Extremely Rare Watercolor of a Buffalo Hunt Painted during the US Army Expedition during the Mormon Uprising of 1858


Extremely Rare Watercolor Painting of a Buffalo Hunt Painted during the US Army Expedition during the Mormon Uprising of 1858– This fine watercolor dates to c. 1858 – 1859; landscape depicting a buffalo hunt; army officer, in uniform; there are two other men depicted in the painting who appear in civilian clothing, may have been scouts; the army officer hangs on side of his saddle, perhaps falling off of horse, in response to charging buffalo; officer’s uniform conforms to the U.S. Army regulations for 1858: his frock coat bears four buttons on the back tails and bullion rank straps on each shoulder; his sky blue pants and his M1858 Hardee hat (which has fallen off his head) also conform to the Army Regulations of 1858; both this officer and the closer depicted scout, are both riding on M1847 Grimsley dragoon saddles; mounted on both saddles are pommel holsters, which may have carried M1851 Colt Navy or M1858 Remington New Model Army revolvers; the scout has his pistol drawn to shoot a buffalo; this pistol appears to be some kind of revolver; the scout’s horse tack is augmented with a breast strap and brass martingale; mountains visible in background; a previous analysis of this painting, when the work was out of its current frame, indicated the existence of a pencil sketch of the foreground of the composition of this painting, appearing on the verso; this painting is framed, so examination or confirmation of existence of this sketch was impossible, as we have chosen not to remove it from the frame, at this time; painting is in fair to good condition; light foxing throughout; creasing; small tears at corners; painting mounted to a second sheet of paper that exhibits tears and paper loss at corners and bottom edge; Measurements: frame size – 14-1/4” x 10-1/8”; image size – 13-3/4” x 8-1/4”. In the early summer of 1858, a U.S. Army detachment under the command of Brevet Brig. Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston, consisting of more than 3,500 military and civilian employees, including cavalry, artillery, infantry and support units, the largest single troop concentration then in the United States, was sent by President James Buchanan to stop a perceived Mormon rebellion, which came to be known as the Utah War. Research indicates that this painting was, in all likelihood, painted by Pvt. Henry L. Sommer, attached to the U.S. Army’s 7th Infantry, in the late 1850s; Sommer would complete several paintings and sketches for Cpt. James H. Simpson, his company commander, in 1858, in the Utah Territory, as a soldier amongst those sent to quell the Mormon uprising.


The National Museum of the United States Army maintains a group of Sommer’s works, although the vast majority post-date, the 1858 Mormon expedition; he would later accompany his unit to California, after his deployment in the Utah Territory. Needless to say, this painting is an extremely rare example of the work of an army artist, assigned to duty during a tumultuous time in the early days of America’s West.


Henry Sommer was a native of Cassel, Germany, where he studied drafting and architecture in college. After immigrating to the United States he was unable to find work and enlisted in the Army, some time in 1856 or early 1857. Sommer would accompany U.S. Army troops, dispatched by then President James Buchanan,  In 1857-1858, Buchanan sent U.S. forces to the Utah Territory in what became known as the Utah Expedition, to quell what was perceived as a rebellion by Mormons .The Mormons, fearful that the large U.S. military force had been sent to annihilate them and having faced persecution in other areas, made preparations for defense. Although bloodshed was to be avoided, with the U.S. government hoping that its purpose might be attained without the loss of life, both sides prepared for war. Firearms were manufactured or repaired by the Mormons, scythes were turned into bayonets, and long-unused sabres were burnished and sharpened. Private was assigned to the 7th Infantry and soon journeyed three months overland to Utah Territory where he was stationed at Camp Floyd, then the largest Army post in the nation. Sommer drew a number of sketches for his company commander during the trip, which the officer displayed in his quarters. The paintings and drawings depicted the surrounding landscape, as well as numerous military scenes, including camp scenes exhibiting then junior officers, who would achieve fame during the Civil War. The detail and accuracy of Sommer’s work caught the attention of Captain James Simpson, Corps of Topographical Engineers, who had arrived at Camp Floyd after mapping the main emigrant road west from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

In the latter half of the 19th century, Army Soldiers played a crucial role in defining and defending the expanding boundaries of the American frontier. The output of Army painters, draftsmen and photographers was essential in communicating the drama and beauty of the West to a curious public on the eastern side of the Mississippi River.


