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End of the Trail, photo by Eckie Prater

End of the Trail
by James Earle Fraser
1876 - 1953

More Information About the Artist

More Information About the Sculpture

Selected Gallery Images

Suggested Readings & Links

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End of the Trail

This lone figure on his weary horse is one of the most recognized symbols of the American West. By many it is viewed as a reverent memorial to a great and valiant people. To some Native Americans, however, it is viewed as a reminder of defeat and subjugation a century ago. The monumental, 18' plaster sculpture was created for San Francisco's 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and received the exposition's Gold Medal for sculpture. The subject of immediate popular acclaim, the image was widely reproduced in postcard, print, curio and miniature form.

Although Fraser hoped his masterpiece would be cast in bronze and placed on Presidio Point overlooking San Francisco Bay, material restrictions during the First World War made the project impossible. Instead, in 1920, the city of Visalia, California, obtained the discarded statue and placed it in Mooney Park, where it remained, in a gradually deteriorating condition, for 48 years. In 1968, the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum acquired this original plaster statue, restored it to its original magnificence, and made it a focal point of the museum.

More Information About the Artist  

James Earle Fraser Born in Winona, Minnesota, James Earle Fraser grew up around Mitchell, Dakota Territory, amidst stories of the "Old West" and Native American lore. The family moved to Chicago in 1890, and Fraser became an assistant in the studio of sculptor Richard Bock while attending classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. He later remarked that the sculpture exhibited at the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 inspired his career in that medium.

At the age of 20, Fraser went to Paris to study at the l'Ecole des Beaux Arts and later serve as an assistant in the Paris and New Hampshire studios of noted sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. In 1902, he opened his own studio in New York City and, two years later, became an instructor at the Art Students League.

During a creative and prolific career, Fraser executed a number of prominent commissions, including the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Tomb of Robert Todd Lincoln at Arlington National Cemetery. Today, Fraser is recognized as one of the leading American sculptors of the early 20th century.

More Information About the Sculpture  

In 1894, when James Earle Fraser completed his model of the End of the Trail, American civilization stretched from shore to shore. Most Euro-Americans believed the frontier period was over and that such progress was inevitable. Many viewed Native Americans as part of the past, a vanishing race with no place in the twentieth century. Popular literature portrayed Indian people as "savages," noble or otherwise. Fraser's End of the Trail reflects this legacy: a nineteenth century Indian warrior defeated and bound for oblivion -- frozen in time.

By the 1890s, Native Americans knew their trail had become steep and rocky, but they believed it would continue. Confined mostly to reservations and ravaged by disease and starvation, the Indian population declined dramatically. Indian children were forced to attend federally supported boarding schools that attempted to replace traditional tribal values with American culture. Although denied citizenship and a voice in determining their future until 1924, Indian people persisted.

World War II brought dramatic changes to most Native American communities. Modern warriors enlisted in the armed forces, while other Indian men and women moved to urban areas to work in defense industries. Increased cultural pride following the war led many Indian people to seek employment and other opportunities in the non-Indian world. Others supported themselves within the old reservation communities. Today almost half of all Native Americans live in major metropolitan areas. From a low of approximately 250,000 in 1890, Native American population in the United States now numbers slightly over two million.

Modern Indian people have combined the best of traditional tribal values with the opportunities afforded by contemporary American society. Although some Native Americans still follow the time-honored ways of their ancestors, others have assumed prominent roles within society in education, politics, business, medicine and agriculture. Unlike Fraser's sculpture, "being Indian" has never been cast in stone. Today, Native Americans ride forward on a trail into the future.

Selected Sculpture Images  

James Earle Fraser in studio Photograph, James Earle Fraser with various models of End of the Trail, New York City studio, ca. 1920, Fraser Studio Collection, Box 2, Folder 17

James Earle Fraser with models of End of the Trail Photograph, James Earle Fraser with various models of End of the Trail, New York City studio, ca. 1920.

Model of End of the Trail Photograph, Model of End of the Trail in Fraser Studio, ca. 1915, Fraser Studio Collection, Box 2, Folder 17.

Postcard Postcard, The End of the Trail- Pan. Pac. Int. Expo., S.F. 1915, Fraser Studio Collection, Box 2, Folder 17.

Title Page from booklet Title Page from booklet, The Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco 1915, Fraser Studio Collection, Box 3, Folder 3.

Page from booklet Page from booklet, The Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco 1915, "Bird's Eye View of San Francisco," Fraser Studio Collection, Box 3, Folder 3.

End of the Trail at the Entrance to the Court of Flowers Photograph, End of the Trail at the Entrance to the Court of Flowers, Panama-Pacific International Exposition, San Francisco, CA, 1915, Fraser Studio Collection, Box 2, Folder 17.e

Award certificate Award certificate, Panama-Pacific International Exposition Gold Medal to James Earle Fraser for Sculpture, 1915.re

Photograph of artist's rendering of End of the Trail Photograph, Artist's rendering of End of the Trail on Presidio Point, ca. 1920s, Fraser Studio Collection, Box 2, Folder 17.

Photograph Photograph, End of the Trail hoisted 65 feet into the air to its present location, June 21, 1994.

Photograph Photograph, End of the Trail hoisted 65 feet into the air to its present location, June 21, 1994.

End of the Trail, photo by Eckie Prater Photograph, End of the Trail in its present location.
Eckie Prater, photographer.

Suggested Readings & Links  

The following materials are available for review in the Research Center.

NB237.F67 Bush, Martin H. James Earle Fraser: American Sculptor, A Retrospective Exhibition of Bronzes from Works of 1913 to 1953, June 2nd to July 3rd, 1969. New York: Kennedy Galleries, Inc., [1969].

NB237.F67K72 Krakel, Dean Fenton. The End of the Trail: The Odyssey of a Statue. 1st ed. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, [1973].

VC00171 Kurtis, Bill. The Real Cowboy: Portrait of an American Icon. Video-recording Chicago: Kurtis Productions & A & E Network, [2000].

Powell, Chandra A. Study of James Earle Fraser's "The End of the Trail": A New Interpretation for the Image of the Defeated Native American. Thesis, Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City University, [1998].

NB237.F67A4 Syracuse University Art Collection. James Earle Fraser: The American Heritage in Sculpture. Tulsa: Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History, [1985].

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