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From 1831 to 1837, George Catlin traveled extensively among the native peoples of North America—from the Muskogee and Miccosukee Creeks of the Southeast to the Lakota, Mandan, and Pawnee of the West, and from the Winnebagos and Menominees of the North to the Comanches of eastern Texas. Studying their habits, customs, and modes of life, he made copious notes and numerous sketches of ceremonies, buffalo hunts, symbols, and totems. Catlin’s unprecedented fieldwork culminated in more than five hundred oil paintings ...
From 1831 to 1837, George Catlin traveled extensively among the native peoples of North America—from the Muskogee and Miccosukee Creeks of the Southeast to the Lakota, Mandan, and Pawnee of the West, and from the Winnebagos and Menominees of the North to the Comanches of eastern Texas. Studying their habits, customs, and modes of life, he made copious notes and numerous sketches of ceremonies, buffalo hunts, symbols, and totems. Catlin’s unprecedented fieldwork culminated in more than five hundred oil paintings and his now-legendary journals, which, as Peter Matthiessen writes in his introduction, “taken together... constitute the first, last, and only ‘complete’ record of the Plains Indians ever made at the height of their splendid culture, so soon destroyed by traders’ liquor and disease, rapine and bayonets.”
Introduction by Peter Matthiessen
Suggestions for Further Reading
Letter No. 1
Wyoming, birth-place of the Author. His former Profession—First cause of his Travels to the Indian Country—Delegation of Indians in Philadelphia—First start to the Far West, in 1832. Probable extinction of the Indians. Former and present number of—The proper mode of approaching them, and estimating their character.
Letter No. 2—Mouth of Yellow Stone, Upper Missouri, 1832
Mouth of Yellow Stone. Distance from St. Louis—Difficulties of the Missouri—Politeness of Mr. Chouteau and Major Sanford—Fur Company's Fort—Indian Epicures—New and true School for the Arts—Beautiful Models.
Letter No. 3—Mouth of Yellow Stone, Upper Missouri
Character of Missouri River. Beautiful prairie shores. Picturesque clay bluffs. First appearance of a steamer at the Yellow Stone, and curious conjectures of the Indians about it. Fur Company's Establishment at the mouth of Yellow Stone—M'Kenzie—His table and politeness. Indian tribes in this vicinity.
Letter No. 4—Mouth of Yellow Stone, Upper Missouri
Upper Missouri Indians—General character. Buffaloes—Description of. Modes of killing them—Buffalo-hunt.
Letter No. 5—Mouth of Yellow Stone, Upper Missouri
Author's painting-room, and characters in it. Blackfoot chief. Other Blackfoot chiefs, and their costumes. Blackfoot woman and child. Scalps, and objects for which taken—Blackfoot bows, shields, arrows and lances. Several distinguished Blackfeet.
Letter No. 6—Mouth of Yellow Stone, Upper Missouri
Medicines or mysteries—medicine bag—origin of the word medicine. Mode of forming the medicine-bag. Value of the medicine-bag to the Indian, and materials for their construction. Blackfoot doctor or medicine-man—his mode of curing the sick. Different offices and importance of medicine-men.
Letter No. 7—Mouth of Yellow Stone, Upper Missouri
Crows and Blackfeet—general character and appearance. Crow lodge or wigwam. Striking their tents and encampment moving. Mode of dressing and smoking skins. Crows—Beauty of their dresses—Horse-stealing or capturing.
Letter No.8—Mouth of Yellow Stone, Upper Missouri
Further remarks on the Crows—Extraordinary length of hair. Crow and Blackfeet women—Their modes of dressing and painting. Differences between the Crow and Blackfoot languages. Different bands—Different languages, and numbers of the Blackfeet. Knisteneaux—Assinneboins, and Ojibbeways. Ojibbeways—Chief and wife. Assinneboins, a part of the Sioux. Wi-jun-jon (a chief) and wife. His visit to Washington.
Letter No. 9—Mouth of Yellow Stone, Upper Missouri
Contemplations of the Great Far West and its customs. March and effects of civilization.