In the spring of 1859, Simpson was preparing for the second leg of his trip, to southern California, when the expedition photographer discovered he had exhausted his supply of photographic chemicals. With no way to resupply, Simpson was forced to seek another approach to document the western landscape. Private Sommer was enlisted to accompany the officer and his team on their adventure across the desert.


Over the next several months, Sommer sketched the numerous peaks and valleys that marked the far west of the United States. His work included interpretations of the vast salt flats near the Great Salt Lake as well as the chill blue waters of Lake Tahoe. When the Simpson expedition was complete, Sommer returned to his company at Camp Floyd, where his drawings were shipped back to Washington, D.C., and incorporated into the official expedition report published by Congress. Few readers realized the beautiful drawings were from the talented hand of this soldier turned artist.


In the years that followed, the artist Private Sommer would climb the ranks to Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank at the time. He soon received a commission as a Second Lieutenant. Civil War wounds resulted in the loss of use of his arm, and Sommer retired from active duty in 1866. The artwork of Henry Sommer and fellow Army artists helped document the exploration and eventual settlement of the Old West, and illuminate the link between Army history and American history. American history.*


* National Museum of the U.S. Army



The Utah War (1857–1858), also known as the Utah Expedition, Utah CampaignBuchanan’s Blunder, the Mormon War, or the Mormon Rebellion was an armed confrontation between Mormon settlers in the Utah Territory and the armed forces of the United States government. The confrontation lasted from May 1857 to July 1858. There were some casualties, mostly non-Mormon civilians. The war had no notable military battles.


We obtained this fine painting directly from the descendants of Lewis Henry Little,  a West Point graduate and later a Confederate General, killed in action at the Battle of Iuka, Mississippi, in 1862. Little, then a Captain in the U.S. Army, was with the U.S. troops, deployed by President James Buchanan, to put down the rebellion.  Accompanying Little, were notable young, Army officers, including Winfield Scott Hancock and Albert Sidney Johnston, both becoming important combatants in the Civil War. As discussed, also accompanying these troops was Private Henry L. Sommer, a German immigrant and draftsman, who painted or sketched a number of depictions of the Army’s incursion into Utah Territory.

Brigham Young’s term as territorial governor had expired in 1854; he had served on an interim basis since. Buchanan, with his cabinet likening the Utah petitions to a declaration of war, decided to replace Young with Alfred Cumming, a former mayor of Augusta, Georgia, who was serving as an Indian-affairs superintendent based in St. Louis. He ordered troops to accompany the new governor west and to enforce federal rule in Utah—but, for reasons that are not clear, he did not notify Young that he was being replaced.

Young found out in July 1857, a month that brought a series of shocks to the Mormons. The Deseret News reported that Apostle Parley Pratt had been killed in Arkansas by the estranged husband of a woman Pratt had taken as his 12th wife. Rumors circulated that federal troops were advancing, prompting Apostle Heber C. Kimball to declare, “I will fight until there is not a drop of blood in my veins. Good God! I have wives enough to whip out the United States.” Mormons traveling from the Kansas-Missouri frontier brought word that federal troops were, in fact, headed for Utah, leading to Young’s announcement on the tenth anniversary of his arrival in the Great Salt Lake Valley.

It was in this heated atmosphere that, six weeks later, a California-bound wagon train that included 140 non-Mormon emigrants, most of them from Arkansas, made camp in a lush valley known as Mountain Meadows, about 40 miles beyond the Mormon settlement of Cedar City. Just before breakfast, according to an account by historian Will Bagley in Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows, a child among the emigrants fell, struck by a bullet. As a party of men with painted faces attacked, the emigrants circled their wagons.

