BODMER, Karl (1809-1893)
Chief of the Blood-Indians. War-Chief of the Piekann Indians. Koutani Indian.
[Tab. 46] Paris, Coblenz and London: [1839-1842]. Aquatint engraving by Hürlimann after Bodmer, blind stamp. Sheet size: 18 x 24 1/2 inches.
A fine half-length triple portrait by Bodmer of two Blackfoot chiefs and a Kutenai (Kootenay or Kootenai) leader who lived amongst the Blackfoot. The figure to the left is Stomíck-Sosáck [`Bull's Hide' or `Bull's Back Fat'], an important Blood Blackfoot chief, who was probably about 50 at the time this portrait was done at Fort McKenzie in September 1833. The middle figure Nínoch-Kiäiu [`Chief of the Bears'], was a Piegan Blackfoot chief. He was an arrogant, aggressive person who was unpopular with both the Indians and the officials at the fort. Wrapped in a robe, he is very simply dressed for this portrait because he is in mourning for his dead nephew, killed near the fort by Blood Indians. The figure on the far right is Hómach-Ksáchkum, a Kutenai who had made his home amongst the Piegan Blackfoot for some time and had become a respected leader. A friendly person, he and Prince Maximilian talked at length about Kutenai customs and language.
Karl Bodmer's images show great versatility and technical virtuosity and give us a uniquely accomplished and detailed picture of a previously little understood (and soon to vanish) way of life. Swiss-born Bodmer was engaged by Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied (1782-1867) specifically to provide a record of his travels in North America, principally among the Plains Indians. In the company of David Dreidoppel (Prince Maximilian's servant and hunting companion), their travels in North America were to last from 1832 to 1834. Well-armed with information and advice, the party finally left St.Louis, on the most important stage of their travels, aboard the steamer Yellow Stone on April 10 1833. They proceeded up the treacherous Missouri River along the line of forts established by the American Fur Company. At Bellevue they encountered their first Indians, then went on to make contact with the Sioux tribe, learning of and recording their little known ceremonial dances and powerful pride and dignity. Transferring from the Yellow Stone to another steamer, the Assiniboin, they continued to Fort Clark, visiting there the Mandan, Mintari and Crow tribes, then the Assiniboins at Fort Union, the main base of the American Fur Company. On a necessarily much smaller vessel they journeyed through the extraordinary geological scenery of that section of the Missouri to Fort Mackenzie in Montana, establishing a cautious friendship with the fearsome Blackfeet. From this, the westernmost point reached, it was considered too dangerous to continue and the return journey downstream began. The winter brought its own difficulties and discomforts, but Bodmer was still able to execute numerous studies of villages, dances and especially the people, who were often both intrigued and delighted by his work. The portraits are particularly notable for their capturing of individual personalities, as well as forming a primary account of what were to become virtually lost cultures.
Graff 4648; Howes M443a; Pilling 2521; Sabin 47014; Wagner-Camp 76:1.