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Distant View of the Mandan Village

1832 George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 11 1/4 x 14 1/2 in. (28.5 x 36.7 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.379 Smithsonian American Art Museum
2nd Floor, South Wing

Gallery Label

The Mandan village near Fort Clark in present-day North Dakota was a hub of commerce where agricultural products and manufactured goods obtained from whites were traded for furs, horses, and other commodities with Plains tribes. Though Catlin described them as “entirely in a state of primitive wildness,” the Mandan had been in direct recorded contact with Europeans since the 1730s; French and Spanish trade goods had reached them even earlier. Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1804--05 with them, and Mandan chief Sheheke visited Washington, D.C., in 1806.

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“This tribe is at present located on the west bank of the Missouri, about 1800 miles above St. Louis, and 200 below the Mouth of Yellow Stone river . . . The site of the lower (or principal) town . . . is one of the most beautiful and pleasing that can be seen in the world, and even more beautiful than imagination could ever create. In the very midst of an extensive valley (embraced within a thousand graceful swells and parapets or mounds of interminable green, changing to blue, as they vanish in distance) . . . On an extensive plain . . . without tree or bush . . . are to be seen rising from the ground, and towards the heavens, domes---(not ‘of gold,’ but) of dirt---and the thousand spears (not ‘spires’) and scalp-poles, &c. &c., of the semi-subterraneous village of the hospitable and gentlemanly Mandans.” Fort Clark, the American Fur Company outpost, is at the left of the village. George Catlin painted this image in 1832 while on a lengthy voyage northwest on the Missouri River. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, no. 11, 1841, reprint 1973; Truettner, The Natural Man Observed, 1979)


Architecture Exterior - domestic - teepee

Ethnic - Indian - Mandan

Figure group - male

Landscape - river

Landscape - United States



paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added