Blogs

Alec Soth's "Sleeping by the Mississippi"

Alec Soth’s Sleeping by the Mississippi, a distillation of images taken on several trips down the Mississippi River, is the artist’s addition to the canon of road-trip photography books. Sleeping meanders through a somber tableau of portraits and landscapes the artist encountered using the storied river as his guide. A preponderance of images referencing sleeping and dreaming thematically hold the images together and relate to Soth’s interest in making art in the liminal state between waking and dreaming. In the colophon Soth writes, "My dream was realized in the making of this book. There is no greater joy than wide-eyed wandering.”

MACK, publisher of the latest edition of Sleeping by the Mississippi, recognizes the book as "one of the defining publications in the photobook era."

In addition to having copies of all the published editions, the museum's research library has a rare, unpublished mock-up with original inkjet prints (edition of 30). An exhibition featuring all these editions gives viewers an opportunity to study the evolution of this photobook classic. Please visit the library’s reading room during our public hours to view these books through September 2018.

View text panel and checklist.

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A Bibliographical Adventure Across Centuries

Ron Tyler, retired director of the museum, is researching a book on Texas-related lithographs and recently contacted the museum’s research library to help him get a copy of a book manuscript, American View Books Printed by the Glaser/Frey Lithographic Process: Including Architecture, Local History, and Scenes Along the Early American Railroads: a Bibliographical History (1985) by Herman H. Henkle. The Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University holds the only known copy. A couple of weeks ago while in New York attending the Art Libraries Society of North America’s annual conference, I made arrangements to visit the Avery Library’s rare book collection to digitize the manuscript for him.

2018-03-02_sam-duncan-avery-library-scanning-henkle-book.jpg^ Sam Duncan, Head of the Library and Archives at the Amon Carter, stands beside a book scanner in the Avery Library rare books room at Columbia University

The manuscript reveals that Henkle was very near publishing his book. He had been working for years to locate, acquire, and write about viewbooks published in the United States in the late nineteenth century that were printed by either of two German firms using a special lithographic process. He later enlisted the help of Herbert Mitchell, a bibliographer at the Avery. Henkle died in 1987 shortly after he finished his manuscript.

Louis Glaser of Leipzig and Charles Frey of Frankfort both developed and used a distinctive form of lithography that was able to produce small images with fine photograph-like detailing printed in a range of sepia/brown inks. Henkle concludes that the images were based on photographs sourced from a wide range of photographers and asserts they were not likely produced using a photolithographic process. The resulting "souvenir" viewbooks were small in size with the images printed on an accordion fold sheet so that when unfurled, the long procession of images countered the diminutive size of the closed book.

2018-03-13_over-the-south-park-unfolded.jpg^ Over the South Park to Leadville. Denver: Chain & Hardy, 1880 (printed by Louis Glaser, Leipzig, for Wittemann Brothers, New York). ACMAA Research Library, F781 .M39 folder 88, item 1

2018-03-13_over-the-south-park-detail.jpg^ Over the South Park to Leadville. (detail of "Chestnut Street, Leadville"). Denver: Chain & Hardy, 1880 (printed by Louis Glaser, Leipzig, for Wittemann Brothers, New York). ACMAA Research Library, F781 .M39 folder 88, item 1

2018-03-13_over-the-south-park-cover.jpg^ Over the South Park to Leadville. (cover). Denver: Chain & Hardy, 1880 (printed by Louis Glaser, Leipzig, for Wittemann Brothers, New York). ACMAA Research Library, F781 .M39 folder 88, item 1

2018-03-10_henkle-glaser-frey-sepia-ink-analysis.png^ Ink analysis from American View Books Printed by the Glaser/Frey Lithographic Process: Including Architecture, Local History, and Scenes Along the Early American Railroads: a Bibliographical History (1985)

Henkle and Mitchell’s unprecedented study analyzes a moment in American printing when a cadre of publishers, eager to feed and profit from the public’s desire for viewbooks, created a cross-continental printing arrangement with specialized lithographers in Germany. They produced a remarkable set of books that now are important records of urban and rural America, along with being interesting examples of an unusual printing technique.

