Edgar Paxson was an American painter who focused on historical and military scenes. Born in East Hamburg, New York on April 25, 1852 to a father who owned a carriage business, Paxson grew up to love the outdoors. He was apprenticed to work for his father’s business after he finished his traditional schooling. It is believed that he had no formal training in art, besides learning to paint carriages and signs from his father. In 1874, Paxson married Laura Johnson and moved west a year later, working as a guide for a stagecoach company. This position granted him excessive material for his landscapes and ripened his interest in Western American history. He moved his family to Deer Lodge, Montana in 1878, painting signs and scenery for theatrical backdrops. Two years later, he moved to Butte, Montana, where he continued to paint backdrops although he also established a studio and created easel paintings of historical subjects and portraits of American Indians. Being an outdoorsman who enjoyed camping and hunting, he also wrote articles about trapshooting and hunter’s interests under the pen name “Pistol Grip” for The American Field.
Throughout Paxson’s life, he met some distinguished military leaders which was partially due to the contacts he made when he enlisted with the Montana National Guard, but he also began interviewing prominent surviving militia who survived the Battle of Little Bighorn. This battle became a personal obsession as he interviewed numerous Native Americans who fought there as well as nearly one hundred surviving soldiers. Over the next twenty years, he slowly sketched and expanded on his masterpiece by gathering information and stories, and finally finishing his six-foot by nine-foot canvas titled Custer’s Last Stand in 1899. It included over two hundred figures in battle as well as numerous horses. Paxson exhibited throughout the United States, beginning in Chicago in 1903. He was awarded a membership to the Society of Associated Arts and continued to travel and exhibit his works. He moved to Missoula, Montana in 1906 and was commissioned to complete a series of historical paintings for the Senate chambers as well as a series for the Missoula County Courthouse. Edgar Paxson passed away on November 9, 1919 after a well-lived and accomplished life.