Category Archives: Curator’s Corner

Hide & Horn

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the legendary Chisholm Trail. Named after the Scot-Cherokee trader, Jesse Chisholm, the trail was a major route for Texas livestock. In its brief existence, the cattle drive era amounted to the greatest migration of livestock in world history, with more than 5 million cattle and 5 million mustangs moving from Texas ranches to northern markets. As waypoint along the trail, Fort Worth experienced economic growth and developed a unique Western heritage as a result.

The Best and Shortest Cattle Trail from Texas, Kansas Pacific Railway Company, St. Louis, MO: Levison & Blythe, 1873, Rees-Jones Collection

The Best and Shortest Cattle Trail from Texas, Kansas Pacific Railway Company, St. Louis, MO: Levison & Blythe, 1873, Rees-Jones Collection

The Sid will join the three-state (Texas, Oklahoma & Kansas) 2017 celebration of the Chisholm Trail with a cattle trail-era focus exhibition, Hide & Horn on the Chisholm Trail. The exhibit will feature collectors’ items about the greatest migration of livestock in world history. On loan from the Rees-Jones Collection in Dallas, visitors will view an 1873 trail map and guidebook for drovers, one of the four most important books on the cattle industry, and one of the best books about the Texas Longhorn cattle breed during the 19th century.

Guide Map of the Great Texas Cattle Trail, from Red River Crossing to the Old Reliable Kansas Pacific Railway, Kansas Pacific Railway Company, St. Louis, MO: Levison & Blythe, 1873, Rees-Jones Collection

Guide Map of the Great Texas Cattle Trail, from Red River Crossing to the Old Reliable Kansas Pacific Railway, Kansas Pacific Railway Company, St. Louis, MO: Levison & Blythe, 1873, Rees-Jones Collection

Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry and the Cattlemen of Texas and Adjacent Territory, James Cox (1851-1901), St. Louis, MO: Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co., 1895, Rees-Jones Collection

Historical and Biographical Record of the Cattle Industry and the Cattlemen of Texas and Adjacent Territory, James Cox (1851-1901), St. Louis, MO: Woodward & Tiernan Printing Co., 1895, Rees-Jones Collection

The Longhorns, J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964), Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1941, Inscription by J. Frank Dobie to Sid Richardson, March 12, 1942, Sid Richardson Museum

The Longhorns, J. Frank Dobie (1888-1964), Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1941, Inscription by J. Frank Dobie to Sid Richardson, March 12, 1942, Sid Richardson Museum

Hide and Horn on the Chisholm Trail opens Friday, January 6.

The Story of the Cover

Our current exhibition features a painting by artist Shannon Stirnweis.

Shannon Stirnweis | Lonesome Dove | 1985 | Oil on canvas mounted on wood panel | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

Shannon Stirnweis | Lonesome Dove | 1985 | Oil on canvas mounted on wood panel | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

Look familiar? This is the image that graced the original cover of the 1985 publication of Larry McMurtry’s novel Lonesome Dove. How does an artist develop a book cover design? Our research volunteer, Shelle McMillen, spoke with Mr. Stirnweis to learn more.

Shannon Stirnweis has had much experience working in the book publishing industry, having produced several book covers for Western literary authors like Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. One day, Stirnweis received an assignment from a publisher along with a copy of the Lonesome Dove manuscript. Stirnweis read the story to find inspiration for what he would represent on the cover. The artist created three drafts, each different compositions, within a period of two weeks, which was longer than the amount of time he would typically spend on developing a concept.

Shannon Stirnweis | Lonesome Dove Book Jacket | Book | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

Shannon Stirnweis | Lonesome Dove Book Jacket | Book | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

The publishers were attracted to Stirnweis’ color sketches that included the trail herd and Gus’s tent. His final painting illustrates the tent and campsite Gus assembled for Lorie after she was abandoned by her travel partner, Jake Spoon. Crouched in the far left corner of the composition is Blue Duck, the notorious bandit from Gus and Call’s Texas Ranger days. The scene foreshadows the impending danger of Lorie’s kidnapping and the ensuing hardships Gus will endure to rescue her. Trailing in the background is the ongoing adventure of Captain Call and his cattle drive as they remain steadfast in their journey to Montana.

