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George Catlin
Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries Over a Dying Man, 1832
Blackfoot/Siksika
oil
29 x 24 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.


“[The medicine man] approached the ring [of spectators] with his body in a crouching position, with a slow and tilting step—his body and head were entirely covered with the skin of a yellow bear, the head of which (his own head being inside of it) served as a mask; the huge claws of which also, were dangling on his wrists and ancles; in one hand he shook a frightful rattle, and in the other brandished his medicine-spear or magic wand; to the rattling din and discord of all of which, he added the wild and startling jumps and yelps of the Indian, and horrid and appalling grunts, and snarls, and growls of the grizzly bear, in ejaculatory and guttural incantations to the Good and Bad Spirits, in behalf of his patient; who was rolling and groaning in the agonies of death, whilst he was dancing around him, jumping over him, and pawing him about, and rolling him in every direction” (Letters and Notes, vol. 1, pp. 30–41, pl. 19).

Painted at Fort Union in 1832. The medicine man also appears in a watercolor (pl. 30, labeled White Buffalo) in the Gilcrease Souvenir album, and in cartoon 185, practicing his ritual before a crowd of Indians. The scene must have inspired a somewhat similar painting at Beaver House in London by the British artist C. P. Manley.



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