Richard Kern’s Far West Sketches

A Visual History of the 1853 Gunnison Expedition

Robert Shlaer

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Subjects: Western History

9781647690199 (hardback)
9781647690175 (paperback)
9781647690182 (ebook)

In 1853 Richard Hovendon Kern was hired as topographer and artist for a government-sponsored reconnaissance led by Captain John Williams Gunnison. Kern sketched landscape panoramas as the group made its way from the eastern border of Kansas Territory toward the Pacific Ocean. When the expedition reached Sevier Lake, Utah, however, it was attacked by a band of Indians. Seven men, including Kern and Gunnison, were killed and Kern’s drawings were stolen. The sketches were soon recovered and eventually carried to Washington, D.C. 

Robert Shlaer came across them many years later at the Newberry Library in Chicago and was inspired to locate the views depicted in the drawings and to photograph them, as nearly as was possible, from the same spot where Kern stood when he sketched them. 

Richard Kern’s Far West Sketches juxtaposes Kern’s drawings with Shlaer's photographs, presenting 389 illustrations in geographic sequence from east to west, as well as a detailed narrative of the expedition. An associated website will include maps, drawings, and photographs so that they can be enlarged, compared, and studied in detail, providing an immersive experience of this important and ill-fated expedition.