moran was anything but a realistic painter, despite his careful observation and his use of photographs to corroborate the evidence of his eyes. Realism was for him a means to an end, not an intention or a philosophy. An idealizer of landscape, he had learned from Turner how to blur as well as how to reproduce details. His temperament matched Captain Dutton’s; he proceeded from facts but attempted to transcend them. An artist’s business, he said, was “to produce for the spectator of his pictures the impression produced by nature on himself.” 9 He said further, “I place no value upon literal transcripts from nature. My personal scope is not realistic; all my tendencies are toward idealization.... Topography in art is valueless. The motive or incentive for my Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was the gorgeous display of color that impressed itself upon me ... and while I desired to tell truly of nature, I did not wish to realize the scene literally but to preserve and convey its true impression. Every form introduced into the picture is within view from a given point, but the relation of the separate parts are not always preserved. For instance, the precipitous rocks on the right were really at my back when I stood at that point, yet in their present position they are strictly true to pictorial nature; and so correct is the whole representation that every member of the expedition with which I was connected declared that he knew the exact spot which had been reproduced.... The rocks in the foreground are so carefully drawn that a geologist could determine their precise nature. I treated them so in order to serve my purpose.” 10
In allowing himself to be cavalier with fact so long as he remained faithful to “pictorial nature,” Moran left room for the heightening of the literal record. His illustrations for Powell’s Exploration of the Colorado River of the West, done on Powell’s personal commission and used first in Scribner‘s, are doubly tainted as exact history. They are not only redrawn and touched up from photographs, but the photographs themselves were taken on the second expedition, not on the first.
There have been literalists to object — such literalists as Julius Stone.11 As illustration, few of Moran’s pictures deserve the ridicule that Stone heaped upon them. Some — “The Start from Green River Station,” “The Gate of Lodore,” “Repairing Boats at Gunnison’s Butte,” and most notably “The Spanish Bayonet in Marble Canyon” — are superb. And if Moran even this late in his career sometimes darkened and narrowed his gorges for ominous effect, that effect was precisely in tune with the desperation of the expedition whose adventure he was illustrating. One of the pictures attacked by Stone as being utterly false to the facts is a nearly literal reproduction of one of Hillers’ photographs, in which what is really a promontory is made by the camera angle to look like an island monument. The principal addition Moran made was to put a full moon behind it in a direction impossible in nature. That distortion does not seem a serious one. As for the more sensational Scribner’s illustrations, including one of Powell dangling one-armed from Bradley’s underwear, one called “Running a Rapid,” and one in which the men flee the blazing campground in Lodore, none of those was by Moran, and Powell carried none of them over into the official Report. Considering that Powell’s story was itself a combination of adventure yarn and scientific record, it is hard to see how illustration could have been more appropriately performed than by Moran’s heightening of Hillers’ literal photographs.
Reality was bound to be filtered through several media anyway, because even after the perfection of photographic techniques it was a long time before facsimile methods of reproduction brought the photograph unmodified before the reader of a magazine. The stereograph was a parlor standby in the eighteen-seventies, but magazine illustration was still by lithograph or wood engraving made from an artist’s sketch, or a double transfer from photograph to drawing to woodcut. Even a good painter like Moran was at the mercy of the craftsmen who interpreted him on woodblock or stone.
At least until someone discovers the original drawings, it is fair to judge Moran’s work for Powell primarily as documentary illustration. The twenty-nine woodcuts that decorate Powell’s Exploration (1875), the three in The Geology of the Black Hills of Dakota (1880), and the nine in Dutton’s Tertiary History of the Grand Canyon District (1882) draw far more often upon photographs than upon personal observation, and even the fine large painting, “The Transept” reproduced in the atlas to the Tertiary History, is based on a sketch by W. H. Holmes. In his long life, Moran found the Grand Canyon one of the two most satisfactory places to live and paint, but his significant painting of it from nature was done outside the Survey. His illustrations for Powell, craftsmanly as they are, have certain petrified mannerisms: his skies are almost always stormy, and he never outgrew the decorative meticulously drawn foreground. Picture after picture moves backward from some carefully realistic detail, too often the leaning snag of a tree, or has its distances accented by the conventional flying birds. Yet even in these second hand pictures limited by the conventions of magazine art, and without the color that makes his finest landscapes striking, Moran has both grace and strength. He was an artist, a good one; and though the galleries may neglect him and the historians of art pass him with a polite or a condescending paragraph, and though his mountains may be a little overgrand, his canyons overawesome, his skies unnecessarily dramatic, his art is recognizably of this earth and this West.