What do you think? Did Stirnweis capture the essence of Lonesome Dove? They say a picture is worth a 1,000 words. Or in the case of the hundreds of pages of Lonesome Dove, 365,712 words to be exact.

Lights. Camera. Action!

Our current exhibit, Lonesome Dove: The Art of Story, traces the path of Lonesome Dove from Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel to the original screenplay and filming of the legendary TV miniseries. Included in the display of The Wittliff Collection’s film production archives are original and facsimiles of storyboards. But what is a storyboard and why are they important to the making of a movie?IMG_7017

Michael Peal | Facsimiles, Storyboards for Stampede Scene | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

Michael Peal | Facsimiles, Storyboards for Stampede Scene | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

Michael Peal was the storyboard artist for the Lonesome Dove miniseries. Growing up, Peal loved movies and drawing, which eventually led him to study film and art in college. One of his first forays into the film industry came in the 1970s when Peal met Bob Burns, the art director for Texas Chainsaw Massacre, whom Peal assisted during the film’s pre-production. Later, Michael worked as the storyboard artist for films like the Coen brothers’ Blood Simple and Red Headed Stranger, which was written and directed by future Lonesome Dove screenplay writer and co-executive producer, Bill Wittliff.

What is a storyboard? It is a sequence of drawings representing the movement of the story, all seen from the camera’s point of view. Storyboards are typically part of the pre-production process. As a storyboard artist, Michael worked closely with the director of Lonesome Dove, Simon Wincer, turning the general narrative of the screenplay into a visual story.

What is the purpose of a storyboard?

  • Problem solving – save money, anticipate needs, people and equipment. For example, in the case of Lonesome Dove, the storyboards helped established a clear idea of how many head of cattle and horses are needed for each shot.
  • Creativity – ideas, to tell a story – creatively. Storyboards are the last opportunity to make the most of a story, visually and dramatically, before the director is on the set, where time is money on a big scale.
  • Communication – all department heads get a copy of the storyboards in advance of production so they will know what is expected of their departments for the scenes.

Storyboards are still used in film productions to this day.LD_22_1a_01

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Michael Peal | Sketches, Stampede Scene | 1987 | No. 2 pencil on Strathmore 80# smooth paper | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

Michael Peal | Sketches, Stampede Scene | 1987 | No. 2 pencil on Strathmore 80# smooth paper | The Wittliff Collections, Alkek Library, Texas State University

The Cowboy Chronicles

Trail drives were a big but short-lived venture. After the Civil War, there was a brief period in which millions of cattle were driven from Texas to northern markets, traveling over the vast open range. Historians estimate that cowboys drove 6-9 million head of cattle from the Lone Star state to Kansas between 1867-1886. With the introduction of barbed wire, the expansion of railroads, and the development of meat packing plants near ranching areas, epic cattle drives like the one documented in the story Lonesome Dove were no longer necessary.

Rarely do we have the opportunity to hear firsthand from someone who lived through this defining era of the American cowboy. In 2001, a journal written by Jack Bailey was discovered in a private home in Oklahoma City. The journal was quickly shared with the staff at Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson Research Center at National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, who later transcribed the text for publication. Bailey Journey

Jack Bailey’s journal is a day-by-day account of life on a cattle drive as he traveled from North Texas to Kansas to deliver a herd of cattle to market in the fall of 1868. He encounters physical hardships, injuries and malaise, as well as the everyday tedium of routine. Bailey even questions his decision to join the drive in the first place! Typically, most cowboys on a trail drive were in their twenties. Jack Bailey was 37 when he chronicled his 3-month odyssey.pg46 & 47Bailey Quote

Lonesome Dove: The Art of Story

Tomorrow our new exhibit Lonesome Dove: The Art of Story opens to the public. This exhibition celebrates Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize-winning tale and traces the path of its development from McMurtry’s first drafts to the original movie script to the legendary miniseries.

