A fine example of this very rare map which accompanied the finest colour plate book on the North American Indian ever printed entitled ‘Reise in das inner Nord-America …’ It is particularly rare is it accompanied the text volumes printed to accompany the fine aquatint plates more often found. It charts one of the more remarkable voyages of exploration undertaken within the present United States. Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied (1782-1867) was a noted German explorer, ethnologist and naturalist. Joining the Prussian army in 1800 he fought through the Napoleonic Wars and left at the end in 1815. An early friend of Alexander Humboldt Maximilian led his own expedition to Brazil in 1815-17. In 1832 after hiring the Swiss artist Karl Bodmer he set out again this time to the waters of the Missouri River and the Plains. The region was little known at the time. They started out from St. Louis and travelled on the ‘Yellowstone’, an American Fur Company steamboat stopping at their various forts. Changing vessels along the way they continued Fort Union, Fort Clark and Fort Mackenzie. They observed the Assiniboin, Cree, Mandan, Minatare and Crow peoples. From here they returned south reaching St. Louis in May 1834.
Whilst Prince Maximilian returned to Germany to write his account Karl Bodmer travelled to Paris to prepare his famous aquatint plates from his collection of watercolours. Together their finished work would be considered one of the most sympathetic and accurate recordings of the Plains Indians issued just prior to their virtual extinction with a decade. This was ironically brought about by the very method used to document them in the first place. In ‘The Plains Indians’, the historian Paul H. Carlson states the smallpox outbreak was traced to contact between deckhands of the steamboats of the American Fur Company and the natives.
Wheat records that Prince Maximilian was given a map in 1833 by Major Benjamin O’Fallon who was the nephew of William Clark author of the map who along with Meriwether Lewis had crossed the region to reach the Pacific Ocean earlier in the century. O’Fallon had joined Clark in 1808 and was also present on Stephen Long’s expedition to the Rocky Mountains in 1819-20. By the time of Prince Maximilian expedition, he was one of the most experienced travellers in the region. No doubt the version he passed to the Prince would have been updated considerably since the Lewis and Clark expedition. The fact that the printed map includes the route of Long is clear indication of that. The Prince is said to have ‘completed it and removed its deficiencies’. Since the publication of Wheat further research has identified that the cartographer was Lt. Col. William Thorn who used as a base map Henry Tanner’s ‘Map of the United States of America’ published in 1837. The map includes large insets of the Missouri River lower left and one of the source of the Mississippi River ‘According to Schoolcraft’ lower right. The whole is finished with a dramatic title cartouche illustrating a buffalo hunting scene.
Maximilian’s insisted that the text be published in a deluxe edition, which made publishers wary. The popularity of such works was waning. Maximilian persisted and in 1839 the first text and prints were ready for distribution to a disappointingly few subscribers. A French edition in 1840-42 and the English translation in 1843 were no more successful. Bodmer spent a total of eight years supervising a group of the best French and Swiss etchers to produce the aquatints. The original copper plate for the map was recently found amongst the original watercolours in the Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha, Nebraska. Provenance: private German collection; private English collection. Abbey Travel 615; Field 1036; Graff 4649; Howes M443a; Howgego (2004) ‘Encyclopedia of Exploration 1800 to 1850’ W30; Rumsey 3839; Sabin 47014; Wagner-Camp-Becker 76:1; Wheat ‘Transmississippi West’ II no. 445 pp. 49, 166-7.