Though Moran was much closer to Powell than to Hayden, and worked with him over a much longer time, he actually derived more help for his own career from Hayden than from the Major. The Yellowstone pictures which Hayden made possible brought him his first fame as a Western artist, and the publication in 1876 of fifteen chromolithographs of his Yellowstone water colors, with a text by Hayden, gave the art-book public and those curious about the West one of the most beautiful books ever to come out of the Western explorations.12 No such gem came out of his work with the Powell Survey. Though Powell’s group also produced, in Dutton’s Tertiary History and its atlas, two of the most beautiful of western books, and certainly the most beautiful of the official publications, Moran’s part in them was secondary. In the main, these two volumes were the happy climax to the artistic career of William Henry Holmes, a painter whose whole function was to make the literal transcriptions from nature that Moran avoided, and to glorify the topography that Moran thought valueless in art.
There is a false spring in the Washington year, according to Henry Adams, when “a delicate mist hangs over Arlington, and softens even the harsh white glare of the Capitol; the struggle of existence seems to abate; Lent throws its calm shadow over society; and youthful diplomats, unconscious of their danger, are lured into asking foolish girls to marry them; the blood thaws in the heart and flows out into the veins, like the rills of sparkling water that trickle from every lump of ice or snow, as though all the ice and snow on earth, and all the hardness of heart, all the heresy and schism, all the works of the devil, had yielded to the force of love and to the fresh warmth of innocent, lamb-like, confiding virtue. In such a world there should be no guile — but there is a great deal of it notwithstanding. Indeed, at no other season is there so much. This is the season when the two whited sepulchres at either end of the Avenue reek with the thick atmosphere of bargain and sale. The old is going; the new is coming. Wealth, office, power are at auction. Who bids highest: who hates with most venom? who intrigues with most skill? who has done the dirtiest, the meanest, the darkest, and the most, political work? He shall have his reward.” 13
That was the Washington that Major Powell, from the time of his first hesitant visit in 1867, had to deal with. He would have to deal with it through all his official life, and he would be scarred by the experience. But things were easier if you had no political favors to ask. Then Washington could seem like a kind of fairyland where all the trees were sugar plum (or pork) trees and the very offices were made of gingerbread. William Henry Holmes, with no notion in his head in coming to Washington in 1871 except to study art, never had to feel the dangers of the Avenue he trod. Like a dutiful tourist, he went one day to the Smithsonian; a man of sensibility, he was attracted by a gorgeous stuffed tropical bird at the entrance; an artist, he got out his pencil and sketched it. His sketch was noticed by a Costa Rican scientist who led him upstairs to see a new book on Central American birds, and there they ran into Professor F. B. Meek, Hayden’s paleontologist friend, who hired Holmes on the spot to draw fossils. Somewhat later, Hayden saw his fossil drawings and asked him to go along on the 1872 expedition to the Yellowstone, taking the place vacated by Moran.14 Thus in a few casual strokes Washington’s growing scientific group, as closely knit as a university faculty and far more powerful, could divert art to the purposes of science and sketch the outlines of a career.
On that 1872 expedition Holmes made what must be the earliest drawings of the spectacular Teton range, as well as many of the Wind River Mountains and of the Yellowstone. He also, with characteristic intensity, took up the study of geology, and he continued that study in subsequent seasons after Hayden moved the Survey to Colorado in 1873. His drawing was itself a part of his geological studies, for from the beginning he showed something close to genius for reproducing the very textures and the characteristic fracture planes and erosional forms of rocks. Moran’s rocks in his painting of the Yellowstone Canyon could be read by a geologist but were there for other reasons; in Holmes’ drawings all the rocks are there to be read by geologists and topographers. He was making the sort of topographical sketches that Egloffstein had made for Ives and Beckwith as an aid to the mappers,15 but where Egloffstein was either merely literal or markedly inaccurate, Holmes managed to be pictorial and often striking. He made panoramas in great numbers and with great speed. They have such a persuasive look of reality that stratification can be read as far away as the drawing can be seen, and anyone familiar with the country reproduced has an instant shock of recognition. By 1873 Hayden’s Annual Report had begun to add praise for Holmes’ drawings to the customary accolade for Jackson’s photographs. By 1874 Hayden had made Holmes an assistant geologist, and by 1875, the year when Powell’s Exploration finally appeared, he was in charge of a division, exploring the little-known San Juan region in the southeastern corner of Powell’s Plateau Province.
