John Mix Stanley painted Jim Shaw, Delaware in 1843 one year after the artist's first trip into the American West. The importance of this portrait is two-fold. As well as being one of only a few Indian portraits by Stanley that were not lost in the tragic Smithsonian fire of 1865, the portrait also holds great significance to the history of the state of Texas.
In 1842, Stanley travelled west with Caleb Sumner Dickerman and by December of that year had reached Ft. Gibson, in the northeast corner of what is today Oklahoma. For the next three years Stanley painted there and in the northeastern section of Texas. During this period, Stanley had the rare opportunity to attend three peace councils. The first council Stanley attended was initiated by Sam Houston, the President of the Republic of Texas who was trying to reestablish peace after the harsh repurcusions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the unjust policies of the former President of the Republic.
President of the United States, John Tyler ordered Pierce Butler, the former governor of South Carolina to convene a council between the Texan and frontier tribes. Stanley accompanied Butler and a military escort of fifteen men to the meeting grounds on the Tehuacana Creek at the confluence of the Brazos and Bosque Rivers. At the council Stanley had the rare opportunity to observe both the physical and pyschological characters of Indians from at least nine different tribes. According to Stanley's records, he painted individuals from each of the tribes. However, out of the sixteen recorded, only one has survived, which is also a small work, roughly the same size as Jim Shaw, Delaware. However, seven other works not listed in the artist's records can be dated to the Tehuacana Council of 1843, six of them portraits and one a multifigural council scene. (J.A. Schimmel, p. 39-40)
One of the six portraits is Jim Shaw, Delaware. Typical of these preliminary oil sketches, care was taken in depicting the facial features and in capturing an essence of the individual's character while deliberately omitting any background detail. Dr. Schimmel writes that "the most sensitive is of Jim Shaw" (p. 206). Dr. Ferdinand Roemer, a geologist and travel companion of Shaw in the 1840s, who was impressed by his presence wrote:
"At the head of our party, on a beautiful American horse, rode our Delaware chief, Jim Shaw, a six-foot tall, handsome man. As one looked at him from the rear, he had an entirely civilized appearance in his dark, stylish coat, which he had purchased in a clothing store before leaving Austin, and his black, half-military, stiff-cloth cap. But as one looked at him from the front one observed the features and the brown skin of the Indian. Furthermore, one observed on close inspection that the European dress was not complete, for the leggins of deerskin made up his dress below the coat." (cited in R.N. Richardson, "Jim Shaw, The Delaware," The West Texas Historical Year Book, vol. III, June 1927, p. 11)
In this small and relatively loose depiction, Stanley has successfully rendered a faithful and incisive portrait of Jim Shaw, considered one of the most fascinating characters on the Texas frontier.
Known also by his Indian name, Bear Head, Jim Shaw played a pivotal role in Anglo-Indian relations. Speaking English and a host of Indian languages, Shaw served as an important intrepreter at peace councils. Although his birth and youth are still shrouded in mystery, it is believed that he was born in Missouri into the Delaware tribe who settled in the Cape Girardeau area of Mississippi. By the 1820s much of the Delaware tribe had been pushed as far west as Texas and when Butler was ordered to convene a council in 1843, Jim Shaw and Jim Conner, the Delaware leader, were called in to assist Robert S. Neighbors, a well-known Indian agent.
"From this time on the story of the Delaware scout is inseparably linked with the history of the Indian relations of the Republic of Texas, as well as with that of the United States Government in Texas, after annexation. There was scarcely an Indian council held but that the Delawares were present as interpreters...scarcely a single Indian agent or dipolmat made a journey to the wild tribes without the protection and guidance of faithful Delaware scouts." (R.N. Richardson, "Jim Shaw, The Delaware," The West Texas Historical Year Book, vol. III, June 1927, p. 4)