After a five-day siege, a white man bearing a white flag approached the emigrants. Mormons, he told them, had interceded with the attackers and would guarantee the emigrants safe passage out of Mountain Meadows if the Arkansans would turn over their guns. The emigrants accepted the offer.

The wounded and the women and children were led away first, followed by the men, each guarded by an armed Mormon. After half an hour, the guards’ leader gave the order to halt. Every man in the Arkansas party was shot from point-blank range, according to eyewitness accounts cited by Bagley. The women and older children fell to bullets, knives and arrows. Only 17 individuals—all of them children under the age of 7—were spared.

For decades afterward, Mormon leaders blamed Paiute Indians for the massacre. Paiutes took part in the initial attack and, to a lesser degree, the massacre, but research by Bagley, Juanita Brooks and other historians has established that Mormons were culpable. Last September, on the 150th anniversary of the event, Mormon Apostle Henry B. Eyring, speaking for the church, formally acknowledged that Mormons in southern Utah had organized and carried out the massacre. “What was done here long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct,” Eyring said. A “separate expression of regret,” he continued, “is owed to the Paiute people who have unjustly borne for too long the principal blame for what occurred during the massacre.”

In September 1857, Cumming and about 1,500 federal troops were about a month from reaching Fort Bridger, 100 miles northeast of Salt Lake City. Young, desperately needing time to prepare an evacuation of the city, mobilized the Utah militia to delay the Army. Over several weeks, militiamen raided the troops’ supplies, burned the grass to deny forage to the soldiers’ horses, cattle and mules, even burned Fort Bridger. November snowstorms intervened. Snowbound and lacking supplies, the troops’ commander, Col. Albert Sidney Johnston, decided to spend the winter at what was left of the fort. The Mormons, he declared, have “placed themselves in rebellion against the Union, and entertain the insane design of establishing a form of government thoroughly despotic, and utterly repugnant to our institutions.”

As the spring thaw began in 1858, Johnston prepared to receive reinforcements that would bring his force to almost 5,000—a third of the entire U.S. Army. At the same time, Young initiated what has become known as the Move South, an exodus of some 30,000 people from settlements in northern Utah. Before leaving Salt Lake City, Mormons buried the foundation of their temple, their most sacred building, and planted wheat to camouflage it from the invaders’ eyes. A few men remained behind, ready to put houses and barns and orchards to the torch to keep them out of the soldiers’ hands. The Mormons, it seemed, would be exterminated or once again driven from their land.

That they were neither is due largely to the intervention of their advocate Thomas Kane. Over the winter of 1857-58, Kane had set out for Utah to try to mediate what was being called “the Mormon crisis.” Although his fellow Pennsylvanian President Buchanan did not provide official backing, neither did he discourage Kane’s efforts. Kane arrived in Salt Lake City in February 1858. By April, in exchange for peace, he had secured Young’s agreement to give way to the new governor. Many in the public, given Buchanan’s failure to notify Young and the Army’s delayed arrival in Utah, began to perceive the Utah expedition as an expensive blunder undertaken just as a financial panic had roiled the nation’s economy. Buchanan, seeing a chance to end his embarrassment quickly, sent a peace commission west with the offer of a pardon for Utah citizens who would submit to federal laws. Young accepted the offer that June.

That same month, Johnston and his troops marched through the deserted streets of Salt Lake City—then kept marching 40 miles south to establish Camp Floyd, in present-day Fairfield, Utah. With the Army no longer a threat, the Mormons returned to their homes and began a long and fitful accommodation to secular rule under a series of non-Mormon governors. Federal laws against polygamy targeted Mormon property and power through the 1870s and ’80s; Wilford Woodruff, the LDS Church’s fourth president, issued a formal renunciation of plural marriage in 1890.



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