Fur Trade Illustration Project

Finding Aid to the Fur Trade Illustration Project, 1945-1948
-finding aid by Jennifer Rawlings and Maxine Gaterman

July 2001


The Fur Trade Illustration Project Collection consists of approximately two hundred and fifty pen and ink drawings done by William Macy and James Mulcahy. Macy and Mulcahy worked as artists for the National Park Service to create the drawings for use in National Park Service programs and museums and also to illustrate books written by another Park Service employee, Carl P. Russell. Carl P. Russell was the Chief Naturalist of the National Park Service when this project began and had moved on to become the Superintendent of Yosemite National Park by the time the project was completed. His abiding interest in the subject of fur trappers and traders led him to write two books on the subject: Guns on the Early Frontiers: A History, and Firearms, Traps, and Tools of the Mountain Men: A Guide. Russell began serious research on his books in 1930 when he embarked upon fifteen years of study in libraries, museums, and private collections in the United States, Canada, and Europe. Although Russell had the knowledge he needed to write his books, he needed illustrations. Jefferson National Expansion Memorial exhibited materials about the fur trade but needed for display purposes the same type of illustrations that Russell sought for his books. Russell suggested the Fur Trade Illustration Project as a way to benefit the museum and to illustrate his books. He lent his considerable expertise to the project and the National Park Service provided artists.

The National Park Service transferred William Macy from the Museum Division of the National Park Service and hired James Mulcahy of New York to work at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial as artists on the project. They viewed as many original objects in person as possible, examined contemporary field sketches and written descriptions left by participants, and used Russell's notes from his extensive research in over one hundred collections. Russell kept in close contact with the pair, recommending subjects for their drawings. The drawings were done from 1945-1948. William Macy and James Mulcahy then left for other parks, although Russell had yet to finish his books.

Russell received a Guggenheim fellowship in 1952 to continue his work on the fur traders and trappers. He finished and published his book, Guns on the Early Frontiers: A History, in 1957, the year in which he retired from the National Park Service. His Firearms, Traps, and Tools of the Mountain Men: A Guide was published posthumously in 1967. Unfortunately, Dr. Russell did not have the chance to complete the final book of the planned trilogy. His papers are located at the Washington State University Library in Pullman, Washington.

The collection consists of the original drawings and sketches done by Macy and Mulcahy as well as reproductions of the images. The reproductions are negative and positive photostats, photographic plates, and scanned digital images in jpg, bitmap, and tiff formats.


This collection has been organized by format into five series: Positive photostats, negative photostats, publication plates, original drawings, and preliminary sketches. It is recommended that the researcher first use the publication plates to identify the desired images before requesting the original drawings due to their size and fragility.

Series 1. Postive Photostats
This series is made up of positive photostats of the original drawings created from the negative photostats. Not all of the original drawings are represented in this series. The photostats are 8" by 11" and some are beginning to deteriorate, turning brown from exposure to light.

Series 2. Negative Photostats
This series consists of negative photostats of the images in the collection. These images were made using a process by which the paper was made light sensitive and then exposed to the image rendering a negative version of the drawing. The negative photostats are 8" x 11".

Series 3. Publication Plates
These publication plates are smaller versions of the materials sent to the publisher to be included in Carl P. Russell's books. They were produced because the positive photostats had begun to turn brown and these plates were a more stable medium. The plates also contain a higher quality image with more detail than the photostat images. These plates are typically about 4" by 5" and are mounted on 5" by 8" notecards with annotations about the subject of the drawings on the cards.

Series 4. Original Drawings
These are the original drawings produced by William Macy and James Mulcahy for Carl P. Russell's books and for use in the Museum of Westward Expansion. Due to the large size and the fragility of the drawings it is recommended that the researcher first identify the images desired using the publication plates or by checking IRIS (Image Retrieval Information System) on the computer in the reading room. Once the desired drawings are identified, the oversized originals may be requested for examination.

Series 5. Preliminary Sketches
This series consists of sketches made by Macy and Mulcahy on tracing paper before the exact content of the drawings was finalized. Some of the sketches are very similar to the drawings later produced, some were entirely abandoned, and some were modified or combined to create the later drawings.


Last updated: October 1, 2020

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