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Dying Buffalo, Shot with an Arrow, 1832–33
oil
24 x 29 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

Catlin marveled at the herds that rolled in mighty numbers across the Plains, but he predicted that the buffalo would soon be extinct, ensuring the extinction of the Plains Indians' way of life as well. Already in Catlin's time, Plains Indians were killing bison in increasing numbers (and taking extra wives to prepare the hides) to take advantage of trading opportunities. But relentless expansion across the West also exacted a heavy toll on herds as demand increased for meat to feed railroad construction crews, hides to buffer machinery, and bones to manufacture china and fertilizer. Rapid consumption of buffalo also served a broader U.S. government policy of killing bison to further breakdown native cultures and increase their dependence on the government. Catlin's grisly portrait of a dying buffalo bull is a memento mori for the bison and the Plains Indians as well.


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