When the current owner purchased this new George Caleb Bingham portrait at an art auction, the artist was listed as unknown. But the name of the subject was taped to the back of the frame: Sarah Ann Elliott (Sallie), Mrs. Henry Neill and that clue, along with the owner’s extensive genealogical research were enough to discover the truth about the painting.
Both maiden and married names placed the subject in Missouri. Comparisons with other portraits of the time period revealed the artist to be George Caleb Bingham. Other experts agreed. The portrait has undergone scientific examination at a museum.
The new George Caleb Bingham portrait has a provenance of descent in family from Missouri to Washington State, to art market, to current owner.
Date of Execution
Collar width, earrings, and, especially, the severely squared hairstyle suggested a date of execution in the late 1860s or early 1870s. The subject’s life pinpointed the time as 1871.
Sarah Ann Elliott was born in Howard County, Missouri, in 1837. Throughout her life she would go by the name of Sallie. She was the second child, and the second daughter, of Newton Glasgow Elliott and Elizabeth “Nancy” Wilkerson. Newton Elliott was one of the early settlers of Missouri’s Boon’s Lick. By the time of Sallie’s birth he was the county’s justice of the peace. By 1848, he was sheriff.
On November 3, 1853, at the age of 16, Sallie married 25-year-old Henry C. Neill. A Virginian by birth, Henry moved to Lafayette County, Missouri with his family in the late 1830s. When he married Sallie, he was probably a school teacher, but studying law. Their first child, Anna (Annie) W. was born in 1854, and two years later, Hyman Graham (1856 – 1910), then Mary D. (1859 – ).
The Civil War interrupted the Neill’s family life. Early in the war Henry Neill served in the 71st Enrolled Missouri Militia Regiment in Kansas City with Captain George Caleb Bingham. Major Neill later led troops with the 5th provisional Cavalry Regiment Enrolled Missouri Militia.
In 1871, Sallie died at the age of 34. Her oldest daughter Anna was 17. Three years after her mother’s death, she married a staunch Kentucky confederate, Ryland Todhunter. Sallie’s youngest son, Stephen T. Neill, was six when she died. He became a dentist in Clinton, Missouri, and served as the town’s mayor. Her oldest son, Hyman was 15. Within a year of her death, he was a buffalo hunter in Kansas and soon joined the Dodge City Gang. After they were thrown out of Kansas, the gang took over Las Vegas, New Mexico, with Neill as leader and the town’s justice of the peace. He took the name of Hoodoo Brown. The Chicago Times reported regularly on his exploits. His legend lives on in books, movies, and video games. In the portrait by George Caleb Bingham, his mother lives on as a witness to the hardship of life in Missouri during the war.