Letter No. 10—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Voyage from Mouth of Yellow Stone down the river to Mandans—Commencement—Leave M'Kenzie's Fort. Assinneboins encamped on the river—Wi-jun-jon lecturing on the customs of white people—Mountain-sheep. War-eagles—Grizzly bears. Clay bluffs. Grizzly bear and cubs—Courageous attack—Canoe robbed. Voluptuous scene of wild flowers, buffalo bush and berries. Adventure after an elk—War-party discovered. Magnificent scenery in the "Grand Detour." Antelope shooting. "Grand Dome." Prairie dogs—Village.
Letter No. 11—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Location—Village. Former locations, fortification of their village—Description of village and mode of constructing their wigwams. Description of interior—Beds—Weapons—Family groups. Indian garrulity—Jokes—Fire-side fun and story-telling. Causes of Indian taciturnity in civilized society.
Letter No. 12—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Bird's-eye view of the village. The "big canoe"—Medicine-lodge—A strange medley. Mode of depositing the dead on scaffolds. Respect to the dead—Visiting the dead—Feeding the dead—Converse with the dead—Bones of the dead.
Letter No. 13—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
The wolf-chief—Head-chief of the tribe. Mandans' personal appearance—Peculiarities—Complexion. "Cheveux gris." Hair of the men—Hair of the women. Bathing and swimming. Mode of swinning—Sudatories or vapour baths.
Letter No. 14—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Costumes of the Mandans—High value set upon them—Made of war-eagles' quills and ermine. Head-dresses with horns. A Jewish custom—Portrait of Mah-to-toh-pa.
Letter No. 15—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Astonishment of the Mandans at the operation of the Author's brush. The Author installed medicine or medicine-man. Crowds around the Author—Curiousity to see and to touch him. Superstitious fears for those who were painted. Objections raised to being painted. The Author's operations opposed by a Mandan doctor, or medicine-man, and how brought over.
Letter No. 16—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
An Indian beau or dandy. A fruitless endeavour to paint one. Mah-to-toh-pa (the four bears), second chief of the tribe—The Author feasted in his wigwam. Viands of the feast. Pemican and marrow-fat—Mandan poetry—Robe presented. Mah-to-toh-pa's exploits in battle.
Letter No. 17—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Polygamy—Reasons and excuses for it. Marriages, how contracted—Wives bought and sold. Paternal and filial affection—Virtue and modesty of women—Early marriages—Slavish lives and occupations of the Indian women. Pomme blanche—Dried meat—Caches—Modes of cooking, and times of eating—Attitudes in eating. Separation of males and females in eating—the Indians moderate eaters—Some exceptions. Curing meat in the sun, without smoke or salt—The wild Indians eat no salt.
Letter No. 18—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Indian dancing—"Buffalo dance." Discovery of buffaloes—Preparations for the chase—Start—A decoy—A retreat—Death and scalping.
Letter No. 19—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Game of Tchung-kee. Feasting—Fasting and sacrificing—White buffalo robe—its value. Rain making. "The thunder boat"—The big double medicine.
Letter No. 20—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Mandan archery—"Game of the arrow." Wild horses—Horse-racing. Foot war-party in council.
Letters No. 21 & No. 22—Mandan Village, Upper Missouri
Mandan religious ceremonies—Mandan religious creed. Three objects of the ceremony. Place of holding the ceremony—Big canoe—Season of commencing—and manner. Opening the medicine lodge—Sacrifices to the water. Fasting scene for four days and nights. "Great Medicine." Bel-lohck-nah-pick (the bull dance). Pohk-hong (the cutting or torturing scene). Eh-ke-nah-ka-nah-pick (the last race). Extraordinary instances of cruelty in self-torture. Sacrificing of the water. Tradition of O-kee-hee-de (the Evil Spirit). Mandans can be civilized. Origins of Mandans.
Letter No. 23—Minataree Village, Upper Missouri
Location and numbers—Origin. Principal village. Vapour baths. Old chief, Black Moccasin. Two portraits, man and woman. Green corn dance.
Letter No. 24—Minataree Village, Upper Missouri
Crows, in the Minataree village. Crossing Knife River in "bull boat"—Swimming of Minataree girls. Grand buffalo surround. Cutting up and carrying in meat.
Letter No. 26—Mouth of Teton River, Upper Missouri
Sioux (or Dah-co-ta). Fort Pierre. Mississippi and Missouri Sioux. Ha-wan-je-tah (chief). Puncahs, Shoo-de-ga-cha (chief) and wife. Four wives taken at once. Early marriages—Causes of.
