Pass of the North, mural design, 1937 India ink, graphite and charcoal on paper, 31 3⁄4" x 107" © James D. Lea
Pass of the North, mural 1938, Oil on canvas, 11' x 54' Historic Federal Courthouse, El Paso, Texas © James D. Lea
And then I did the Pass of the North mural. That was also a [Treasury Department, Section of Fine Arts] competition that was held for painters, I believe in eight states. And I was tickled to death to get that one because I didn't have to leave town or anything. I did all the full-size studies in charcoal, and I went to Hollywood to get a morion and cuirass and the doublet and hose and all that the Spaniards wore at that time. Found a guy who had been in the rodeo at Roswell that had a beard trimmed nicely and I got him to pose for me. Bill Waterhouse took photographs. We went out in the desert to see how wearing this metal on your head and on your chest would work. It was terribly hot. I don't think the Spaniards really used it unless they had to. You know, they didn't ride around in that stuff. It was so hot that the sweat dripped off of the point of the beard of this very nice young man and it hit the cuirass and went "sst!" just like your [wet] finger on a hot iron. So we had quite a time.
The old prospector's pants were my grandfather's buckskin britches that he used when he was a surveyor up in northern Minnesota back in the 1870's and Dad had them, the old suspenders and everything. And the brand on the horse was the I-Bar-X Ranch…Dad's great hunting pal..gave me photographs taken by [C.X.] Fly, of the Apaches and the capture of Geronimo. And I had that for firsthand information. Doc Stovall had ridden out to see what happened when the Apaches had burned a wagon and killed the oxen and murdered the people and mutilated them and so on. So he was rather strong against the Indians. I think of him often when I think of all these people who make the Indians the heroes. There were two sides of that question.
Anyway, then I used a buckskin jacket that I brought back from Hollywood for the plainsman, one of the figures, and I got a charro from Juàrez to pose for the Mexican. And I went out to Saint Anthony's Seminary…and asked the main padre out there if I could have one of the men pose for me to be the Franciscan friar in the mural…So I had a very serious, ascetic-looking man pose in the cowl with his rope and his rosary. I tried to make it authentic as I possibly could and had a great, great pleasure in doing that.
It really got me started, that one mural. And they paid a decent price per square foot…I think it was just a little under four thousand dollars for this mural down here in the courthouse. Well, gosh darn, that's how I got married.
Tom Lea speaking to Adair Margo, published in Tom Lea, An Oral History, El Paso, Texas: Texas Western Press, p. 56.
Burlington Railroad Station, Lacrosse, Wisconsin – photo