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Scalp Dance, Mouth of the Teton River

1835-1837 George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 20 x 27 3/8 in. (50.9 x 69.4 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.438 Not currently on view


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“The Scalp-dance is given as a celebration of a victory; and amongst this tribe [Western Sioux/Lakota], as I learned whilst residing with them, danced in the night, by the light of their torches, and just before retiring to bed. When a war party returns from a war excursion, bringing home with them the scalps of their enemies, they generally ‘dance them’ for fifteen nights in succession, vaunting forth the most extravagant boasts of their wonderful prowess in war, whilst they brandish their war weapons in their hands. A number of young women are selected to aid (though they do not actually join in the dance), by stepping into the centre of the ring, and holding up the scalps that have been recently taken, whilst the warriors dance (or rather jump), around in a circle, brandishing their weapons, and barking and yelping in the most frightful manner . . . During these frantic leaps, and yelps, and thrusts, every man distorts his face to the utmost of his muscles, darting about his glaring eye-balls and snapping his teeth, as if he were in the heat (and actually breathing through his inflated nostrils the very hissing death) of battle! No description that can be written, could ever convey more than a feeble outline of the frightful effects of these scenes enacted in the dead and darkness of night, under the glaring light of their blazing flambeaux.” George Catlin made the initial sketches for this scene near Fort Pierre in 1832. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 1, no. 30, 1841; reprint 1973)

Keywords

Ceremony - dance - Scalp Dance

Ceremony - Indian

Ethnic - Indian - Dakota

Ethnic - Indian - Sioux

Figure(s) in exterior - rural

Western

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added