Letter No. 27—Mouth of Teton River, Upper Missouri
Custom of exposing the aged. A tedious march on foot. Level prairies—"Out of sight of land"—Mirage—Looming of the prairies. Turning the toes in—Bijou hills—Salt meadows.
Letter No. 28—Mouth of Teton River, Upper Missouri
Difficulty of painting Indian women. Indian vanity—Watching their portraits—Arrival of the first steamer amongst the Sioux. Dog-feast.
Letter No. 29—Mouth of Teton River, Upper Missouri
Voluntary torture, "looking at the sun." Religious ceremony. Smoking "k'nick-k'neck. Tomahawks and scalping knives. Scalps—Mode of taking, and object. Modes of carrying and using the scalps.
Letter No. 30—Mouth of Teton River, Upper Missouri
Smoking the shield. Bear dance. Beggar's dance—Scalp dance. Story of Little Bear and the Dog.
Letter No. 31—Mouth of Teton River, Upper Missouri
Bisons (or buffaloes), description of. Habits of. Bulls' fighting—Buffalo wallows. Running the buffaloes, and throwing the arrow. Buffalo chase—Use of the laso. Hunting under masque of white wolf skins. Horses destroyed in buffalo hunting. Buffalo calf—Mode of catching and bringing in. Immense and wanton destruction of buffaloes—1,400 killed. White wolves attacking buffaloes. Contemplations on the probable extinction of buffaloes and Indians.
Letter No. 32—Fort Leavenworth, Lower Missouri
Floyd's Grave. Black Bird's Grave. Beautiful grassy bluffs. Mandan remains. Mouth of Platte. Buffaloes crossing.
Letter No. 33—Fort Leavenworth, Lower Missouri
Grouse shooting before the burning prairies. Prairie bluffs burning. Prairie meadows burning.
Letter No. 34—Fort Leavenworth, Lower Missouri
Ioways. Konzas. Mode of shaving the head. Pawnees. Small-pox amongst Pawnees. Major Dougherty's opinion of the Fur Trade. Ottoes, Omahas.
Letter No. 35—St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis. Loss of Indian curiosities, &c.—Governor Clark.
Letter No. 36—Pensacola, West Florida
Pensacola, Florida. Santa Rosa Island. Start for Camanchee country.
Letter No. 37—Fort Gibson, Arkansas Territory
Transit up the Arkansas river. Fort Gibson, 1st regiment United States dragoons reviewed. Equipping and starting of Dragoons for the Camanchee country.
Letter No. 38—Fort Gibson, Arkansas
Fort Gibson. Osages. Portraits of Osages. Former and present condition of.
Letter No. 39—Mouth of False Washita, Red River
Mouth of the False Washita and Red River. Beautiful prairie country. Arkansas grapes—Plums—Wild roses, currants, gooseberries, prickly pears, &c. Buffaloe chase. Murder of Judge Martin and family.
Letter No. 40—Mouth of False Washita
Sickness at the Mouth of False Washita—one-half of the regiment start for the Camanchees, under command of Col. Dodge. Sickness of General Leavenworth, and cause of.
Letter No. 41—Great Camanchee Village
Great Camanchee village, Texas. A stampedo. Meeting a Camanchee war party, and mode of approaching them. They turn about and escort the Dragoons to their village. Immense herds of buffaloes. Buffaloes breaking through the ranks of the Dragoons regiment. Wild horses—sagacity of. Taking the wild horse with laso, and "breaking down." Chain of the Rocky Mountain. Approach to the Camanchee village. Camanchee horses—prices of.
Letter No. 42—Great Camanchee Village
Description of the Camanchee village, and view of. Wonderful feats of riding. Portraits of Camanchee chiefs. Estimates of the Camanchees. Pawnee Picts, Kiowas, and Wicos.
Letter No. 43—Great Camanchee Village
The regiment advance towards the Pawnee village—Description and view of the Pawnee village. Council in the Pawnee village—Recovery of the son of Judge Martin, and the presentation of the three Pawnee and Kiowa women to their own people. Return of the regiment to the Camanchee village. Pawnee Picts, portraits of.
