Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man

  • George Catlin, Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man, 1832, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr., 1985.66.161

In 1832, George Catlin witnessed a dramatic ritual at Fort Union, two thousand miles northwest of St. Louis. According to the artist, the medicine man began the healing by administering roots and herbs. If this failed, he would try shaking his frightful rattles, and singing songs of incantation.” Catlin wrote that the medicine man’s clothing often consisted of the skins of snakes, and frogs, and bats,—beaks and tows and tails of birds,—hoofs of deer, goats, and antelopes,” each possessing anomalies or deformities,” which gave them their healing power. This healer wore the skin of a yellow bear attached with the hides of snakes. Catlin actually owned the costume, and he sometimes wore it to enhance the spectacle of his Indian Gallery. (Gurney and Heyman, eds., George Catlin and His Indian Gallery, 2002)

Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man
Not on view
2924 in. (73.760.9 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Occupation – medicine – doctor
  • Ceremony – Indian – Medicine Ceremony
Object Number
Linked Open Data
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