The Way the West was Won

Imagine with me, if you will, what it took to take a 2,000-mile journey on foot, to an untamed wilderness, taking few possessions, hoping for good weather conditions, decent health and no encounters with other people hostile to you. Imagine your wife and young children walking, day after day, by your side, sometimes hungry, often thirsty and tired, frequently scared, no roadside rest stops, restaurants or hotels. Really, no roads, just a well-worn trail and trail guide to keep you headed towards your destination.

Opportunity, for the bold and the brave, the opportunity for a better life, religious freedom, wealth, and land was the motivation for this journey of a lifetime. It wasn’t long before trading and hunting routes blazed by fur traders and Native Americans were well worn, deep and wide, as thousands of wagons, animals and people passed by.

As many as a half million people traveled this way and along the way, numerous individuals died. There is a body buried every 80 yards along the trail, with over 20,000 men, women and children dying during their journey. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to bury a loved one, and then continue on, one foot after another.

Women were an important part of settling the West; their lives were difficult, fraught with hard work, and sorrow. As I painted this, I thought of my ancestors and those of my wife, making their slow, deliberate way across those wide-open plains, crossing rivers and even mountains, burying their children and their spouses, on their way to the Great Salt Lake Valley.

The Way the West was Won Gale F. Trapp, 2013

The Way the West was Won
Gale F. Trapp, 2013

In this painting, I tried to convey the reluctance of a mother leaving behind her beloved child, facing the necessity of moving on, the cow seeming to sense the somber mood, while the wagon train continues the journey west. The mountain peak represents the obstacles still ahead, the dark sky the gloom of the moment. Not all is sad though, as little children in the wagon represent the hope for the future.

Diamond in the Rough

The Joslyn Art Museum in downtown Omaha, Nebraska was a real jewel of a find for this Western art lover. I recently had the pleasure of attending my granddaughter’s college graduation there, but never having visited the area before, I really had no idea that this little treasure even existed.

The art museum is world class and renowned for the large collection of works by Karl Bodmer (a Swiss artist known for capturing the 19th century American West with accurate, detailed depictions), but the collection didn’t stop there. Works by George Catlin, Charles Russell, Alfred Bierstadt, Remington and others were on permanent display. These artists first fired my imagination and helped develop my lifelong fascination with the West. This is a level of artistry I can only aspire to.

I was delighted that the museum allowed non-flash photography, so here are a few photos of paintings that really caught my eye.



landscape painting

mountain man painting

stealing horses

So, would you ever consider a stop in Omaha to visit the Joslyn? I know I’d go back.