by Claudine Chalmers
(University of Oklahoma Press, $45)
Reviewed by Larry Cox
During the summer of 1873, two artists, Paul Frenzeny and Jules Tavernier, hired by Harper’s Weekly magazine to document the American West, boarded the newly constructed transcontinental railroad. Accompanied by their beloved pointer, Judy, they departed New York City that July.
Harper’s Weekly traced its beginnings to John and James Harper, who established their first printing press in New York in 1817. Sixteen years later two more siblings, Wesley and Fletcher, joined the company, and it became Harper and Brothers. The first issue of Harper’s Weekly rolled off the presses in 1857.
It offered its readers 16 folio pages filled with news of America and the world, all for 5 cents a copy. The newspaper became especially essential during the Civil War, as it set the standard for illustrated journalism in the United States.
“Chronicling the West for Harper’s” showcases 100 illustrations that Frenzeny and Tavernier made for the magazine during their cross-country assignment over a two-year period, 1873 and 1874. For readers around the world, these drawings brought to life the newly accessible territories, their diverse inhabitants and the turbulent, changing frontier.
Author Claudine Chalmers, an independent historian, focuses on the life and work of these two remarkable men as they visited such places as Pittsburgh, Missouri, Texas, the Neosho Valley in Kansas, Fort Gibson in present-day Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska, Arizona and Utah, eventually ending their journey in San Francisco during the summer of 1874.
The illustrations are extraordinary, from branding cattle in Texas to quarrying stone for the new Mormon Temple in Utah, and from Chinatown in San Francisco to encountering a prairie windstorm in Kansas. With pencil and woodblock, Frenzeny and Tavernier redefined American journalism and captured the American frontier as never before.