Albert Bierstadt's on-site sketches of the untamed American West are some of the most significant historical and artistic accomplishments of the nineteenth century. Other artists had made expeditions throughout the area as early as the 1830s, but Bierstadt was unrivaled in his ability to convey an image of the wondrous region to the American public.
In 1859, Albert Bierstadt joined Colonel Landers on a surveying expedition throughout the West. Traveling from Missouri through Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, Bierstadt completed a great number of sketches which helped form the basis of his career and extraordinary reputation. It was on this rugged trip, often characterized by difficult conditions and severe weather, that Bierstadt executed Sioux Camp Near Laramie Peak.
Fort Laramie, one of the earliest formally designated areas in the Western territory was originally a fur trading post. It became a United States military fort, that at the time Bierstadt visited, was the site of numerous peace negotions between the fledgling American government and the Native American tribes in the area.
Bierstadt was captivated by the remarkable and raw American landscape. He described it in one of the many letters he sent back east for publication in The Crayon: "If you can form any idea of the scenery of the Rocky Mountains and of our life in this region, from what I have to write, I shall be very glad; there is indeed enough to write about -- a writing lover of nature and Art could not wish for a better subject. I am delighted with the scenery... We see many spots in the scenery that remind us of our New Hampshire and Catskill hills, but when we look up and measure the mighty perpendicular cliffs that rise hundreds of feet aloft, all capped with snow, we then realize that we are among a different class of mountains; and especially when we see the antelope stop to look at us, and still more the Indian, his pursuer, who often stands dismayed to see a white man sketching alone in the midst of his hunting grounds." (as quoted in G. Hendricks, "The First Three Western Journeys of Albert Bierstadt" in The Art Bulletin, September 1964, p. 337)
Bierstadt was at once fascinated and apprehensive of the Native American tribes that he witnessed during his trip. Bierstadt went on to describe the Native American people and culture that he saw: "We often meet Indians and they have always been kindly disposed to us and we to them; but it is a little risky, because being very superstitious and naturally distrustful, their friendship may turn to hate at any moment. We do not venture a great distance from the camp alone, although tempted to do so by distant objects, which, of course appear more charming than those near by; also by the figures of Indians so enticing travelling about with their long poles trailing along the ground, and their picturesque dress, that renders them such appropriate adjuncts to the scenery." (as quoted in G. Hendricks, "The First Three Western Journeys of Albert Bierstadt" in The Art Bulletin, September 1964, p. 337)
The artist prophetically concluded one of his letters to The Crayon: "For a figure painter, there is an abundance of fine subjects. The manners and customs of the Indians are still as they were hundreds of years ago, and now is the time to paint them, for they are rapidly passing away; and soon will be known only in history. I think that the artist out to tell his portion of their history as well as the writer; a combination of both will assuredly render it more complete." (as quoted in G. Hendricks, "The First Three Western Journeys of Albert Bierstadt" in The Art Bulletin, September 1964, p. 337)
In the artist's concerted effort to bring images of the Western territory to his eastern audience, Bierstadt engraved a version of this painting in a book entitled Wanderings of a Western Land that was published in 1879.