Edgar Paxson was born in East Hamburgh, New York in 1852. After leaving school Paxson worked with his father as a sign painter.
As a young man he developed a great love of the novels of James Fenimore Cooper. Paxson had a great desire to visit the American West and in 1877 he headed for Montana. He worked as a cowboy and as an army scout in the Nez Percé War (1877-79). He also served in the Spanish-American War.
Paxson and his family eventually settled in Butte. He became an artist and over the next few years painted important events in the history of the American West. This included the Lewis & Clark Expedition, the Indian Wars and the discovery of Yellowstone Park .
Paxson most important work was Custer's Last Battle of the Little Bighorn (1899). He took care to make the painting an accurate representation. The men use the weapons carried that day (many paintings mistakenly show the men with sabres). Custer also wears the same clothes as he did on that day. Paxson attention to detail is emphasized by the fact that it shows that Custer had his hair cut before the Little Bighorn expedition. In the painting Custer is seen holding his left side (examination of his body later showed he had indeed been wounded on his left side). Sioux warriors who took part in the battle also served as Paxson's models.
Some details in the painting are inaccurate. Custer and his men are shown at the top of the hill. This was highly unlikely as it would have given the Sioux a 360-degree field of fire. All the bodies were found some way down the hill. The painting also shows Custer standing by and defending the regimental flag. The flag was in fact in the pack-train several miles away.
The 6' x 10' mural, which contains more than 200 figures, took Paxson seven years to complete. It was exhibited nationally and helped establish Paxson as one of the country's leading artists.
Edgar Paxson died in 1919.