Lonesome Dove: The Art of Story | exhibition poster | ( Poster Image: Lonesome Dove from JJ Pumphrey General Merchandise Store | Cary White (1948-) | Fall, 1987 | Sandblasted rough-sawn lumber, house paint | The Witliff collections, Alkek Library, texas State University )

Lonesome Dove: The Art of Story | exhibition poster | ( Poster Image: Lonesome Dove from JJ Pumphrey General Merchandise Store | Cary White (1948-) | Fall, 1987 | Sandblasted rough-sawn lumber, house paint | The Witliff collections, Alkek Library, texas State University )

For the first time ever, Lonesome Dove Collection works from the Wittliff Collections at Texas State University, San Marcos will travel to Fort Worth. Our galleries will display materials from the filming and production of the Lonesome Dove miniseries, including producer Bill Wittliff’s annotated screen play, storyboard sketches, and set and costume drawings.

How true to life is Lonesome Dove and its tale of life on the trail? Visitors will discover the grit and grim reality of cattle drives as they virtually flip through the pages of Jack Bailey’s Cowboy Journal, a rare Texas cowboy’s diary of a cattle drive in 1868, on loan from the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.

 

Jack Baily Journal, 2001.074, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Jack Baily Journal, 2001.074, Dickinson Research Center, National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum

Exploring the story elements shared in the written and visual depictions of the 19th century American West, the exhibition brings together four of Frederic Remington’s most iconic paintings. From Fort Worth’s Amon Carter Museum comes The Fall of the Cowboy, painted in 1895. Tulsa’s Gilcrease Museum will loan the 1908 painting The Stampede. From the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, comes the 1908 painting Fight for the Waterhole. Those three join the Richardson’s own Remington masterpiece, Buffalo Runners – Big Horn Basin, from 1909.

Frederic Remington | The Fall of the Cowboy | 1895 | Oil on canvas | Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection

Frederic Remington | The Fall of the Cowboy | 1895 | Oil on canvas | Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection

The exhibition will open to the public at noon on January 15. Admission is free. Join us as we celebrate the story of the American West in art, literature, and film!

Remington & Impressionism

*Iconic Western painter Frederic Remington began his career drawing black and white illustrations for the most popular magazines in America. Yet he yearned to be known as an artist, not just an illustrator, and he strategically drew inspiration from the museums and art galleries of New York City.  Friends with American Impressionist Childe Hassam and a number of young American painters, Remington first saw the work of Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Camille Pissarro and other modern French painters at the newly opened Durand-Ruel Gallery whose owner became an early proponent of French Impressionism.

Following over a century of tradition, French Academic art valued paintings of history, religion, and mythology.  The Impressionists challenged this trope by painting modern life.  They were the first generation of artists to have access to newly-invented bright, artificial paints available in new collapsible metal tubes that freed them to work out of doors.  Using visible, flickering brushstrokes, they attempted to register their sensations to light and weather.

When Remington first saw this new art, he declared, “I’ve got two maiden aunts . . .  who can knit better pictures than that.”  Yet, Remington quietly admired the brighter palette, their theories of representing light, color and shadow. He started incorporating some of these techniques into his own work while maintaining his favored subject matter–his memories of the American West frontier.  For instance, in this detail of Buffalo Runners—Big Horn Basin, the shadows under the horses are the complimentary color of the dried grass in the foreground. Likewise, he knitted into the shadow small strokes of the reflected reddish-brown of the horses. Both of these ideas Remington adapted from the Impressionists.

Detail, Frederic Remington | Buffalo Runners - Big Horn Basin | 1909 | Oil on canvas | 30 1/8 x 51 1/8 inches

Detail, Frederic Remington | Buffalo Runners – Big Horn Basin | 1909 | Oil on canvas | 30 1/8 x 51 1/8 inches

At the same time, intrigued by the concept of painting believable night scenes, first introduced to American audiences by James McNeill Whistler, Remington attempted his own night scenes, or nocturnes.  By eliminating detail, limiting his palette to black, brown, blue, green and white, Remington gave us atmospheric paintings that became some of his most famous and cherished works.  Remington stated that he did his most difficult work outside the painting, and by doing so, he hoped to challenge the viewer to use their imagination.

