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AUCTION 20

Original Watercolor of Fort Bliss in 1855

105. PERCY, Frederic Augustus. Fort Bliss: [Title in ink on recto of image at upper right] “Fort Bliss Texas looking east by F. A. Percy for W. W. H. Davis” [lower right] “1855”; [Title in ink in Davis’ hand on paper label on original wooden frame back]: “Fort Bliss, Texas, Looking East: By F. B. [sic] Percey [sic]. For W. W. H. Davis.” N.p. [Fort Bliss, Texas], 1855. Original watercolor and ink sketch. 13.6 x 21.3 cm. Tacked at upper left corner on later paper. Faint marginal mat burn. Vertical crease where formerly folded. Two clean splits at extremities of fold and two other small tears in margins (no loss of image). Moderately browned and slightly wrinkled.

     Original art work depicting Texas at this early date is exceedingly difficult to find. Percy’s work is somewhat primitive, but what it lacks artistically, is compensated by its historic importance and early date. The image is a panoramic view showing the interior of Fort Bliss with troops on parade, large U.S. flag flying at center. This watercolor is original art work from which an engraving was made to accompany William Watts Hart Davis’ El Gringo; or New Mexico and Her People (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1857), one of the earliest full-length books on New Mexico in English. The image is quite similar to the printed image in Davis’ book, except in the printed image two figures have been added to the foreground (p. 377).

     Not a great deal is known about artist Frederic Augustus Percy, who was an Englishman living in the El Paso region in the-mid 1850s. He is best known as author-artist of the hand-written illustrated newsletter El Sabio Sembrador, of which only a single copy survives. It is believed Percy died in Mexico in 1868. Other examples of Percy’s work can be found in Rex W. Strickland, El Paso in 1854 (El Paso: Texas Western Press, 1969).

     Fort Bliss, established in 1848, is now a major U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command installation comprising some 1.12 million acres of land extending across Texas and New Mexico, making it comparable in size to Rhode Island. Handbook of Texas Online (Fort Bliss):

After the end of the Mexican War the need to defend the new border, to maintain law and order, to protect settlers and California-bound migrants from Indian attacks, and to survey for a new transcontinental railroad compelled the United States government to establish a military post on the Rio Grande in the area of El Paso del Norte (now Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua). On November 7, 1848, the War Department instructed the Third Infantry to take up quarters at the pass, and Bvt. Maj. Jefferson Van Horne led 257 soldiers, including the regimental staff, six infantry companies, and a howitzer battery, west from San Antonio. They arrived in the area on September 8; on September 14, four companies were quartered on Coons' Rancho, formerly Ponce's Ranch, in downtown El Paso. About one-third of the troops occupied the presidio at San Elizario, an old Spanish garrison twenty miles southeast of El Paso.

The War Department closed the post and presidio in September 1851 and withdrew the troops to Fort Fillmore, forty miles to the north. A military post was reestablished on the Rio Grande in January 1854 when Lt. Col. Edmund Brooke Alexander, with four companies of the Eighth United States Infantry, rented quarters at Magoffinsville, a hacienda three miles east of Coons' Rancho. On March 8, 1854, the official name of the post became Fort Bliss, in memory of Lt. Col. William Wallace Smith Bliss, Gen. Zachary Taylor's chief of staff during the Mexican War and later his son-in-law.

($24,000-36,000)

Sold. Hammer: $24,000.00; Price Realized: $28,200.00

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