One of the book’s chief contributions is the thorough bibliography of all known examples produced by the German firms. Imagine my surprise to find an announcement on page 116 saying that, "pages 116-195 of the bibliography are formatted in the computer, but were withheld for decision on whether to reformat to 7 lines instead of the present 6 lines per inch …" Avery catalogers quickly changed their description of the manuscript to reflect the missing pages. This significant lacuna is perhaps a lesson on the enduring value of paper and the ephemeral nature of digital files: we’re lucky that Henkle printed a paper copy and that it survives, but we’re now faced with the possibility that the digital file with the missing section of the bibliography is lost. Henkle provides a few clues about the digital file in the printed manuscript: it was "formatted on an IBM personal computer using Hammerlab Corporation’s LETTRIX typefaces: Gothic and Orator …" A letter included with the manuscript from Henkle’s son, David, may lead to the missing section of the bibliography. Ron and I intend to reach out to the son to see if he can find a copy of the digital file. Ultimately we hope to reunite the missing section of the bibliography with the larger manuscript.

It also turns out that museum’s research library has a number of these little books in its collection (not all in this result set are examples printed by Glaser or Frey). Years ago I discovered our cache while working with a library practicum student, who was cataloging materials from the Mazzulla Collection, which contains a preponderance of material on Colorado and the railroads, common subjects of the Glaser/Frey-printed viewbooks. These little marvels captivated me enough to wonder how they were printed, and now through Henkle’s manuscript, many of my questions have been answered.

An Unexpected Celebrity

image_1.jpg^ Karl Struss (1886–1981), Lower Broadway, New York, 1912, gelatin silver print on Japanese tissue, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

We had the honor of welcoming family of artist Karl Struss to the museum archives recently. Struss was one among the pioneering group of photographers in New York who popularized fine art photography. He teamed with the famed Alfred Stieglitz, practitioner of the soft-focus Pictorialist style, to create a body of work that the museum features periodically in the galleries. Struss also had a second career following World War I, in the motion picture industry as a cinematographer. The Amon Carter holds the Struss archive, which includes not only his photography but his letters, memorabilia, and scrapbooks from both periods of his career.

image_2.jpg^ Craig Rhea, Struss’s grandson, and his partner, Allen Kieffer, viewing Struss photographs

image_3.jpg^ Program of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, vol. 1, no. 1 (November 1927), Amon Carter Museum of American Art

The visit revolved around Rhea’s continued interest in and commitment to the work of his grandfather. He and Kieffer came to review prime examples of his photography and look through the manuscript collection, but the ultimate goal was to enrich the archive with a further trove of materials. The additions included key pieces from both parts of Struss’s career, such as an important commercial assignment for the Bermudan government and stills taken on the movie set of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ (1925). The most significant gift, though, is a series of letters from Struss’s much idolized older brother, Will, who died tragically at age twenty-two. It was Will who encouraged his brother to start making the photographs that would ultimately be his life’s work. The archive did not have anything from this important influence on Struss.

image_4.jpg^ Rhea and Kieffer presenting additions to the museum’s Struss Archive

What we did not know was that the family had one final surprise for us. Casually, and with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, Rhea fished out of his bag a small wrapped item. We gathered around as he unwrapped a gleaming gold statuette showing only the slightest hint of tarnish after eighty-nine years. It was the Academy Award (Oscar) that Struss won in 1929 for his cinematography in Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927). The award is all the more special in that it was the first given for cinematography. The statuette returned home with the family, but we were all grateful for such a unique experience.

image_5.jpgimage_6.jpg^ Karl Struss’s Academy Award (Oscar)

We extend our warmest thanks to Craig Rhea, Allen Kieffer, and the Karl Struss Family Trust not only for the amazing experience they delivered, but for their wonderful gifts to the museum’s archives.

What’s In a Name?

Have you ever wondered how a painting gets its title? Sometimes a given title is straightforward, assigned by the artist at the time of production. But often over the intervening years, a painting’s “first title” can shift as it changes hands—a gallery might inadvertently begin calling it something slightly different; or it’s given a slightly different title in an exhibition; or from when it was titled by its creator to today, the painting becomes so distanced from its first title that research is required to get back to the original. In some cases, a title may change to follow shifting trends in culture or politics.

In 1888, Charlie Russell painted a snow scene showing two Anglo cowboys and five Sioux meeting in a blizzard. The work is known today as Lost in a Snow Storm—We Are Friends. Amon G. Carter acquired the work for his personal collection in 1950; thirteen years later, it earned notoriety as the only Western subject to hang in the Texas Hotel suite that John and Jackie Kennedy occupied that fateful night before our nation’s most notorious assassination. Ruth Carter Stevenson had earlier joined forces with other cultural leaders in town to give the President and First Lady a taste of art and culture, Fort Worth style.