In the painting, A Figure of the Night, Remington framed the rider and horse with a dark, impenetrable forest in the background and the shadows of unseen trees in the foreground.  The bright blue green ground reads as snow lit by moonlight.  The foreground shadows suggest the loneliness of the rider’s situation and the potential of hidden dangers ahead.

Frederic Remington | A Figure of the Night (The Sentinel) | 1908 | Oil on canvas | 30 x 21 1/8 inches

Frederic Remington | A Figure of the Night (The Sentinel) | 1908 | Oil on canvas | 30 x 21 1/8 inches

Today, Remington’s paintings serve as visual source material for modern film-makers and historians of the Western frontier. But Remington deserves to also be acknowledged as a fine, turn-of-the-century American artist who adapted ideas and techniques from other modern artists while remaining true to his passion for the West.

Frederic Remington, The Dry Camp, 1907, Oil on canvas, 27 3/8 x 40 inches

Frederic Remington, The Dry Camp, 1907, Oil on canvas, 27 3/8 x 40 inches

*Guest blog post written by Deborah Reed, independent scholar and presenter of Monet to Remington: Impressionism’s Influence on Remington’s Late Paintings (a lecture presented at the Sid Richardson Museum, November 2015).

The Trail West

Charles M. Russell | First Wagon Trail (First Wagon Tracks) | 1908 | Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper | 18 1/4 x 27 inches

Charles M. Russell | First Wagon Trail (First Wagon Tracks) | 1908 | Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper | 18 1/4 x 27 inches

The scene from Russell’s exquisite watercolor from 1908, First Wagon Trail, would have been set in the 1840s, when wagon trains heading to west first cut paths across the plains. These warriors show little evidence of contact with whites. The wagon tracks have these men wondering what kind of sizable beast has left the tracks.

Originally, between about 1811 and 1840, one could only traverse the trails across the plains by foot or horseback. In 1836, the first wagon train was organized from Independence, Missouri, clearing a trail all the way to Fort Hall, Idaho. Eventually, wagon trains pushed farther west, creating what we now know as the Oregon Trail.

"Oregontrail 1907". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oregontrail_1907.jpg#/media/File:Oregontrail_1907.jpg

“Oregontrail 1907”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oregontrail_1907.jpg#/media/File:Oregontrail_1907.jpg

When the pioneers and explorers first reached the plains, they noticed how the country had changed. Accustomed to their forests and prairies, the travelers described the landscape as “desert.” The air became more dry, the landscape more barren – no trees, no water. The Great Plains, unattractive to settlers, remained illegal for homesteading until after 1846.

The year 1852 marked a turning point, as more people than ever before were traveling west. Those going to California alone increased from 1,100 in 1851 to 50,000 in 1852. Contributing to some of the upsurge in the westward emigration population was the rise in the number of women accompanying the wagon trains, from whom we have several written accounts of their experience. “Tonight we pitch our camp for the first time. Our campground is a beautiful little prairie, covered with grass and we feel quite at home and very independent,” wrote 17-year-old Eliza Ann McAuley in her diary on April 12, 1852 as she traveled from Iowa to California.

Today, highways like Interstate 80 roughly trace parts of the historic Oregon Trail and pass through towns across Wyoming and Nebraska that were first established to serve travelers using the old trail.

Russell vs. Wyeth

Charles M. Russell | He Snaked Old Texas Pete Right Out of His Wicky-up, Gun and All | 1905 | Watercolor, pencil & gouache on paper | 12 3/8 inches x 17 1/8 inches

Charles M. Russell | He Snaked Old Texas Pete Right Out of His Wicky-up, Gun and All | 1905 | Watercolor, pencil & gouache on paper | 12 3/8 inches x 17 1/8 inches

During the winter of 1904, while the Russells were staying with fellow illustrator John N. Marchand in New York, Charlie was not made short of work. He received several illustration jobs while in town: Scribner’s, Outing, Leslie’s, and McClure’s magazines. He Snaked Old Texas Pete Right Out of His Wicky-up, Gun and All was one of the pictures that Russell painted for McClure’s Magazine and was used to illustrate the first two installments of Stewart Edward White’s story Arizona Nights.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

