Wi-Jun-Jon, An Assinneboin Chief, George Catlin, 1844
Wi-Jun-Jon, An Assinneboin Chief
George Catlin
1844
[ffxE77 C375 no. 25]

George Catlin
CATLIN'S NORTH AMERICAN INDIAN PORTFOLIO. HUNTING SCENES AND AMUSEMENTS OF THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS AND PRAIRIES OF AMERICA. London: George Catlin, C. and J. Adlard, printers, 1844.

In the left half of the picture, painter, explorer, and author George Catlin depicts the Assinibon Chief "Going to Washington" in his romantic glory and noble bearing, untainted by the clothing or psyche of white civilization. This was the image that Catlin traveled to the Great Plains to capture before the Indian race passed into oblivion. This is also a classic representation of the nineteenth century American Indian, replacing the "noble Indian" of the de Bry engraving produced during the 1590s. In the right half, "Returning to his home", the colonelís uniform, the umbrella and fan, the cigarette, and the oafish pose all reveal the corruption of the natural nobility and manner of the Indian by white civilization. This image reflects the continual struggle of American-European society to both represent and mis-represent the true "being" of American Indians. Is either image an accurate portrayal of an Indian?

George Catlin, born in 1796, demonstrated a life-long interest in the American Indian, as a painter, explorer, and author. His efforts on behalf of the Plains Indians arose from a concern that "the tribes of red men of North America, as a nation of human beings, are on their wane; that 'they are fast travelling to the shades of their fathers, toward the setting sun;' and that the traveler who would . . . see these people in their native simplicity and beauty, needs be hastily on his way to the prairies or Rocky Mountains, or he will . . . see them only as they are now seen on the frontiers, as a basket of dead game, — harassed, chased, bleeding and dead; with their plumage and colors despoiled."

Between 1830 and 1836 Catlin trekked across the Plains to paint the American Indian. In 1832 Catlin traveled along the Missouri River for eighty-six days. In 1834 he visited Oklahoma and Texas, and in 1835 Catlin was among the first men to visit the pipestone quarries of Minnesota. The red rock used by Indians to carve their pipes is named Catlinite in his honor.

Catlin returned to the east and created an "Indian Gallery" of paintings, artifacts, and memorabilia that toured in Europe and America. Catlin, who lost his collection to creditors in 1852, died in New Jersey in 1872.

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