1961-144_s.jpg ^Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), Lost in a Snowstorm, 1888, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection

Since Lost in a Snow Storm was painted nearly 130 years ago, it has held several different titles. When Mr. Carter purchased the work from Findlay Galleries in New York, it was called Meeting in a Blizzard, a title first used in 1897. Two years prior, however, it was recorded as Lost in the Snow. By 1900, the painting was published under two different titles: Lost in a Blizzard and a Signal of Peace. When it was exhibited in 1963 at the Hotel Texas, the related brochure identified it as Meeting in a Blizzard. One year later, the title by which it is known today was attached to the picture.

The purpose of this blogpost is not about a first title. It’s to put forward an intriguing notion: One year after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a picture that had been chosen to display for him in his suite took on a more subjective meaning through its subsequent title challenge—a shift that might, in fact, point to the shared global grief that followed his traumatic death. The installation in the Hotel Texas suite underscored arts unifying purpose, creativity transcending politics. President Kennedy had famously said just a month before his assassination, “Art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.” I like to think that it took just a few months for the title of this painting to change from the simple declaration of a meeting to one of friendship in hopes of healing.

a2011-051-014.jpg ^Thomas Eakins, Swimming; Charles M. Russell, Lost in a Snowstorm. Second bedroom, Suite 850, Hotel Texas, Fort Worth, Friday, November 22, 1963. Photo by Byron Scott. Dana Day Henderson and Owen Day Papers, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

The Unconventional Genius of Charles M. Russell

In 2015, the Amon Carter published the final installment of its triad of major publications on the art of Charles M. Russell (1864–1926). The three volumes began in 1993 with Brian Dippie’s landmark work on Russell’s illustrated letters, Charles M. Russell, Word Painter, followed the next year by Rick Stewart’s opus Charles M. Russell: Sculptor.

The third volume—Charles M. Russell: Watercolors, 1887–1926—focuses on the artist’s watercolor output. Rick Stewart, who was the Amon Carter’s director for a decade, authored the principal essay in the book. In a companion essay, Jodie Utter, conservator of works on paper at the Amon Carter, conducted the first scientific study of Russell’s watercolor techniques and materials.

The book, 496 pages in length, is available exclusively from the Amon Carter’s store. The museum makes available online Utter’s essay, The Unconventional Genius of Charles M. Russell, which explores for the first time how the Cowboy Artist painted, in one of the most unforgiving of creative mediums, his beloved masterworks of the American West.

Snow Crystals

Similar to how Dornith Doherty explores the intricacies of seeds and other plant life using x-ray in the exhibition Dornith Doherty: Archiving Eden, W. A. "Snowflake" Bentley (1865–1931) used photomicrography to reveal the beautiful geometry of the snow crystal. For fifty years he photographed this ephemeral and delicate natural form, producing a large body of images that straddle art and science. Using a photomicrograph camera, Bentley patiently caught snowflakes on a piece of black velvet, carefully transferred the crystals to a glass slide, and photographed them through a microscope before they disappeared. Bentley photographed around 5,000 snowflakes during his lifetime and became an authority on the topic, writing, among other articles, the entry for "snow" in the fourteenth edition of Encyclopedia Britannica.

In 1931 Bentley and W. J. Humphreys (1862–1949), a physicist at the U.S. Weather Bureau, published a book that reproduces 2,500 of Bentley's snowflakes together with Humphreys' text on the science of snow crystals. Bentley died from pneumonia after walking home in a blizzard shortly after the book was published. The museum's library owns a rare copy of the first edition of Snow Crystals and is showing it in the reading room as a complement to the Dornith Doherty: Archiving Eden exhibition.

snow_crystals_-_title_page_and_frontispiece.jpg^ Frontispiece and Title Page from Snow Crystals (New York and London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1931)

snow_crystals_-_cover.jpg^ Cover from Snow Crystals (New York and London: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1931)

Land of Promise or Peril?

We recently enjoyed an opportunity to collaborate with Texas Christian University. We have been digitizing our archives, and often the papers we’re working with are difficult to decipher due to age, condition, media, and orthography. The students in Dr. Theresa Gaul's American Literature seminar class transcribed our 200-year-old Andrew Bulger Papers, and they made some interesting discoveries. A selection of the students blogs will be posted to the museum’s feed over the next few days.