The famous American artist and illustrator, N.C. Wyeth illustrated the remaining installments of White’s story.  At the time, Wyeth’s mentor, the great illustrator Howard Pyle, was the magazine’s art director. Perhaps his personal preference influenced his change artist selection. Pyle turned down future requests for Russell’s illustrations, as evidenced by writer Edgar Beecher Bronson, who had appealed on Charlie’s behalf. Nancy Russell’s response to Mr. Bronson sheds some light on the issue:

We appreciate what you have done in trying to get McClure to have Chas. illustrate for them, but the art editor and I had a disagreement about some pictures about two years ago and I can understand how he would dislike to ask any favors or even to give work to Mr. Russell. We appreciate your efforts but don’t try to have Chas. illustrate anything for McClure because I know the present art editor will not have him if he can help himself.

Tellingly, all of Russell’s previous illustrations were replaced with Wyeth’s when White’s book Arizona Nights was published in 1907.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Stewart Edward White, “Arizona Nights,” McClure’s Magazine 26 (February 1906): 412-419.

Remington & Russell, Retold

Remington-Russell-Retold-Exhibition-400pxW

 

Bringing to life unforgettable characters and recalling significant events have always been fundamental tasks that the artistic imagination has addressed. In Remington & Russell, Retold, native peoples, explorers, mountain men, buffalo hunters and soldiers are participants in such events as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Oregon Trail, and the Indian Wars, presenting a narrative of the 19th-century American West via 38 paintings by the preeminent storytellers of the American West, Frederic Remington (1861-1909) and Charles Russell (1864-1926).

Unfolding largely in chronological order of the year the artworks were completed, the paintings in Remington & Russell, Retold span 22 years of Remington’s career (from age 25 until his death at age 48) and 37 years of Russell’s career (age 21 – 58), bridging a combined period of the artists’ lives from 1885-1922.

When works by these two contemporaries are presented “shoulder to shoulder,” it is inevitable to reflect on the similarities and differences in their backgrounds, subject matter, points of view, styles and techniques. Remington and Russell certainly were compared during their lifetimes by the public and the press, and they still are being compared today.

Both were writers, illustrators, painters and sculptors, each producing in excess of 3000 works of art in his lifetime. Remington enjoyed a national reputation, while Russell had a loyal regional following. Though they are joined in the public’s mind as being responsible for creating America’s vision of the Western frontier, theirs was not a singular vision. Russell’s interpretation of the conflict between American settlers and native peoples favors the Indian perspective, while early works by Remington regard the Indian as savage.

While there is no documentation that the two artists ever met, it is certain they were aware of each other’s work. As recalled by his nephew, Austin Russell, Charlie Russell once said, “I bet that years from now when some art critic compares our pictures…what he’ll notice is that Russell and Remington saw the same country but not the same colors, and that’s all a difference of light.”

Charles M. Russell, Western Scene (The Shelton Saloon Painting), c. 1885, Oil on wood panel, 17 1/2 inches x 69 inches

Charles M. Russell, Western Scene (The Shelton Saloon Painting), c. 1885, Oil on wood panel, 17 1/2 inches x 69 inches

Early, mid-career and mature works of both artists are included in Remington & Russell, Retold. Of note is Western Scene, one of Russell’s first commissioned paintings, and four mid-career watercolors (each reproduced in its day in either magazines, calendars or commercial products), among them the 1908 First Wagon Tracks, last displayed in the Museum in 2005. In later works, Russell stayed true to themes he approached at a young age, and he reuses subjects and successful arrangements of figures, but with more depth and intense colors. Remington’s early days as an artist correspondent are represented in two 1886 watercolor field sketches of Buffalo Soldiers, The Ambushed Picket and The Riderless Horse. His career development as an illustrator is demonstrated in two grisailles (black-and-white oils) from 1891 to 1901, and 10 works from the last five years of his life—five dazzling sun-struck paintings and five nocturnes— representing his late career when he has abandoned his concern with detail and pared his compositions down.

