Stanley, John Mix (1814–1872)

By: Kathleen Doherty

Type: Biography

Published: December 1, 1995

Updated: April 6, 2019

John Mix Stanley, painter, son of Seth and Sally (McKinney) Stanley, was born near Canandaigua, New York, on January 17, 1814. Between 1834 and 1842 he lived and traveled in the Midwest, including Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay, Wisconsin, and Fort Snelling, Minnesota, earning his living as a sign and portrait painter. In spring 1843 Stanley accompanied the party of Indian agent Pierce M. Butler to the Tehuacana Creek Council grounds near Waco. There he painted the Council Creek meeting-a painting which has survived to the present. Present at the meeting were Jesse Chisholm, Luis Sánchez, and Delaware chief Jim Shaw, among others. In September 1843 Stanley attended a grand Indian council at Tahlequah in present-day Oklahoma. There he painted the portraits of Chisholm, Shaw, and a number of Cherokee chiefs, including Chief John Ross. In fall 1843 Stanley attended the council with the Waco, Wichita, Comanche, Shawnee, and other Indians, which convened on the headwaters of the Red River in what is now southwestern Oklahoma. At Butler's request, Stanley made badges to designate the various tribes, which greatly pleased the Indians. He also painted Comanche Indians in their native environment. Stanley exhibited the portraits and landscapes in Cincinnati, but soon traveled the Santa Fe Trail west. He joined Col. Stephen W. Kearny's expedition to San Diego as "draughtsman" and produced the sketches for the report of the Emory expedition of 1846–47. Continuing north to Oregon, he painted Northwestern Indians and Mount Hood, narrowly missed the Whitman massacre, and canoed down the Columbia River. From there he went to Hawaii, where he spent most of 1848 and painted King Kamehameha and his queen. When he returned to Boston he exhibited his paintings. Stanley also accompanied Isaac I. Stevens's northern Pacific railroad survey in 1853 and made the first daguerreotypes of the Rocky Mountains. Stanley took the preliminary reports to Washington, where he stayed for ten years. During this time he painted a panorama of his travels and portraits of Indians who came to town. He married Alice C. English in 1854, and they had five children, two of whom died in infancy. He moved to Detroit in 1864 and remained there for the rest of his life. Stanley helped found a forerunner of the Detroit Institute of the Arts and incorporate the National Gallery and School of Arts. He died on April 10, 1872, in Detroit. Stanley's primary interests and sympathies were with the Indians. The Smithsonian exhibited his pictures, but Congress never appropriated monies for them. More than 200 of his works were destroyed in the Smithsonian fire of 1865, but others can be seen in the Amon Carter Museum, the Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Denver Public Library. Prints made from his paintings also appear in the Emory and Stevens reports.

Doris Dawdy, Artists of the American West (3 vols., Athens, Ohio: Swallow, 1974–86). William Hemsley Emory, Notes of a Military Reconnaissance (Washington and New York, 1848; rpt., by the U.S. Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, as Lieutenant Emory Reports, with intro. and notes by Ross Calvin [Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1951]). S. W. Geiser, "Men of Science in Texas, 1820–1880," Field and Laboratory 26–27 (July-October 1958-October 1959). Stan Hoig, Jesse Chisholm: Ambassador of the Plains (Niwot, Colorado: University of Colorado Press, 1991). David C. Hunt, "John Mix Stanley: Survey Artist and Indian Painter," American Scene 12 (1971). W. Vernon Kinietz, John Mix Stanley and His Indian Paintings (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1942). Julie Ann Schimmel, John Mix Stanley and Imagery of the West in Nineteenth-Century Art (Ph.D. dissertation, New York University, 1983).

  • Visual Arts
  • Illustration
  • Painting

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kathleen Doherty, “Stanley, John Mix,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 17, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

December 1, 1995
April 6, 2019