This post is by Whitney Lew James, a doctoral student in rhetoric and composition studying academic discourse and genres, translingual theory, multimodal pedagogy, community literacy, and disability studies.

–Jon Frembling, Archivist, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

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^ “These unfortunate people who were principally mechanics with few professional men—had been led to believe they were coming to a much more settled place than the Colony really was in, a place where the people were prosperous and happy. Indeed many of them, who were in comfortable circumstances in their own country on reading the glowing description of the Red River Colony, sold their little properties, and with their families embarked for the ‘Land of Promise.’”—Andrew H. Bulger, Andrew Bulger Papers, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

The passage above is excerpted from a partial page in the Andrew H. Bulger Papers at the Amon Carter. A portion of the papers are Bulger’s drafts of the “Papers on the Selkirk Settlement Rupert’s Land,” which chronicle the history of the Red River Colony, which is in present-day Manitoba country but originally extended into Wisconsin in the United States. The settlement was originally sponsored by Thomas Douglas (1771–1820), the 5th Lord Selkirk, as a humanitarian effort for displaced Scots following the failed Jacobite rising. As the epigram indicates, Lord Selkirk, “friends of the colony” who encouraged emigration, and newly arrived settlers had high hopes for the colony.

The reality was very different. In other sections of the papers, Bulger documents the poor living conditions of the settlers: insects and birds ravaged their “little crops,” prairie fires destroyed their homes, correspondence with the homeland was greatly limited, and natives and fur traders warred over the lands, just to name a few.

Still, the fantasy of “prosperous and happy” communities and America as the “Land of Promise” pulled people to the colony. In fact, we retain many of the same idealized images of the first settlers of the United States. For the most part, we are told the same story of the Americas that Bulger reflects on here. That is, small groups of settlers seeking religious freedom traveled to North America by ship and, while they endured hardship, their industrious efforts led to prosperity, harmonious living, and the “American Dream” as we know it. While our national image of the first Thanksgiving has shifted to consider the complexity of the encounters between settlers and Natives, it is difficult to move away from ideas about who the settlers were and why they came. Bulger’s descriptions of the circumstances of emigration and settlement serve to complicate our understanding of exactly who built our country and under what conditions.

Elsewhere in the Bulger Papers he discusses a prospectus entitled “La Colonie de la Riviere Rouge,” which was “extensively circulated among the cantons of Switzerland, attracted much attention, and induced many families to emigrate,” even as reports from the colony were disappointing. Bulger writes that the false promises disseminated by Lord Selkirk’s agents were explicitly “made to increase the population of the settlement.” While the prospective settlers were deceived about the condition of Red River, those already settled in America expected different emigrants. Bulger writes that, “M. Macdonell [the first governor of the Red River Colony] was not too well please[d] with [German and Swiss emigrants], as they seemed to have been collected from the roving and unsettled class of people… and not likely to make good or industrious settlers.”

Thus, Bulger sheds light on an alternative narrative for immigration. Rather than individuals actively seeking out the Americas for religious freedom or other means of social mobility, at least some emigrants were specifically solicited and deceived in order to develop the colonies. Additionally, settlers that preceded the newest emigrants did not always welcome newcomers who did not fit their ideas about who could contribute to their community, a narrative that we see acted out on the national stage to this day.

While I have been unable to locate the prospectus that Bulger mentions in his papers, census data from the Statistical Review of Immigration 1820-1910 conducted by Mr. Dillingham of the Committee on Immigration does reflect a significant increase in emigration from Switzerland. In 1820, only 31 individuals emigrated from Switzerland, but in 1821 and 1822 emigration spiked to 93 and 110, respectively. While it remains unclear when the prospectus Bulger refers to might have reached the cantons, the hard work by Lord Selkirk’s agents was certainly paying off. Unfortunately, the individuals induced to emigrate abandoned settled lives in their homeland for difficult, unsettled, and precarious positions in the “Land of Promise.” Ultimately, Bulger’s papers provide one more piece of evidence that our romanticization of immigration and American settlement must be revised.

Robert S. Allen and Carol M. Judd, “Bulger, Andrew H.,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, eds. George W. Brown and Ramsay Cook (Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1985)

J. M. Bumsted, "Red River Colony," in The Canadian Encyclopedia (Toronto, Ontario: Historica Foundation of Canada, 1985)

Reports of the Immigration Commission: Statistical Review of Immigration, 1820–1910; Distribution of Immigrants 1850–1900, S. Doc. No. 756 (1911).

