Will they do it?
Gale F. Trapp, 2011
Acrylic on hardboard
By now, it’s no secret that I am partial to the history of the Old West. My interest, spurred first by stories of my ancestors, Mormon pioneers, crossing the plains and Rocky Mountains with handcarts, has never wavered. I love the stories of their determination, sacrifices and just plain grit in the face of hardships. I often wonder if I would have the courage to pick up, leave everything behind – friends, possessions, businesses – to start over in some desolate area, based solely on the belief that leaving was the right thing to do. Of course, in some cases, because of physical and emotional persecution, leaving was really the only thing to do.
I’m sure it helps that I was born in my grandparent’s log cabin, an unexpected twin, and my brothers and I spent years playing make believe with my grandfather’s rifle, saddle and even my grandmother’s treasured spinning wheel. Stored inside what we called the granary was a wonderland of strange treasures from the past, treasures that fueled my imagination and fascination with history.
Learning about my grandfather, a blacksmith who left his native Sweden to journey to America and make his fortune, and then spent time in Deadwood, South Dakota back when it was a wild frontier town filled with legendary characters such as Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, further encouraged my imagination. I wanted to be him, living adventurously, free from the constraints of modern society.
As an adult, I’ve spent much of my free time studying the history of our country, from its founding through the 20th century. However, most of my concentration has been on the life and times of the mountain men and their sometime allies, sometime enemies – the Indians. I admit, as I read of their times, life-style and adventures, I want to live them myself. And, in my mind I do, every time I research their lives, participate in living history, build a rifle, and create art documenting their story.
“The white buffalo woman disappeared over the horizon. Sometime she might come back.
As soon as she vanished, buffalo in great herds appeared, allowing themselves to be killed so that the people might survive.
And from that day on, our relations, the buffalo, furnished the people with everything they needed – meat for their food, skins for their clothes and tipis, bones for their many tools.”
–Legend of the White Buffalo Woman, Brule Sioux
“We had buffalo for food, and their hides for clothing and our tipis. We preferred hunting to a life of idleness on the reservations where we were driven against our will.”
“Buffalo were the lords of the prairie. To European settlers traveling across America’s Great Plains in the early 1800s, the prairie wind was a constant companion: a gentle whisper echoing across the vast sea of grass that carpeted the center of the North American continent. Sometimes, however, the rumbling of thunder could be heard in the distance, though no storm clouds could be seen. Then the ground would begin to tremble, and suddenly the astonished newcomers would be surrounded by a thundering herd of hulking animals that stretched further than the eye could see. The majestic welcoming committee made it clear that the settlers had, at last, arrived in the buffalo nation — a land where tens of million of American Bison held sway.”