FORT WASHAKIE, Wyo. — Sculptures greet any visitor to Richard Greeves' home. Chief Washakie, 14 feet tall, towers in front of his house and a Kiowa warrior stands guard at his back door.
His home is an old trading post that he ran as a cafe, meat processing plant and gift shop 50 years ago. It's been closed to the public for years.
Hallways weave through like a maze and massive rooms in the back open with sliding doors to his studio where he builds and sculpts. Through a few other doors is his actual gallery — a long room with pedestals, museum lighting and dozens of bronze statues. Most stand a foot or several feet high.
On one wall is a Shoshone man riding a horse and Sacagawea with her husband and son. Near the other wall stands a statue of a Hidatsa chief and another of three members of the Kickapoo tribe.
Nearly all of them are from his Lewis and Clark series called "Corps of Discovery."
For all the literature, art and study on the Lewis and Clark expedition, relatively little has been told about the Indians that helped along the way, Greeves said.
"Had it not been for the Indian people, the Lewis and Clark expedition would have failed," he said. "Literally, it would have failed. It was through the kindness and caring of the American Indian that made it a success."
Greeves' western statues fill museums and galleries. Now, he is focused on those American Indians he believes have been underrepresented. He's created about 50 so far since he started in 2000 and figures the project will last as long as he does.
Greeves comes from a long line of mosaic artisans, marble cutters and ornamental plaster workers.
From the time he could walk, he began learning the crafts, an informal apprenticeship of sorts.
His mother's family settled in St. Louis near the World's Fair site that celebrated the 100-year anniversary of the Louisiana Purchase. When the fair ended in 1904, much of the history stayed behind.
The Jefferson National Expansion Memorial documents Lewis and Clark's journey and young Greeves hung around the memorial and its museums, fascinated by the stories of adventure and exploration.
Museum staff eventually put him to work and he helped clean and even unpack exhibitions. They let him sort through Lewis and Clark's journals, items left behind like Lewis' medicine chest and other historic papers from the time. It was the late 1940s, and that kind of access wouldn't be possible for a teenager now, he said.
"I was like all other red-blooded American boys. I read James Fenimore Cooper and 'Last of the Mohicans,' and I was enchanted by that stuff," he said.
Then he met a Shoshone teen from Fort Washakie. She was working at a booth that advertised Wyoming at a sports show in St. Louis. Greeves kept going back to her booth and talking to her. During the next several weeks, they became friends and she invited him to come to Wyoming and meet her family, he said.
At 15, Greeves sat down at his parents' dinner table in St. Louis and announced he was moving to Wyoming to live with his new friend's family.
His Italian mother hit the roof.
"Dad thought it was a good idea," Greeves said. "He liked to read those pocket westerns and he thought his kid was going to be a cowboy."
When Greeves arrived in Lander with his duffel bag, he saw dirt streets and a western feel he'd only read about.
"They had bars on Main Street with cowboy doors on them and there were cowboys inside and I thought, I am where I belong," he said.
He finally found a taxi that would take him about 20 miles northwest to Fort Washakie.
Miles into the prairie, the driver let Greeves out on the side of the road. He could see a house on the horizon, and as he walked closer, the owners called to him. He'd stumbled on the right place.
Greeves spent the summer riding horses and learning about the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho. He was living his dreams from St. Louis.
Education called and he went back home but returned about 10 years later.
He and his wife bought a trading post in Fort Washakie. He began sculpting American Indian statues and it seemed only logical that he would incorporate his fascination with Lewis and Clark's journey into his artwork.
"The early scholars and historians only looked at the Lewis and Clark expedition through the eyes of white people," he said. "Europeans were so intent on coming over and making a new life and grabbing land that they pushed all of the native people aside and didn't recognize them as the people that they were."
The most recent shipment of "Corps of Discovery" sculptures went to the foundry in late December.
Some of the new ones include another sculpture of Sacagawea and mammals such as mule deer and black-tailed prairie dogs that were discovered by the explorers.
Greeves chose events from dates in Lewis and Clark's journals and created a sculpture from each one.
A statue of a horse and rider mark the date Aug. 11, 1805 from Lewis and Clark's journey. It represents the first member of the Lemhi Shoshone Tribe that Lewis and Clark saw.
"I do think it is a relatively unique take on Lewis and Clark, especially from an artistic expression," said Amy Scott, the Marilyn B. and Calvin B. Gross Curator of Visual Arts at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.
Most art focuses on the explorers themselves and other key people such as Sacagawea. Greeves' pieces are filling in the holes in the Lewis and Clark narrative of Western art, she said.
The Autry Center hosted a one-man exhibition of 29 of his Lewis and Clark sculptures in 2006 and awarded him a lifetime achievement award.
Thirty bronze editions are made of each "Corps of Discovery" sculpture. Greeves sells most of them, but is saving two entire sets for exhibitions. With nearly 50 completed so far, he says he's still just beginning.
"I don't know how many pieces I will do because I don't know how long I'll live. There's so much material," he said. "Their journey was an epic in the history of our country."
Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, http://www.trib.com