Thursday, November 25

Happy T-Day, George Catlin with the Mandan Indians

This painting depicts a Mandan Mid-Summer Ceremony. Possibly the last time it was captured by illustration. From the Upper Missouri 1932.

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Catlin's most significant contribution was to record in image and in print the mid-summer ceremony of the O-kee-pa based on his first hand observation. The significance of this work lies in the fact that it is first hand documentation unavailable after 1837. Catlin was one of very few Whites who ever witnessed the ceremonies. In 1837 smallpox was introduced to the Northern Plains. On June 18 of that year, the American Fur Company Steamboat St. Peters arrived at Fort Clark, carrying contaminated goods and infected individuals. The disease spread across the Northern Plains to the Northwest Coast and into Alaska, becoming a pandemic which killed perhaps as many as half a million people before fading out by 1840. The Mandan may have numbered 2,000 before the epidemic, but by January 1838, less than 100 remained.
Poof, another Heathen culture stomped out in the service of the Lord. Some more documentation regarding the Smallpox epidemic.
In 1837, the Mandan were especially hard hit by smallpox, perhaps because they remained in their fortified villages, fearing attack by hostile Sioux if they left.

The great Mandan chief Four Bears maintained friendly relations with whites throughout his life. He befriended two influential frontier artists who painted his portrait and praised his virtues, George Catlin and Karl Bodmer.

But his views of whites changed after smallpox brought agonizing death to many of his people.

A fur trader named Francis Chardon kept a journal of events at Fort Clark, a trading post along the Missouri near the villages of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.

Symptoms usually announced themselves with a sharp headache. By the end of September, Chardon estimated that seven-eighths of the Mandan and half of the Hidatsa and Arikara were dead.

The bodies piled up so quickly, and the survivors were so distressed, that many weren’t buried. Very few survived.

One of the many who perished was Four Bears, whose bitter dying statement Chardon took down in his journal on July 28, 1837:

My friends one and all, listen to what I have to say -- Ever since I can remember, I have loved the whites.
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I have lived with them ever since I was a boy, and to the best of my knowledge, I have never wronged the white man; on the contrary, I have always protected them from the insults of others, which they cannot deny. …

I have done everything that a red skin could do for them, and how have they repaid it! With ingratitude! … I have been in many battles, and often wounded, but the wounds of my enemies I exalt in, but today I am wounded, and by whom? By those same white Dogs that I have always considered, and treated as Brothers.

I do not fear Death, my friends. You know it, but to die with my face rotten, that even the Wolves will shrink with horror at meeting me, and say to themselves, that is the Four Bears, the friend of the whites. ...

Think of your wives, children, brothers, sisters, friends, and in fact all that you hold dear, are all dead, or dying, with their faces all rotten caused by those dogs the whites, think of all that my friends, and rise up all together and not leave one of them alive. The 4 Bears will act his part.
The above is a painting of Four Bears before he succomed to the pox.. I guess you could say tht we are getting off easy, though it is not easy to swallow.