CATLIN, George (1796-1872). Plate No. 7 Buffalo Hunt, Chase

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Hand-colored lithograph heightened with gum arabic by John McGahey (active 1835–1855) after George Catlin (1796-1872) printed by Day & Haghe

From the first edition of Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio. Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Praries of America. From Drawings and Notes of the Author, made during Eight Years' Travel amongst Forty-Eight of the Wildest and Most Remote Tribes of Savages in North America. London: Geo. Catlin, Egyptian Hall, 1844

Paper dimensions: approximately 16 ½ x 22 ¾ inches

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Catlin provided the following description to accompany this subject:

PLATE No. 7.


In this is plate represented number accidents of the chase, with all of which sportsman in that country soon become acquainted. There is also seen here another variety of the "rolling" prairie; and the effect of the Indian's deadly weapons forcibly displayed; likewise a party Indians dashing among a herd buffaloes in a ravine, from which they are "breaking" in various directions men; and men, horses, and buffaloes meeting the accidents and alternatives here represented, which are familiar in the country. In the midst of precisely such a scene I was thrown, in a desperate chase by a party of Sioux Indians, near the mouth Teton River, on the Upper Missouri.

The buffalo is a harmless and timid animal until severely wounded, or closely pursued, when it often turns upon horse and rider with great rage and shocking disaster, unless a sudden escape can be made from its relentless fury. When closely pursued by the horse, and held a little too long in familiar company, the bull will often suddenly wheel around, receiving horse and rider on his horns, at the imminent hazard of the limbs and lives of both.

In this group is seen the position and expression of the Indian and the buffalo, at the moment the arrow has been thrown and buried to the feather in the animal's side. In front of the picture, the wounded bull is seen dying, whilst wreaking his vengeance upon the horse; and on the left, another bull goring the horse of his assailant, who is forced from his seat and obliged to pass over the backs of several animals, which is often the case when they are running in numerous and confused masses. In this instance is seen the blade of the arrow protruding from the wound on the opposite side of animal to that where it entered, one of the frequent occurrences of the kind, illustrating the great force with which the Indian's arrows are occasionally sent, passing entirely through the animal's body. I have been familial with these hunting scenes of the Indians for several years, and have sometimes, for months together, almost daily, joined in them myself, when I have beheld many hundreds of them slain. I have several times seen the Indian gallop his horse around, and, leaning from its side, snatch his arrow from the ground, half buried in the earth, and covered with blood, having passed through the animal's heart on its way.

The numerous results which I have closely studied, of the deadly effects arrow, have fully convinced me that, in the hand of a skillful hunter horseback, at the distance the arrow is required to be thrown, the bow is a far more efficient weapon than the best firearm that could be produced The aim is as true, the shots can be six or eight to one, and I venture to say that each shall be fully equal and more certain of securing the animal. I know, from experience, that the buffalo will often lead us a long and fruitless chase with two or three ounce bullets through its body, when, if pinioned with an Indian’s arrow, it would stand and submit to a second through its heart, bringing it to the ground.


George Catlin (1796-1872)

George Catlin was the earliest great artist to travel extensively among the Plains Indians of North America and visually record their customs and artifacts. Through the important body of paintings and graphics he created and his carful written observations he sought to persuade his contemporaries that Native American culture should be honored and preserved.  

In 1830 Catlin began his first journey up the Missouri River accompanying General William Clark on a diplomatic mission into Native American territory. His travel was inspired by his longstanding interest in Native American culture and by his observation of a delegation of Native Americans who were on their way to Washington, D.C. In doing so left behind earlier careers as a Philadelphia attorney and a portrait miniaturist. His goal was perhaps best expressed in the preface to the first edition of his North American Indian Portfolio: "The history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country and becoming their historian."

St. Louis became Catlin’s base of operations for five trips he took between 1830 and 1836, eventually visiting fifty tribes, the Pawnee, Omaha, Ponca, Mandan, Hidatsa, Cheyenne, Crow, Assiniboine, and Blackfeet among them.

The artist’s hundreds of portraits, scenes, and landscapes and extensive collection of Indian artifacts he accumulated on his excursions became famous as Catlins "Indian Gallery", when it started touring the United States in 1837 and prior to its London debut two years later.

Having established a name for himself with the success of the "Indian Gallery", Catlin focused his attention on finishing his first book, The Manners, Customs, and Condition of the North American Indians… which first appeared in the autumn of 1841. This book was to become one of the most important works on American Indians published in the 19th century. Catlin's project filled a great need.  Following Lewis & Clark's celebrated expedition up the Missouri River into the Pacific Northwest, Europeans read avidly of the sights and experiences of the voyage.  They traced the route followed by the explorers, using the map that accompanied the wildly popular printed volumes on the journey.  

Lacking, however, from the accounts of the expedition of Lewis and Clark was pictorial documentation and its audience (both American and European) were unable to visualize the journey. This lacuna meant that the people, landscapes, and customs of the vast American frontier remained abstract ideas, much less vividly imaginable to anyone who had not personally experienced the voyage. When first issued in 1844, Catlin’s portfolio presented animated, colorful, sympathetic views of Native Americans finally filled the void of imagery.  

Its arrival brought about the ability for Europeans and Americans to visualize the people and customs of whom they had read so extensively, and to gain a level of respect for the Native Americans, so often feared, misunderstood or misrepresented.  The artist's stunning lithographs ranged from portraits to depictions of tribal ceremonies, from the anecdotal to the idealized.  Catlin appealed to his readers with the thrill of the hunt and the mystery of ritual, and conveyed his respect for his subjects masterfully.  The immediacy of his images is irresistible, drawing viewers into the scenes and portraits with unprecedented intimacy.  But even when Catlin issued the North American Indian Portfolio, just fifteen years after his expedition, his crusade to preserve America's "Noble Savage" was failing.  The Indians were beginning to give way to the expansion of the American frontier and to European disease.  Because most of Catlin's paintings and collections were destroyed by fire or neglect, his lithographs remain the principal medium by which his message was conveyed, and they have come to hold even greater significance today than when they were first published.

Description compiled by Erik Brockett who is pleased to provide additional information relating to this or other examples of the work of George Catlin available at Arader Galleries. He can be contacted at