Letter No. 44—Camp Canadian, Texas
Camp Canadian—Immense herds of buffaloes—Great slaughter of them—Extraordinary sickness of the command. Suffering from impure water—sickness of the men. Death of General Leavenworth and Lieutenant M'Clure.
Letter No. 45—Fort Gibson, Arkansas
Return to Fort Gibson—Severe and fatal sickness at that place—Death of Lieutenant West. Death of the Prussian Botanist and his servant. Indian Council at Fort Gibson. Outfits of trading-parties to the Camanchees—Probable consequences of. Curious minerals and fossil shells collected and thrown away. Mountain ridges of fossil shells, of iron and gypsum. Saltpetre, and salt.
Letter No. 46—Alton, Illinois
The Author starting alone for St. Louis, a distance of 500 miles across the prairies—His outfit. The Author and his horse "Charley" encamped on a level prairie. Riqua's village of Osages. Crossing the Osage. Boonville on the Missouri—Author reaches Alton, and starts for Florida.
Letter No. 47—Saint Louis
Kickapoos, portraits of. Weahs, portraits of. Potowatomies. Kaskasias. Peorias. Piankeshaws. Delawares. Moheconneuhs, or Mohegans. Oneidas. Tuskaroras. Senecas. Iroquois.
Letter No. 48—St. Louis
Flatheads, Nez Percé. Flathead mission across the Rocky Mountains to St. Louis—Mission of the Reverends Messrs. Lee and Spalding beyond the Rocky Mountains. Chinooks, portraits. Process of flattening the head. Similar custom of Choctaws—Choctaw tradition. Character and disposition of the Indians on the Columbia.
Letter No. 49—St. Louis
Shawanos. Shawnee prophet and his transactions. Cherokees. Creeks. Choctaws. Ball-play. A distinguished ball-player. ball up. Eagle dance. Tradition of the Deluge—Of a future state. Origin of the Crawfish band.
Letter No. 50—Fort Snelling, Fall of St. Anthony
Fort Snelling, near the Fall of St. Anthony—Description of the Upper Mississippi. "Dubuque's Grave." Fall of St. Anthony. Fort Snelling. The Sioux.
Letter No. 51—Fort Snelling, Fall of St. Anthony
Fourth of July at the Fall of St. Anthony, and ammusements. Dog dance of the Sioux. Chippeways making the portage around the Fall of St. Anthoy. Chippeway bark canoes—Mandan canoes of skins—Sioux and Chippeway snow-shoes. Snow-shoe dances.
Letter No. 52—Camp Des Moines
Prairie du Chien. Winnebagoes. Menomonies. Dubuque. Camp des Moines, and visit to Keokuck's village.
Letters No. 54 & No. 55—Red Pipe Stone Quarry, Côteau des Prairies
Côteau des Prairies. Ravages of small-pox. Mackinaw and Sault de St. Marys. Catching white fish—Canoe race. Voyage up the Fox river and down the Ouisconsin in bark canoe. Red Pipe Stone Quarry, on the Côteau des Prairies. Indian traditions relative to the Red Pipe Stone. The Author and his companion stopped by the Sioux, on their way, and objections raised by the Sioux.
Letter No. 56—Rock Island, Upper Mississippi
The Author and his companion embark in a log canoe at "Traverse de Sioux." Ke-o-kuk. Slave-dance. "Smoking horses." Begging-dance. Sailing in canoes—Discovery-dance—Dance to the Berdashe. Dance to the medicine of the brave. Treaty with Sacs and Foxes—Stipulations of.
Letter No. 57—Fort Moultrie, South Carolina
Fort Moultrie—Seminoles. Florida War—Prisoners of war—Osceola. Mickenopah. Death of Osceola.
Letter No. 58—North Western Frontier
North Western Frontier. General appearance and habits of the North American Indians. Jewish customs and Jewish resemblances. Probable origin of the Indians. Languages. Government. Cruelties of punishments. Indian queries on white man's modes. Modes of war and peace. Pipe of peace dance. Religion. Picture writing and totems. Policy of removing the Indians. Trade and small-pox, the principal destroyers of the Indian tribes. Murder of the Root-Diggers and Riccarees. Concluding remarks.
List of Maps
Outline Map of Indian Localities in 1833
U. States Indian Frontier in 1840
The Moves of the Mandans and the Place of Their Extinction.