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George Catlin
Peh-tó-pe-kiss, Eagle's Ribs, a Piegan Chief, 1832
Blackfoot/Pikuni
oil
29 x 24 in.
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.


“This man is one of the extraordinary men of the Blackfoot tribe; though not a chief, he stands here in the Fort, and deliberately boasts of eight scalps, which he says he has taken from the heads of trappers and traders with his own hand. His dress is really superb, almost literally covered with scalplocks, of savage and civil.

“I have painted him at full length, with a headdress made entirely of ermine skins and horns of the buffalo. This custom of wearing horns beautifully polished and surmounting the head-dress, is a very curious one, being worn only by the bravest of the brave; by the most extraordinary men in the nation. … When he stood for his picture, he also held a lance and two ‘medicine-bags’ in his hand” (Letters and Notes, vol. 1, pp. 30, 34, pl. 14).

Painted from life at Fort Union in 1832, according to a certificate signed by John Sanford, Indian agent, that survives in Smithsonian files. The certificate also states that Catlin accurately reproduced the costume worn by the sitter.

Eagle's Ribs appears again in cartoon 40, with his wife and a Blackfoot warrior. The cartoon is based on a watercolor (pl. 20) in the Gilcrease Souvenir album, and an oil-on-canvas version of the composition is in the Museum für Völkerkunde, Berlin.



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