- Chronicling the West for Harper’s: Coast to Coast with Frenzeny & Tavernier in 1873–1874 by Claudine Chalmers
For anyone who has looked at images of the American West during the latter half of the nineteenth century, the names of Frenzeny and Tavernier are well [End Page 325] known. Both natives of France, Paul Frenzeny was the son of an exiled Hungarian nobleman who joined the French army and served in several campaigns, including France’s ill-fated intervention in Mexico in 1866, then drifted northward to New York before returning to France. Jules Tavernier was the son of a British candy maker and remained in France to pursue art studies when his family returned to England. They might have met during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–1871; says Claudine Chalmers, also author of Splendide Californie! Impressions of the Golden State by French Artists, 1786-1900 (2001) and Paul Frenzeny’s Chinatown Sketches (2012), but they definitely encountered each other after immigrating to New York, where they both published sketches of the war in Harper’s Weekly, perhaps the most successful American illustrated newspaper of the day.
It was a propitious time in the United States. The Civil War was a fresh memory. The nation now faced west with the completion of the transcontinental railroad and the discovery of gold in several western territories, Longhorn cattle drives to Kansas, the slaughter of the great buffalo herds, the Indian wars, the pacification of the Mormons in Utah, and the development of an urban metropolis in San Francisco. And Harper and Brothers hired this dynamic pair of young artists to gage the pulse of the country in a coast-to-coast foray and document it in a series of illustrations for the magazine.
The success of their endeavor was revealed in the pages of the Weekly throughout the tour, the last image of which was not published until January 1876. They adopted as one of their subjects immigrants as they moved west. Beginning their tour in New York, they moved through Pennsylvania and across the Mississippi River at Hannibal, Missouri. There they boarded the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad (supplying several images for the line’s house publication, The Great Southwest), passing through Indian Territory to the railroad’s terminus at the rapidly developing railroad center of Denison, Texas, in September 1873. They remained there a short time, apparently spending several days with a nearby rancher, before setting out for Wichita and illustrating key activities of the Texas cattle trade as they went. Moving on through Colorado, Arizona, Nebraska, and Utah, by the summer they were in San Francisco, where they added an exclamation point to their tour by taking—and almost dying in—a balloon ride.
The engravings made in Texas and on the trail—Guarding the Herd, Calling the Night Guard, and Slaughtered for the Hide, among others—have become almost ubiquitous, with Slaughtered for the Hide, showing a buffalo skinner at work, gracing Harper’s cover and the pages of many Texas and western history books since then. But there is a dearth of material on Frenzeny and Tavernier in Texas. The pioneer historian of western images, Robert Taft, one of the first to write of the Frenchmen’s trip, reported that a researcher had combed the pages of the Denison News without finding a single mention of the pair. Perhaps that is partly explained by the fact that Harper’s did not announce their tour, and they published the Texas pictures after they had left the state. The subsequent silence of Texas editors is probably explained in the fact that they disdained Harper’s Weekly, which the San Antonio Ledger and Texan described on June 22, 1876, as a “vile publication” of the radical Republicans.
On the whole, this is a well designed and produced volume. Unfortunately, some of the usual errors have crept in: a sentence is repeated on page 121, and the author cites the wrong newspaper article in note...