Finding Native Voices in the Archives

We recently enjoyed an opportunity to collaborate with Texas Christian University. We have been digitizing our archives, and often the papers we’re working with are difficult to decipher due to age, condition, media, and orthography. The students in Dr. Theresa Gaul's American Literature seminar class transcribed our 200-year-old Andrew Bulger Papers, and they made some interesting discoveries. A selection of the students blogs will be posted to the museum’s feed over the next few days.

This post is by Sarah-Marie Horning, a doctoral student in English studying Southern women’s literature. She is also pursuing a graduate certificate in Women and Gender Studies.

–Jon Frembling, Archivist, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

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^ [Andrew Bulger manuscript page], Andrew Bulger Papers, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Reading much like something out of a James Fennimore Cooper novel, the materials that make up the Andrew Bulger Papers at the Amon Carter hold salacious, brutal, and touching tales of contact and conflict in the embattled spaces of early America and British Canada.

Though the papers are about Andrew Bulger and his exploits during the War of 1812, I found myself drawn in most by the stories of others in the letters. A family of Native Americans are found nearly starving to death in the middle of winter in Wisconsin. A traveling party of British soldiers works to cut their way through “a distance of at least one hundred and fifty miles” of thick ice.

In one especially dramatic scene, a traveling party is ambushed by their Sioux guides, a survivor of the ambush made “his way on his hands and knees” for a purported 24 miles back to the fort to name their attackers, and a series of violent retaliations soon followed.

As this especially complex and violent story of ambush develops, British, American, Sioux, Ojibwa, and other quasi-military and governmental groups all become implicated in a series of entangled alliances and conflicts. The War of 1812, in our popular imagination, is a conflict between America and British Canada. War broke out because of various underlying and proximate causes, but historians typically attribute the War of 1812 to a contest between American territorial expansion and British blockades of American trade routes.

Attempting to preserve their own communities amid these contests, Native tribes took sides in the conflict and were ultimately the ones who suffered most in the war.
But with names like “Gens de la Fucille Tiré” and “Follesavine,” I kept wondering “Who are these people?”

The problem happens because Native tribes were often given French and English slang terms as misnomers for tribal names. The misnomers happen in the Bulger letters because British and American colonists did not recognize Native sign systems. As I searched for the right names, I found myself increasingly interested in uncovering—at least for myself—the history hidden by the colonial practice of renaming. An especially interesting story came to me as I started to trace the “Follsavoines.” Folles Avoines, I eventually discovered with the gracious help of Jon Frembling, Amon Carter Museum library archivist, is not the name of a Native tribe at all. Rather, it is wild rice—a French slang descriptor for the food of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) tribe.

The Ojibwa, as early as the 1700s, had a rich network of trade with Europeans and Canadians, but this cooperation would prove tenuous. British and American imperialism continuously threatened Native tribes. In Pontiac’s Uprising in 1763, Ojibwas helped to reinforce a group of Ottawas, led by their leader Pontiac, in an attempt to take a fort in Michigan and turn back British colonizers who had displaced the French at the close of the French and Indian wars. By the early 1800s, the Ojibwa found themselves further threatened by American territorial expansion and provided aid to the British in the War of 1812 in the hope that they could resist American encroachment. The compromise came from a belief that their only hope of stemming further encroachments by American settlers lay with the British. Tragically, in a war that was not instigated by any Native tribe, scores of Native peoples fighting for both sides perished in the War of 1812.

However, the history of encroachment and battles for control of land in Wisconsin and around the Great Lakes for the Ojibwa (Chippewa) has far from subsided in the succeeding centuries since the War of 1812. The Wisconsin Chippewa tribe and the Red River Band are currently at the center of a very real territorial and political contest as they voted in January of this year to resist the renewal of an easement onto their land by the US government for the maintenance of the Enbridge oil pipeline that has been in operation on the tribal lands for more than 64 years.

William Berens, A. Irving Hallowell, et al., Memories, Myths, and Dreams of an Ojibwe Leader (Montreal, Quebec: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014)

Donald Fixico, A Native Nations Perspective on the War of 1812,” from PBS.org The War of 1812

Michael Johnson, Ojibwa: People of Forests and Prairies (Richmond Hill, Ontario: Firefly Books, 2016)

Encyclopedia Britannica, s.v. “Ojibwa.”

