The Red Man’s Bones

  • From the Publisher
May 13, 2013
George Catlin has been called the first artist of the West,” even though he was nei­ther the first to paint Indi­ans nor to work west of the Mis­sis­sip­pi. He cre­at­ed close to 600 por­traits — images of indi­vid­ual chiefs, war­riors, braves, squaws, and chil­dren of more than thir­ty tribes of the north­ern plains. After a failed start in Philadel­phia as a por­trait painter of minia­tures, he became con­vinced that his des­tiny lay in seiz­ing the images of Native Amer­i­cans — on the verge of extinc­tion by geno­cide (his word). In 1839, Catlin began show­ing live” Indi­ans, troupes of Iowa and Ojibb­wa. In the process, he changed from artist to show­man and from advo­cate to exploiter of his per­form­ers. Tragedy afflict­ed both Catlin and his Indi­ans. The artist endured an end­less series of dis­as­ters, includ­ing a stay in debtor’s prison and the seizure of all his works. 

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