Charles M. Russell | First Wagon Trail (First Wagon Tracks) | 1908 | Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper | 18 1/4 x 27 inches

Charles M. Russell | First Wagon Trail (First Wagon Tracks) | 1908 | Pencil, watercolor and gouache on paper | 18 1/4 x 27 inches

Frederic Remington | The Riderless Horse | 1886 | Pencil, pen & ink, watercolor on paper | 7 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches

Frederic Remington | The Riderless Horse | 1886 | Pencil, pen & ink, watercolor on paper | 7 7/8 x 11 7/8 inches

Frederic Remington | The Ambushed Picket | 1886 | Pencil, pen & ink, watercolor on paper | 9 x 11 7/8 inches

Frederic Remington | The Ambushed Picket | 1886 | Pencil, pen & ink, watercolor on paper | 9 x 11 7/8 inches

This reconsidered pictorial survey of the exploration of the American West is as revealing about the collector as it is of the two artists who created these works. When one considers that all but four of the paintings on display (The Dry Camp, Among the Led Horses, The Love Call, and The Apaches!) were acquired by Sid Richardson, a successful oil wildcatter, it would appear that he felt a kinship with the risk-takers who won the untamed West, less so with the pioneers who settled it. Save for the occupants of the little town of Utica [A Quiet Day in Utica], there is not a painting of a homesteader family or a prairie home to be found.

Charles M. Russell, Utica (A Quiet day in Utica), 1907, Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches

Charles M. Russell, Utica (A Quiet day in Utica), 1907, Oil on canvas, 24 1/8 x 36 1/8 inches

Still, these are stories we like to “read” today.

K’nick-K’neck

From time to time, I like to break away from my office to walk through our museum galleries and enjoy the artwork that I often write about on this blog. During one of those leisurely strolls I caught a glimpse of something that was unfamiliar. In one of the paintings from our current exhibition, Take Two, I noticed a strange creature hanging from the belt of one of the figures. When I looked closely, I noticed another figure sporting a similar accessory. I then began to carefully examine the rest of the Catlin images and spotted this particular object in two more paintings. What is that?!

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 - 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

George Catlin | Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London | 1861 – 1869 | Oil on card mounted on paperboard

Nine Ojibbeway Indians in London, otter 1

Detail

Detail

Detail

“Mandan War Chief with His Favorite Wife,” George Catlin (1796-1872),  (Cartoon No. 30) Oil on card mounted on paperboard, 18 ¼ x 24 5/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Collection

“Mandan War Chief with His Favorite Wife,” George Catlin (1796-1872),
(Cartoon No. 30) Oil on card mounted on paperboard, 18 ¼ x 24 5/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Collection

Detail

Detail

It’s an otter! But why are they hanging off men’s belts or sitting around like handbags? Thus the search began to uncover this mystery. After reading through Catlin’s writings, I found my answer. In his famous Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians, of which we have a rare copy currently on display, Catlin mentions his encounters with these ornamented otters. In some instances, such as his experience with a Blackfoot brave, Pe-toh-pee-kiss (The Eagle Ribs), the otter skins were made for medicine bags. These medicine bags had great meaning and importance, so much so, that when its owner dies, it is placed in his grave and decays with his body.

“Catlin Feasted by the Mandan Chief,” George Catlin (1796-1872), (Cartoon No. 133:  The author feasted in the wigwam of Mah-to-toh-pa, the war chief of the Mandans, dining on a roast rib of buffalo and pemican.) Oil on card mounted on paperboard, 18 ¼ x 24 9/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Collection

“Catlin Feasted by the Mandan Chief,” George Catlin (1796-1872), (Cartoon No. 133:
The author feasted in the wigwam of Mah-to-toh-pa, the war chief of the Mandans, dining on a roast rib of buffalo and pemican.) Oil on card mounted on paperboard, 18 ¼ x 24 9/16 in., National Gallery of Art, Washington, Paul Mellon Collection

Detail

Detail

Detail

Detail

A more common use for otter skins among the tribes Catlin encountered was as a pouch for k’nick-k’neck, or tobacco. The artist demonstrates this custom in his painting Catlin Feasted by the Mandan Chief. Catlin dines on roasted buffalo ribs while the Mandan Chief Four Bears prepares his pipe for an after-dinner smoke. Next to Four Bear’s foot lies his otter-skinned tobacco pouch. Another can be found on display in the foreground of the painting.