Since Holmes does not figure in the art histories or the galleries at all, he must be viewed entirely in the government publications for which he drew. His sketches are in all the Hayden Survey Annual Reports from 1872 to 1878, and in the first two volumes of Hayden’s Bulletin.16 There are sketches from life of the cliff dwellings in the San Juan country, supplementing the famous photographs that Jackson took on the 1874 trip when he discovered Mesa Verde. There are profiles and sketches of geological features in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and there are literally dozens of the spectacular panoramas at which Holmes excelled — great sweeps of the Front Range, the Wind Rivers, the Tetons, the Gallatin Range, La Sal and Abajo, the Sage Plain, Montezuma Canyon. With equal facility he caught the essential structure of both alpine mountains and the long horizontally bedded plateaus. Ruskin, who insisted on a landscapist’s knowledge of the anatomy of the earth, would have found Holmes letter-perfect in this at least.
With the 1876 season the survey of Colorado was completed, and Hayden’s parties drifted back toward northern Wyoming. By 1878, the last year of the Hayden Survey, Holmes was a full-fledged geologist, and it was his geological report on the Yellowstone that really summed up Hayden’s work there. With the folder of unbound atlas sheets that accompanied this last of Hayden’s reports are three marvelous Holmes panoramas, two of the Wind Rivers near the headwaters of the Green, and one of the Tetons from Gros Ventre Butte. They seem so actual that the eye instinctively searches out climbing routes on their slopes. Though they are as far as possible from that idealization of landscape practiced by Moran, and though they lie somewhere close to both photograph and diagram, and though their purpose is the most utilitarian sort of scientific illustration, as utilitarian as the drawing of fossils, yet it is impossible not to feel that somehow they manage also to be art.
Dr. Hayden’s work was scattered and disorganized, and he claimed more credit than was due him, but he did make very great contributions during his twenty-five years in the West. Not the least of these, as he noted himself, was the collection of more than two thousand negatives that Jackson had amassed by 1875. Jackson’s pictures had done much, Hayden said, “to secure truthfulness in the representation of mountain and other scenery,” of which, “twenty years ago, hardly more than caricatures existed.” 17 And what could be said about his photographer — or about Hillers of the Powell Survey and O‘Sullivan of the King and Wheeler Surveys — could be said of Moran and even more positively of Holmes. It is true that his sketches did not have a popular sale as photographs did, and true that he did not appear in the magazines, the galleries, or the Philadelphia Centennial and the other expositions as Moran did. He was limited strictly by the circulation of the government reports in which he appeared. But in his way he clarified the West more than any of them. A Holmes panorama cuts through the haze, it is clear to the farthest distance as no photograph ever is. By almost imperceptible tricks of contrast it emphasizes lines of stratification and the profiles of erosional forms. More impressively than any Western artist, even Moran, he captured the plastic qualities of rock. Look at his sketches: the architecture of his sedimentaries is instantly recognizable, his granite could be nothing else, his lava is frozen motion.
When the consolidation of the Western surveys into the United States Geological Survey in 1879 left Holmes out of a job, he promptly turned back to the art studies that had been interrupted by the encounter with the tropical bird in the Smithsonian. During the winter of 1879-80 he hobnobbed in Europe’s art capitals with Frank Duveneck and other American painters, but by the summer of 1880 he was wanted again for the sort of job he did better than anyone else. Dutton wanted him to draw the Grand Canyon, and with his usual promptness Clarence King appointed Holmes an assistant geologist with the United States Geological Survey and packed him off for Kanab on July 3, 1880.18
Holmes thus joined the Powell Survey after it had ceased to exist, for it, like Hayden‘s, Wheeler’s, and King‘s, had been disbanded by the consolidation. The definitive work on the Grand Canyon that Powell might have done was being done by a collaborator, would be illustrated by a Hayden man, and would be published by a bureau with which Powell then had technically nothing to do, though he would become its head the next year. Nevertheless this book was the true culmination of the geological work Powell had begun in 1867, and it was pure good fortune that Holmes was available to illustrate it. There could have been no happier combination than Dutton and Holmes, a poetic and speculative geologist and an artist with geological training and a genius for the literal. As soon as he saw what Holmes was doing from the Kaibab rims, Dutton wrote in raptures to King.19 He had every reason to.
