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George Catlin
Sioux Dog Feast, 1832–37
Western Sioux/Lakota
oil
24 x 29 in
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.


“Some few days after the steamer had arrived, it was announced that a grand feast was to be given to the great white chiefs, who were visitors amongst them; and preparations were made accordingly for it. The two chiefs … brought their … tents together, forming the two into a semi-circle, enclosing a space sufficiently large to accommodate 150 men; and sat down with that number of the principal chiefs and warriors of the Sioux nation; with Mr. Chouteau, Major Sanford, the Indian agent, Mr. M'Kenzie, and myself, whom they had invited in due time, and placed on elevated seats in the centre of the crescent; while the rest of the company all sat upon the ground, and mostly cross-legged, preparatory to the feast being dealt out.

“In the centre of the semi-circle was erected a flag-staff, on which was waving a white flag, and to which also was tied the calumet, both expressive of their friendly feelings towards us. Near the foot of the flag-staff were placed in a row on the ground, six or eight kettles, with iron covers on them, shutting them tight, in which were prepared the viands for our voluptuous feast. Near the kettles, and on the ground also, bottomside upwards, were a number of wooden bowls, in which the meat was to be served out. And in front, two or three men, who were there placed as waiters, to light the pipes for smoking, and also to deal out the food” (Letters and Notes, vol. 1, pp. 228–31, pl. 96).

Catlin continues with a lengthy account of the ritual—speeches, presents and feasting—and concludes that it is a “religious ceremony, wherein the poor Indian sees fit to sacrifice his faithful companion to bear testimony to the sacredness of his vows of friendship.”

Probably sketched at Fort Pierre in 1832, but the clarity of space and figure relationships, and the flexible brushwork, indicate a later date for the painting. Catlin notes in the SI sketchbook that the feast took place May 7.

The subject is repeated in cartoon 189.



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