Emanuel Leutze's notes describing Westward the Course of Empire Takes Its Way (c. 1862).
Subject: "Emigration to the West"
Design: A party of Emigrants have arrived near sunset on the divide (watershed from whence they have the first view of the pacific slope, their "promised land" "Eldorado" having passed the troubles of the plains, "The valley of darkness" --The first are eagerly pressing forward--- the dim line of the Western ocean can be traced on the horizon to the left---on the right rise rocky mountains---at the foot of which the "mesa," "tableland" and the rolling prairie with the commencement of one of the "fathers of the water."
Emigrant Train of wagons toiling up the slope, jolting over the mountain train, scarcely a road, or diving into water worn gullies--upheld by the drivers from tilting over---On the nearest pinnacle of a rock, a frontier farmer (Tennessean) has carried his suffering wife with her infant in her arms, to show her the glories of the promised land---her boy with his fathers rifle, a jackknife--string and newspaper, looks thoughtfully into the future (type of young American)---while his little sister is cheering her mother with expressions of delight and surprise---the mother has folded her hands thanking for escape from dangers past.
In the ravine below axemen are clearing the Trail from fallen Trees---before them the guide, an old trapper, clad complete in buckskin, pointing to the way which lies before them, he rests his horse---next to him a young adventurer rides in // stirrups to catch the first glimpse of the distant land, while his horse is training up the last slope of the divide---next to him another of the same class, cheering on the followers---both have their complete outfit strapped to their breasts, caricette, mealbag, frying pan, coffeepot, & extra blankets.
Above them a young vagrant with a fiddle on his back, is assisting his equally young partner for life, up to the rock to peep at the distance, they express careless happiness spite of their scanty equipments.
Below a mother kissing her babe with tears of joy, mounted on a mule led by a negro boy who caresses the beast for the work done--- She hopes to meet the father of her child who has preceeded them.
Next to her a rough but bighearted hunter of the border, assisting a lad who has been wounded, probably in a fight with the Indians, up the // rocky path---behind and in the immediate foreground a team of oxen drawing a wagon, in which a young woman with a still younger girl in her lap is straining to look at the far land---in doubt whether there be not more troubles ahead, while the child is thoughtless of the scene enjoying life in wanton capers---a young brother guides the oxen, a boy astride of one of them, has Indian arrows and a bow, with a dead squirrel---
Intention: To represent as near and truthfully as the artist was able the grand peaceful conquest of the great west . . . without a wish to date or localize, or to represent a particular event, it is intended to give in a condensed form a picture of western emigration, the conquest of the Pacific slope, while if ever the general plan be carried out the side walls will have the earlier history of Western Emigration, in illustrations from Boone's adventures the discovery of the valleys of the Ohio, Mississippi---
In the ornamental border which is but to serve as a margin to separate this picture from the others, or the blank wall, is the motto, "westward the course of Empire makes its way" in the arabesque a playful introduction from earlier history as a prelude to the subject of the large picture.
In the ends of the upper margin the standard bird shields union and liberty under his wings---influences of superior intelligence---the Indians creeping and flying before them---to the left the axeman, preceeded by the hunter whose dog has attacked a catamount, the Indian creeping, discharging an arrow at the hunter.
To the right--the agriculturist, preceeded by the missionary--a prairie owl and rattlesnake seeking the hospitality of a Prairie dog hide themselves, and Indian covering himself with his robe sneaking away from the light of knowledge. . . .
Golden Gate, entrance to harbour of San Francisco--in the poem by Bishop Berkeley from which the motto is taken the last verse runs
Westward the course of Empire takes its way
The first four acts already past.
A fifth shall close the drama with the day.
The drama of the Pacific ocean closes our Emigration to the west. All subjects in the margins are but faintly indicated without any attempt at imitation or deception and kept entirely subservient to the effect of the Principal picture.