Múk-a-tah-mish-o-káh-kaik, Black Hawk, Prominent Sac Chief, 1832
Sac and Fox
29 x 24 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
The great warrior Black Hawk led the Sac and Fox in their heroic but doomed Black Hawk War of 1832, a last-ditch attempt to regain control of tribal farmland in Illinois. Following his capture after the Battle of Bad Axe, Black Hawk was held prisoner at a military installation near St. Louis. Catlin encountered him there at the end of his 1832 tour of the Upper Missouri and, in keeping with his practice of making portraits of prominent individuals, captured his likeness.
Beginning in 1833, Catlin exhibited the Indian Gallery, not yet complete, in Pittsburgh, Louisville, Cincinnati, New Orleans, and elsewhere. By fall 1837, he was ready for the major East Coast cities. In his evening shows, Catlin lectured on several hundred paintings placed one by one on an easel. To boost attendance, he invited Indian leaders in the east on other business to appear. His guests endorsed his accuracy, putting the lie to critics who questioned his reports from the West. When Black Hawk, the biggest Indian celebrity of the 1830s, attended an exhibition of the Indian Gallery in New York in 1837, both press and public turned out in force.