Circulating Myths in Early America

We recently enjoyed an opportunity to collaborate with Texas Christian University. We have been digitizing our archives, and often the papers we’re working with are difficult to decipher due to age, condition, media, and orthography. The students in Dr. Theresa Gaul's American Literature seminar class transcribed our 200-year-old Andrew Bulger Papers, and they made some interesting discoveries. A selection of the students blogs will be posted to the museum’s feed over the next few days.

This post is by Abigail Fransen, a Masters student in English at Texas Christian University. She is also pursuing a graduate certificate in Women and Gender Studies.

—Jon Frembling, Archivist, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Pages 26–30 of the Andrew Bulger Papers take an interesting detour from the rest of the collection’s contents. These pages tell the story of a church bell from a British church in Colonial America taken hostage by the French yet later recovered by British through the help of neighboring Native Americans. Surprisingly, the entire section detailing the bell’s loss and retrieval had been copied verbatim from a short story, called “The Bell of St. Regis,” that circulated in periodicals during the mid-nineteenth century. While it would have been exciting to discover a new event in American history, I realized that this incident speaks to how national myths get circulated.

clipboard01_0.jpg^ Jean-Baptiste Scotin (1678–17__), Canadians Go to War on Snowshoes (ca. 1700), National Archives of Canada

First, there is some semblance of historical truth in “The Bell of St. Regis.” The events took place during the Deerfield Massacre of 1704, in which French and Indian forces attacked the British settlement of Deerfield, Massachusetts, an event which sparked Queen Anne’s War. Sixteen percent of the colonists at Deerfield were killed, and a third were taken captive. Several accounts of the raid have been published, including Rev. John Williams’s The Redeemed Captive (1707), in which Williams, a Puritan minister taken captive, argues that Deerfield’s moral laxity made it vulnerable to evil.

However, as multiple sources point out, there is nothing to suggest the specific events of “The Bell of St. Regis” actually took place. In 1870, George Sheldon, a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, investigated various claims regarding the events and ultimately concluded that “Nothing, then, seems to me more likely than that Williams invented the alleged tradition of the Deerfield or St. Regis bell; but, however originated, it seems quite clear to me that the truth of the story is not sustained by the evidence now known." Williams here refers not to Rev. John Williams but Rev. Eleazer Williams, a Canadian missionary. Francis Parkman, an American historian and author, wrote of meeting Eleazer Williams and decided “The story of the ’Bell of St. Regis’ is probably another of his inventions.” Both Sheldon and Parkman agree that no evidence supports there being a bell at St. Regis or even that St. Regis had been founded as early as the Deerfield Massacre. Parkman does, however, give us a clue as to how the story got circulated. It appears American author Epaphras Hoyt heard Williams’s story and included his own version of it in his own series of Antiquarian Researches (1814). Canadian author John Galt then created his own version of the story, which was published in Fraser’s Magazine for Town and Country (1830). The story can be found in various other periodicals, often anonymously.

While we may not know how Bulger came across “The Bell of St. Regis” or why he decided to reproduce it in this way, its inclusion in his papers is important. For one, it shows how national myths get cultivated and dispersed. Second, Bulger’s interest in this myth, in the midst of his own relationship with French and Native American populations, shows how stories such as “The Bell of St. Regis” continued to be relevant in the United States, even a century later.

Howard H. Peckham, “Williams, John,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, eds. George W. Brown and Ramsay Cook (Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1982)

George T. Davis, "May Meeting, 1870. Letter Relating to William Pynchon; 'St Regis. Bell,'" Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 11 (1869–1870): 311–321.

Francis Parkman, “The Sack of Deerfield,” in The Francis Parkman Reader, ed. Samuel Eliot Morison (New York, New York: De Capo Press, 1998): 389–390.

Writing on Historical Writing

We recently enjoyed an opportunity to collaborate with Texas Christian University. We have been digitizing our archives, and often the papers we’re working with are difficult to decipher due to age, condition, media, and orthography. The students in Dr. Theresa Gaul's American Literature seminar class transcribed our 200-year-old Andrew Bulger Papers, and they made some interesting discoveries. A selection of the students blogs will be posted to the museum’s feed over the next few days.

