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George Catlin
Shoo-de-gá-cha, The Smoke, Chief of the Tribe, 1832
Ponca
oil
29 x 24 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.


“The chief, who was wrapped in a buffalo robe, is a noble specimen of native dignity and philosophy. I conversed much with him; and from his dignified manners, as well as from the soundness of his reasoning, I became fully convinced that he deserved to be the sachem of a more numerous and prosperous tribe. He related to me with great coolness and frankness, the poverty and distress of his nation; and with the method of a philosopher, predicted the certain and rapid extinction of his tribe, which he had not the power to avert. … He sat upon the deck of the steamer, overlooking the little cluster of his wigwams mingled amongst the trees; and, like Caius Marius, weeping over the ruins of Carthage, shed tears as he was descanting on the povery of his ill-fated little community” (Letters and Notes, vol. 1, pp. 212–13, pl. 87).

Painted at the Ponca village in 1832, apparently on the upriver voyage. The landscape in the background differs between the Smithsonian and Field Museum portraits, and a skin lodge has been added to plate 87 in Letters and Notes.

The Smoke has similar, but more detailed, features in Bodmer's half-length portrait of 1833 (see Reuben Gold Thwaites, ed., Early Western Travels 1748–1846, pl. 40), and he appears again in cartoon 55, with his family.



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