Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man

Media - 1985.66.161 - SAAM-1985.66.161_1 - 8549
Copied George Catlin, Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man, 1832, oil on canvas, 2924 in. (73.760.9 cm), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr., 1985.66.161
Free to use

Artwork Details

Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man
Not on view
2924 in. (73.760.9 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
  • Figure
  • Dress — Indian dress
  • Figure male — full length
  • Occupation — medicine — doctor
  • Indian — Blackfoot
  • Ceremony — Indian — Medicine Ceremony
Object Number

Artwork Description

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)