“CHEYENNE TO DEADWOOD”
With this sculpture I explore the unique relationships people ‘out west’ found themselves in while traveling. I put in the forefront of people’s minds the host of personalities that mingled west of the Mississippi. Represented are the immigrant stationmaster and his hired hands, the stable bum with a broke leg. There is a Chinaman and stoic Indian. I show a family with children, a soldier and a cowboy. Front and center is a woman who finds herself in new surroundings (out of place and not really knowing what she’s got herself into). I depict the old coot and a flea bitten dog that lives off of scraps. I set this piece within the backdrop of a stagecoach, all being overlooked upon by the weathered man riding shotgun.
Look for the subtle clues that will let you go deeper into the piece. Notice the whiskey that wrecked havoc amongst the Native Americans….I placed a case of the ‘fire water’ at the feet of the Indian. There is a strong box being watched by an armed guard (Gold was a huge part of bringing people out west). There are tin cans of empty food (“Yes!” Out west they had tin cans of food). The cowboy travels with his saddle (A cowboy’s string of horses was often provided by the outfit he worked for). The Chinaman represents the thousands of his race that built the railroad and then disseminated into the west. There is a hatbox still to be unloaded (I’m quite sure there is plumage from an exotic bird from South America within its contents…quite a sensation, back in the day). The young boys have marbles (A mainstay among boys of that era). The father and two boys are not seen with a wife / mother (Did she pass away in childbirth? Such a circumstance was common in that era). Tucked in the ‘boot’ of the stagecoach is a bottle of whiskey for the driver….to take the chill off during the long cold stretches). The hunger for information, from relatives and back east, was highly prized – note the leather pouch to carry the U.S. Mail.
As an aside: It’s easy to get caught up in creating the traditional cowboy and Indian portrayals. My mentor, Fritz White, once told me, “I’m so tired of the same damn people creating the same damn things over and over.” He continued, “When you create a piece, make it so unique that no one has ever seen anything like it before.” From that one statement, I’ve come to love sculpting the fringe side o f the ‘Old West’.
After sending and email to James Nottage (Vice President & Chief Curatorial Officer of the Eiteljorg Museum) with this photo, he replied: “The picture you sent is one of my favorites. This, of course, is the Deadwood stage made famous by Buffalo Bill Cody, standing in front of the front wheel. The young man to his right is Johnny Baker, the trick shot. Show manager John Burke is the one slightly behind and between them. Buck Taylor the “King of the Cowboys” is in front of the rear wheel with his arm on the wheel. The bearded man on top with two of his children is the great John Y. Nelson, stage driver, scout, etc. The Indian woman next to Cody is Nelson’s wife with the third of their children. I wish I knew who the stage driver on the far left is. But as you say, research never ends. It is our excuse for continuing to have fun with it!”