In Letter No. 16. from Catlin’s Letters and Notes, the artist describes this very scene:

I spoke in a former Letter of Mah-to-toh-pa (the four bears), the second chief of the nation, and the most popular man of the Mandans — a high-minded and gallant warrior, as well as a polite and polished gentleman. Since I painted his portrait, as I before described, I have received at his hands many marked and signal attentions; some of which I must name to you, as the very relation of them will put you in possession of many little forms and modes of Indian life, that otherwise might not have been noted.

About a week since, this noble fellow stepped into my painting-room about twelve o’clock in the day, in full and splendid dress, and passing his arm through mine, pointed the way, and led me in the most gentlemanly manner, through the village and into his own lodge, where a feast was prepared in a careful manner and waiting our arrival. The lodge in which he dwelt was a room of immense size, some forty or fifty feet in diameter, in a circular form, and about twenty feet high — with a sunken curb of stone in the center, of five or six feet in diameter and one foot deep, which contained the fire over which the pot was boiling. I was led near the edge of this curb, and seated on a very handsome robe, most ingeniously garnished and painted with hieroglyphics; and he seated himself gracefully on another one at a little distance from me; with the feast prepared in several dishes, resting on a beautiful rush mat, which was placed between us.

The simple feast which was spread before us consisted of three dishes only, two of which were served in wooden bowls, and the third in an earthen vessel of their own manufacture, somewhat in shape of a bread-tray in our own country. This last contained a quantity of pem-I-can and marrow fat; and one of the former held a fine brace of buffalo ribs, delightfully roasted; and the other was filled with a kind of paste or pudding, made of the flour of the “pomme blanche”, as the French call it, a delicious turnip of the prairie, finely flavored with the buffalo berries, which are collected in great quantities in this country, and used with divers dishes in cooking, as we in civilized countries use dried currants, which they very much resemble.

A handsome pipe and a tobacco-pouch made of the otter skin, filled with k’nick-k’neck (Indian tobacco), laid by the side of the feast; and when we were seated, my host took up his pipe, and deliberately filled it; and instead of lighting it by the fire, which he could easily have done, he drew from his pouch his flint and steel, and raised a spark with which he kindled it. He drew a few strong whiffs through it, and presented the stem of it to my mouth, through which I drew a whiff or two while he held the stem in his hands. This done, he laid down the pipe, and drawing his knife from his belt, cut off a very small piece of the meat from the ribs, and pronouncing the words “Ho-pe-ne-chee wa-pa-shee” (meaning a medicine sacrifice), threw it into the fire.

He then (by signals) requested me to eat, and I commenced, after drawing out from my belt my knife (which it is supposed that every man in this country carries about him, for at an Indian feast a knife is never offered to a guest). Reader, be not astonished that I sat and ate my dinner alone, for such is the custom of this strange land. In all tribes in these western regions it is an invariable rule that a chief never eats with his guests invited to a feast; but while they eat, he sits by, at their service, and ready to wait upon them; deliberately charging and lighting the pipe which is to be passed around after the Feast is over. Such was the case in the present instance, and while I was eating, Mah-to-toh-pa sat cross-legged before me, cleaning his pipe and preparing it for a cheerful smoke when I had finished my meal. For this ceremony I observed he was making unusual preparation, and I observed as I ate, that after he had taken enough of the k’nick-k’neck or bark of the red willow, from his pouch, he rolled out of it also a piece of the “castor,” which it is customary amongst these folks to carry in their tobacco-sack to give it a flavor; and, shaving off a small quantity of it, mixed it with the bark, with which he charged his pipe. This done, he drew also from his sack a small parcel containing a fine powder, which was made of dried buffalo dung, a little of which he spread over the top, (according also to custom,) which was like tinder, having no other effect than that of lighting the pipe with ease and satisfaction. My appetite satiated, I straightened up, and with a whiff the pipe was lit, and we enjoyed together for a quarter of an hour the most delightful exchange of good feelings, amid clouds of smoke and pantomimic signs and gesticulations.