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Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man

1832 George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 60.9 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.161 Not currently on view

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In 1832, George Catlin witnessed a dramatic ritual at Fort Union, two thousand miles northwest of St. Louis. According to the artist, the medicine man began the healing by administering roots and herbs. If this failed, he would try “shaking his frightful rattles, and singing songs of incantation.” Catlin wrote that the medicine man’s clothing often consisted of “the skins of snakes, and frogs, and bats,---beaks and tows and tails of birds,---hoofs of deer, goats, and antelopes,” each possessing “anomalies or deformities,” which gave them their healing power. This healer wore the skin of a yellow bear attached with the hides of snakes. Catlin actually owned the costume, and he sometimes wore it to enhance the spectacle of his Indian Gallery. (Gurney and Heyman, eds., George Catlin and His Indian Gallery, 2002)


Ceremony - Indian - Medicine Ceremony

Dress - ethnic - Indian dress

Ethnic - Indian - Blackfoot

Figure male - full length

Occupation - medicine - doctor


paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added