This first post is by Diana Bueno, a doctoral student in English studying American women’s writing and pursuing a graduate certificate in Women and Gender Studies.

–Jon Frembling, Archivist, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

As I sit here writing this blog post, I have the benefit of recent technology: a laptop, a word processor, and the especially useful “backspace” key, among other things. In reading this post, you will have very little sense of my writing process – you won’t know how many times I rewrote this sentence or what kind of computer or software I used.

Thirty years ago, I would be using a different kind of technology to draft this post: a typewriter, a ream of cheap wood-pulp paper, typewriter ribbon, and a bottle of White Out. Thirty years before that, I’d be at my desk with a fountain pen and ink reservoir, a bottle of ink, and perhaps some fine stationery. With these writing technologies, my writing process, writing instruments, and the kinds of paper and ink I used could be discerned.

As a researcher in an archive, touching the actual manuscript pages, feeling the grooves where the pen scratched the paper, seeing up close the blots and smears where the author’s pen flew across the page (or where it hesitated), smelling the slightly metallic scent of the ink, noting the folds and creases in the paper, all bring the author’s work to life, much like seeing a painting in real life brings insights that seeing a reproduction can’t. Experiencing these tactile, physical parts of the manuscript makes it is easy to imagine you’re Andrew Bulger, alive 200 years ago, preparing to write: huddled by the flickering fire, bent over the small, angled wooden desk inside your modest cabin, manuscript pages lit by the light of a lantern. Outside, winter winds howl and rattle the windows, but you’re focused, reflecting on your past, ready to put pen to paper. But what sort of pen? What kind of ink and paper?

bulger001.jpg^ [Paper binding for the Andrew Bulger manuscript], Andrew Bulger Papers, Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Writing in the early to mid-nineteenth century, Bulger likely would have used both quill pens and dip pens. Metal dip pen nibs date back to ancient Egypt, when they were made of copper and bronze. However, they were not the writing instruments of choice until Bulger’s time, around 1822; until then, long, hollow feathers from geese and turkeys were trimmed and filed to a calligraphic point, with a split channel down the center to facilitate ink running down to the page in a controlled line. With the advent of metal nibs, pens became mass-produced, cheaper, and easier to work with, since they didn’t require sharpening and breaking in like quills. Dates on some of his manuscript pages suggest that Bulger was writing after 1825, so it is possible that he composed at least some of his manuscript with a metal dip pen—certainly this instrument would have been more durable and transportable for a traveling governor and military man.

The ink he would have used, made with iron salts and tinged brown, could get messy, making it a challenge not to spill or drip. Bulger seemed particularly sensitive to the illegibility that repeated cross outs and revisions could create in the course of drafting, because rather than crossing words out and writing in the margins, he often crossed out whole passages or simply stopped and began again—or, interestingly, he would cut up a fresh sheet of paper and paste it over the offending lines, using the blank space to start again. This attention and diligence with regard to legibility suggests that Bulger was hyper aware of the audience that would find and read his papers—and perhaps reveals a characteristic attention to detail that might have made him a successful leader.

Bulger’s paper is not of particularly high quality. The pages don’t have watermarks or embossing, which would have been typical of fine stationery at this time. Instead, Bulger used a large quantity of affordable paper to pen his autobiography—paper that has nevertheless withstood the test of time, absorbing stains and creases but arriving intact at the Amon Carter in 2017.

For those of us studying Bulger, answering these questions of materiality is fairly straightforward, but these questions remain important for any archivist or researcher to ask. Materials reveal critical information about class, about literacy, about the lengths people will go to in order to communicate and write, and even about the author’s emotional connection to a piece of writing. I have heard archivists talk about finding tearstains on old letters between lovers or family members. The material conditions of Bulger’s papers may not reveal shed tears, but along with the content, they paint a clear picture of a diligent, literate, well-respected man devoted to chronicling his life in a clear and accessible way.

Quill Pen | How to Make Everything – a fascinating demonstration of how a traditional goose feather quill pen would have been produced in the 19th century.
 
Nigel Hall, “The Materiality of Letter Writing: A Nineteenth Century Perspective,” in Letter Writing as a Social Practice, eds. David Barton and Nigel Hall (Philadelphia: Pennsylvania: John Benjamins Publishing, 2000).
 
Preserving the Gettysburg Address – a Cornell archivist explains how they have preserved a famous mid-19th century document, based on knowledge of ink, paper, and pen used.