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George Catlin
Pipe Dance, Assiniboine, 1835–37
19 5/8 x 27 1/2 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

“One of these scenes … appeared to me to be peculiar to this tribe, and exceedingly picturesque in its effect. … On a half-trodden pavement in front of their village … the young men, who were to compose the dance, had gathered themselves around a small fire, and each one seated on a buffalo-robe spread upon the ground. In the centre and by the fire, was seated a dignitary, who seemed to be a chief … with a long pipe in his hand, which he lighted at the fire and smoked incessantly, grunting forth at the same time, in half-strangled gutturals, a sort of song. … While this was going on, another grim-visaged fellow in another part of the group, commenced beating on a drum or tambourine, accompanied by his voice; when one of the young men seated, sprang instantly on his feet, and commenced singing in time with the taps of the drum, and leaping about on one foot and the other in the most violent manner imaginable. In this way he went several times around the circle, bowing and brandishing his fists in the faces of each one who was seated, until at length he grasped one of them by the hands, and jerked him forcibly up upon his feet; who joined in the dance for a moment, leaving the one who had pulled him up, to continue his steps and his song in the centre of the ring; whilst he danced around in a similar manner, jerking up another … and so on … until all were upon their feet” (Letters and Notes, vol. 1, p. 55, pl. 32).

Sketched at Fort Union in 1832. The scene is repeated in cartoon 159.

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