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

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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)

Title
Medicine Man, Performing His Mysteries over a Dying Man
Artist
Date
1832
On View
Not on view.
Dimensions
29 x 24 in. (73.7 x 60.9 cm)
Credit Line

Smithsonian American Art Museum

Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.

Mediums
Mediums Description
oil on canvas
Classifications
Keywords
  • Dress – ethnic – Indian dress
  • Figure male – full length
  • Occupation – medicine – doctor
  • Ethnic – Indian – Blackfoot
  • Ceremony – Indian – Medicine Ceremony
Object Number
1985.66.161
Palette
Linked Open Data
Linked Open Data URI