Only three artists had been before Holmes into the canyon country. To the first, Baron von Egloffstein, artist and topographer with the Ives Expedition of 1857, Dutton attributed much of the common misconception of the canyon, for Egloffstein so exaggerated verti cality and narrowness, and so restricted the range of view in his pictures, that “never was a great subject more artistically misrepresented or more charmingly belittled.” 20 The second, John E. Weyss, was with Wheeler in 1871 and 1872, but his pictures were not reproduced until the publication of Wheeler’s GeographicalReport in 1889, and anyway his sketches represent not the Grand Canyon proper, but its environs: the Crossing of the Fathers, the mouth of the Paria, the Valley of the Virgin.21 The third artist, Moran, had worked only briefly in the field up to this time, and had depended mainly upon Hillers’ photographs. Holmes is thus, both for the extent of his coverage and the authenticity of his pictures, the most important early artist of the Grand Canyon. Though there are nine Moran woodcuts in the Tertiary History and one painting, “The Transept,” in the atlas, and though the volumes also contain some of Hillers’ photographs badly reproduced by Heliotype, Holmes is the real illustrator of Dutton’s monograph.
It is his illustrations, woodcuts, photoengravings, and chromolithographs that make the Tertiary History the most beautiful book produced by any of the surveys. The nine panoramas that Holmes made for the atlas are even finer; they must represent the highest point to which geological or topographical illustration ever reached in this country. The folio size gives them breadth and space commensurate with their subject. Holmes’ marvelous plastic sense gives them both form and perspective. The lithographing and printing are probably the best that even Julius Bien, for years the chief lithographer of maps and illustrations for all the surveys, ever turned out. To open the Tertiary History atlas to any of its double-page panoramas is to step to the edge of forty miles of outdoors. I can think of no pictures of the Grand Canyon, literal or idealized, which have so much of the canyon’s own precision and stillness. Yet these are drawn to illustrate the recession of cliffs, the character of the Great Denudation, the lava dykes in the walls, the architecture of buttes and amphitheaters.
For Holmes, though he was never properly a part of the Powell Survey, the Survey did something that Hayden had never done. It gave him scenery worthy of his highest powers, and reproduction on a scale and of a quality unrivaled even in the lavish government publications, which were uniformly ahead of most commercial books of the eighteen-eighties. This was Holmes’ real triumph as artistic geologist and geological artist. He did many fine sketches and panoramas for Gilbert’s Lake Bonneville, but publication was long delayed, and before it came Holmes was deep in another interest, archaeology, drifting away from the making of pictures and toward administration and museum work. Never again would he sketch such superb views as he had sketched from the rims of the canyon, from the desert below the Vermilion Cliffs at Short Creek, from the Kaibab overlooking the barren Marble Canyon Platform, from Vulcan’s Throne at the mouth of the Toroweap.
From the end of 1880 on, Holmes devoted himself to editing the final publications of the Hayden Survey, overseeing all illustration for the Geological Survey publications, studying primitive art in the Smithsonian and in the field. He left Washington to become head curator of Chicago’s Field Museum, returned to take a similar post at the National Museum in Washington, left that to succeed Powell as head of the Bureau of Ethnology in 1902, and left that to direct the new National Gallery. Energetic, austere, a little forbidding, he was a sound representative of that multi-purpose American type which the times seemed to turn out in great numbers, the type to which Powell, Dutton, King, Pumpelly, Coues, Ward, Nathaniel Shaler, and even F. V. Hayden belonged. All his life he managed in some way to combine science and art, but the art was gradually pushed backward and away from his primary interests. The minutiae of science that would have maddened most artists never bothered him at all. Joseph Pennell, one of Holmes’ Washington acquaintances and himself a great illustrator, threw up his hands over him. Once, Pennell says, in trying for a job on the Survey, “I was given a sort of profile map which Holmes had made in pencil and told to copy it in ink. Holmes said he had made it with the thermometer away below zero, thawing the lead pencil, or himself, over a fire between his legs as he drew. I felt like telling him, as I used to be told, ‘there is no merit in that.’ ... I took the map and improved it, and I did not get on the Survey. But how Holmes, who could make the most stunning direct watercolors, should have preferred this sort of drudgery was beyond me mentally as well as artistically.”22
Possibly it was the geologist in Holmes who liked that sort of drudgery. Possibly it was some stubborn disinclination to “improve” nature that kept him a scientific artist, a glorified illustrator. But at least once, when there was no cause for improving on nature because nature was superlative, once when pure geology was art, he made such pictures as no one has made since, and contributed to the clarification of the Plateau Province something in the line of Powell’s own ambition: art without falsification.