The Art Museum of Missoula Montana
Museum of Fine Arts, Univ of Montana

E.S. Paxson signature

Edgar Samuel Paxson
In the fall of 1877 near the tiny settlement of Watson in Montana Territory, a Bannock-Shoshone hunting party broke its valley camp and headed for high country. Edgar Samuel Paxson rode among the mounted party, not as an artist-observer, but as a fellow hunter. For three months Paxson stalked game and shared campfires with his Indian companions.

This was no once-in-a-lifetime frontier experience for a man more comfortable in an artist's smock than in buckskins. It was one of many adventures of a man who had plunged headlong into the turbulence of Montana frontier life. After Paxson arrived in Montana Territory in early 1877 at age twenty-five, his various employments as scout, messenger and meat hunter for cattlemen, as well as stagecoach guard, telegraph line rider and drover, provided him with a fantastically rich frontier experience.

When he traversed the Lolo Trail, climbing over the deadfalls and struggling through the mud, it was only days after Chief Joseph and his Nez Perce had negotiated the trail in their tragic 1,500-mile retreat through Idaho and Montana. He became familiar with Indian encampments and encountered Indian parties, both friendly and hostile. He saw the Indians work, fight and celebrate. He played "three card monte" with old warriors and young bucks. He slept beside the trail and rode a buffalo-wise, iron-jawed range cayuse from settlement to settlement, sometimes through blizzards, sometimes through the bright Montana sunshine. For friends and acquaintances, he had soldiers and Indians, mountain men and cowboys. He mastered the arts of wilderness living from "talking by signs" to surviving in a snowbound camp. His frontier experience was so broad that he became quite thoroughly a product of the American West - an authentic frontiersman - before he became a painter, dedicated to preserving on canvas the West he had known.

By the mid-1890's frontier life was becoming a thing of the past. But Paxson was a man in his forties. He had lived nearly two decades in Montana, absorbing the essence and details of the Old West. He faced before him another two decades to devote to painting.

Only a very elite group of Western artists had a similar opportunity and followed through with it. A very few became famous. A few more, including Paxson, have been rediscovered though their work has always been known to the most ardent Western art devotees. Yet even among this exclusive group of Western artists, none had a broader frontier experience from which to draw than E.S. Paxson.

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E.S. Paxson Frontier Artist
by William Edgar Paxson, Jr. Copyright © 1984 Pruett Publishing Co.
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