[HART, Robert Benjamin (b.1834)]
[Collection of five original watercolors of Pima Indians and their lands in Aravaipa Canyon, Arizona, made by Forty-niner Robert Hart on his journey to the California gold fields]
[Aravaipa Canyon, AZ]: [late July 1849]. Five original watercolors on card stock, detailed below. (A bit of residue on the verso of the images, one drawing with four pin-sized holes). Each matted and housed in a red morocco backed box.
An extraordinary group of watercolors made by a Virginian travelling the Southern Route to the California gold fields in 1849, among the earliest illustrations depicting the Pima Indians of southern Arizona, and showing their lands in the Aravaipa canyons.
A very interesting group of five original watercolors showing Pima Indians and their lands in Arizona, made by a young '49er on his way to the California gold fields by the Southern Route. The Southern Route, also called the Gila Trail, was the least travelled overland route by those headed to California in 1849, and original artwork from those overlands is very rare. These watercolors are also notable as being among the earliest images of the Pima Indians of which we are aware.
Although unsigned, these watercolors were apparently produced by Robert Hart (b. 1834), whose family owned and operated several gold mines in Spotsylvania and Louisa counties in Virginia in the 1840s. In the summer of 1849 Hart, along with his cousins Andrew Bronaugh and Henry Hart, went west to participate in the California Gold Rush. They went overland, and decided to travel by the Southern Route, also known as the Gila Trail, which took them through New Mexico and Arizona, and through the lands of the Pima and other Indian tribes. The Hart-Bronaugh party passed through southern Arizona in late July, 1849, and arrived at the California gold fields the next month. Robert Hart did not stay long in California, leaving in the fall of 1850. He soured on mining and on living conditions in the mines, and returned to the East Coast by boat and across the Isthmus of Panama.
Records from the 1850 census indicate that young Robert was back in Virginia, living with his aunt, Mary Frances Jenkins Holladay at her home, known as "Woodside," in Louisa County. Following Hart's return home from California, he worked with his father, Robert, and his uncle, Colonel James Hart, at the Old Rough and Ready Furnace in Louisa County. After his father's passing Hart moved with his family to Christian County, Kentucky. These watercolors were found at "Woodside" by a Hart-Jenkins family member, and have remained in the family since they were re-discovered.
The watercolors are accompanied by typed excerpts from the diary of Robert Hart. These excerpts were included in a family history published by Robert M. Jenkins in 2000. The watercolors included in this collection conform to diary entries made by Hart in the period July 28 to July 31, 1849, when he and his fellows were travelling through Pima lands.
The illustrations (all but one untitled) are as follow:
1) Watercolor showing five Pima Indians and an Anglo-American, 5 3/4 x 8 inches. The white man in the picture is seated with his arm resting on a table which also holds an inkwell. Some surmise that it may portray Robert Hart himself, though the figure in the watercolor appears much older than Hart, who was only fifteen when he went west to California. The scene appears to take place inside a Pima tent. Four of the Pima are fully dressed and the illustration wonderfully portrays their clothing and headdresses. The fifth Pima stands with his back to the viewer, wears a simple loin cloth, and holds a long spear.
2) Watercolor showing three horses, one with a rider, passing along a river in a small canyon, 6 x 3 1/4 inches. This illustration has four small pin-sized holes. The rider is on the horse nearest to us, and has a rifle slung across his lap. The horses are shown walking through a shallow stream that passes through a steep-walled canyon.
3) "Glade in Aravipa Canons." Watercolor showing four men setting up camp in a glade in Aravaipa Canyon, 2 5/8 x 4 3/16 inches. This illustration shows a lush glade with four men (three of them seated) depicted in the bottom center of the image.
4) Watercolor showing a narrow passage through a steep canyon, 5 1/4 x 3 3/8 inches. Almost certainly another scene from Aravaipa Canyon, showing the beautiful but difficult terrain through which Hart and his companions passed.
5) Watercolor showing a small waterfall, 4 1/2 x 2 3/4 inches. This image, showing a small trickle of a waterfall, conveys the deep brown tones of the rock walls and the dark green vegetation growing thereon.
In his diary entry for July 28, 1849 (a typed transcription of which accompanies the watercolors), Hart wrote of his encounters with the Pima, the type of which appears to be depicted in the first watercolor described above: "We today remained with the Pimos [sic], with whom we have had two trades of mules and horses. And our camp has been thronged with them all day with various articles for trade ...The Chief has been to see us. They none of them wear any clothing, only around the hips, and their skin is sun proof. For it is far hotter than ever I felt and has, from the heat of the sand, blistered my feet through my shoes." Another of Hart's diary entries, from a few days before, may well relate to the scene depicted in watercolor number two, above: "Our trail takes us down this branch and, after following it 15 or more miles, we again reached the river. How unlike we left it! From flat land about it, the rocks had taken place and there was nothing but mountains of rock or incredible height binding it in."