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"Smoking Horses," a Curious Custom of the Sauk and Fox

1835-1836 George Catlin Born: Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania 1796 Died: Jersey City, New Jersey 1872 oil on canvas 19 5/8 x 27 1/2 in.(49.7 x 70.0 cm) Smithsonian American Art Museum Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr. 1985.66.463 Not currently on view


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“The Foxes, who were making up a war-party to go against the Sioux, and had not suitable horses enough by twenty, had sent word to the Sacs, the day before (according to an ancient custom), that they were coming on that day, at a certain hour, to ‘smoke’ that number of horses, and they must not fail to have them ready. On that day, and at the hour, the twenty young men who were beggars for horses, were on the spot, and seated themselves on the ground in a circle, where they went to smoking. The villagers flocked around them in a dense crowd, and soon after appeared on the prairie, at half a mile distance, an equal number of young men of the Sac tribe, who had agreed, each to give a horse, and who were then galloping them about at full speed; and, gradually, as they went around in a circuit, coming in nearer to the centre, until they were at last close around the ring of young fellows seated on the ground. Whilst dashing about thus, each one, with a heavy whip in his hand, as he came within reach of the group on the ground, selected the one to whom he decided to present his horse, and as he passed him, gave him the most tremendous cut with his lash, over his naked shoulders; and as he darted around again he plied the whip as before and again and again, with a violent ‘crack!’ until I the blood could be seen trickling down over his naked shoulders, upon which he instantly dismounted, and placed the bridle and whip In his hands . . .” George Catlin skeched this scene at a Sac and Fox village in 1835. (Catlin, Letters and Notes, vol. 2, no. 56, 1841; reprint 1973)

Keywords

Animal - horse

Ceremony - Indian - Smoking Horses

Ethnic - Indian - Sauk and Fox

Ethnic - Indian - Sauk and Fox

Figure(s) in exterior - frontier

Western

painting

paint - oil

fabric - canvas

metal - aluminum - support added