Ranney’s Trapper’s Last Shot


William Ranney.  “The Trapper’s Last Shot.”  Cincinnati: Western Art Union, 1850.  Engraved by T.D. Booth.  19 x 23 1/2.   Printed by R. Neale.  Full and generous margins.  Old repair to tear on platemark.  Else, very good condition.  Framed.

Ref.: Maybelle Mann, The American Art Union, p. 114; Ron Tyler,  Prints of the West, pp. 110-12; Linda Ayres, “William Ranney” in American Frontier Life, 79-108.

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A very rare example of the first state of William Tylee Ranney’s famous image of a Western frontiersman.  Ranney (1813-1857) was born in Middletown, Connecticut, and at age thirteen apprenticed to a tinsmith in North Carolina.  In 1833 he was studying drawing in Brooklyn, New York, but inspired by Texas governor Henry Smith’s plea for aid in fighting against the Mexican army, in 1836 Ranney went off and joined the Army of the Republic of Texas.  He returned to New York City and began to exhibit at the National Academy of Design, finally setting up his own studio in 1843.  He settled permanently in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1848.  Ranney died of pneumonia in 1857 and the Artists Fund Society was founded as a direct result of the efforts of the artists who rallied to provide funds for his destitute family.

Ranney painted his “Trapper’s Last Shot” based on his experiences in Texas in 1836-37.  The scene is set in marshy areas of Brazoria County, Texas, and supposedly it was inspired by the story of mountain man Joe Meeks saving his last bullet to defend himself against a band of Indians.  Ranney’s painting was used by the Western Art Union in Cincinnati to create this engraving to be sent to subscribers, and the subject was so popular that the American Art Union purchased a second version of the painting to be used in their annual raffle.  This image has become an iconic image of the American frontier before the Civil War, but it was also highly influential when issued.  Not only did the American Art Union commission as second version of the painting, but the image was used by Currier & Ives for a medium folio print.  The Western Art Union print was later reprinted, without their name appearing, but examples of the first state, like this, are very rare.