Thursday, August 18, 2005
Death Notices: Indianapolis Star, May 09, 1921:
ADAMS – Cassilly, died at his home at Traders Point, Sunday 4 p.m. Funeral from residence Tuesday May 19, at 3 p.m. Burial at Crown Hill.
The same obituary appeared in the Indianapolis News on the same day. The brief public notice is the extent of the local press coverage about our former resident. As Paul Harvey would say, here’s the rest of the story.
“Cassilly Adams painted many western scenes. But he is best known remembered for his epic work, Custer’s Last Fight, which he completed in 1885. His rendering of that famous battle at the Big Horn River in Montana eventually was obtained by the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company, which made thousands of reproductions for advertising and promotional purposes. Lithographs hung in taverns across the nation. ”
( The lithograph can even be seen in the movie, “The Gunfighter”1950, starring Gregory Peck. The large painting on the wall behind Gregory Peck’s chair in a bar room scene is “Custer’s Last Fight”. )
“Anheuser-Busch then produced a lithographic print of the painting and in 1896 gave prints to their distributors, bars, and other outlets. Through its display, it became widely known to diverse audiences.
Born in Zanesville, Ohio, Adams was the son of William Apthorp Adams, a lawyer who traced his ancestry back to the John Adams family of Boston. The elder Adams was an amateur artist. At an early age, young Adams was interested in art.
He studied at the Boston Academy of Arts, under Thomas S. Noble, and later at the Cincinnati Art School. He served in the army during the Civil War and was wounded while aboard the U.S.S. Osage at the Battle of Vicksburg. Late in the 1870s, Adams moved to St. Louis where he found work as an artist and engraver.
Custer”s Last Fight took one year to complete. As models he used actual Sioux Indians in battle dress and cavalrymen in uniforms of the period. The painting, which measured approx. 9 1/2 feet by 16 1/2 feet, was produced for two members of the St. Louis Arts Club, who exhibited the historical canvas around the country, charging s fifty-cent admission fee. The two promoters did not realize the profit they wanted from the venture, so they sold the painting to a St. Louis saloonkeeper who hung it in his barroom. When the saloon went bankrupt, the painting was acquired by one of the creditors- Anheuser-Busch Company. At the time it was valued at $10,000. The brewery gave the painting to the 7th Cavalry, and it was destroyed in a fire at Fort Bliss, Texas in 1946.
Adams is a relatively unknown artist, a victim of circumstance. Most of his illustrations were done for book publishers who did not credit him with the work. Therefore, many of his illustrations were borrowed for other books and were not attributed to him. Actually, he painted many scenes of frontier life, and it is known that he illustrated Conquering the Wilderness by Frank Triplett, published in 1883.
Adams died at Trader’s Point near Indianapolis, Indiana in 1921. ”
Taken from American Western Art by Dorothy Harmsen
From Kansas Historical Society (1945):
“The Adams painting, done in the middle 1880’s, was lithographed in modified version by Otto Becker and published by the Anheuser-Busch Company of St. Louis in 1896 and is still distributed by that concern. Copies can be viewed in barrooms, taverns, hotels, restaurants, and museums throughout the country. It is probably safe to say that in the 50 years elapsing since 1896 it has been viewed by a greater number of the lower-browed members of society-and by fewer art critics-than any other picture in American history. To be more specific, the writer on a bus trip to St. Louis in the summer of 1940, stopped for rest and refreshment at a tavern in a small mid-Missouri town. On one wall of the tavern, a busy rest stop for bus lines traveling east and west, was “Custer’s Last Fight.” Each bus that came to rest disgorged its passengers, many of whom found their way into the tavern. As each group entered, some one was sure to see the Custer picture with the result that there were always several people-sometimes a crowd-around it, viewing it, commenting on it, and then hurrying on. Probably hundreds of people saw this picture every month. When one considers that 150,000 copies have been published and distributed since the picture was first published in 1896, it is evident that “Custer’s Last Fight” has been viewed by an almost countless throng. Kirke Mechem, secretary of the Kansas State Historical Society, tells me that a reproduction of the painting in the Memorial building close to his work room, is likewise viewed by a constantly changing daily audience. The picture fascinates all beholders, for after viewing it and passing on to examine other pictures and exhibits, return is made to see again “Custer’s Last Fight.” “It is the most popular by far of all our many pictures,” reports Mr. Mechem.”