BODMER, Karl (1809-1893)
Tombs of Assiniboin Indians on Trees
[Tab. 30] Paris, Coblenz and London: [1839-1842]. Hand-coloured aquatint engraving by Aubert after Bodmer, blindstamp. Sheet size: 23 3/8 x 17 1/2 inches.
An elemental scene painted on July 4, 1833, with the quiet spirituality of the place disturbed by the prowling wolves at the foot of the tree burials.
The travelers aboard the steamer Assiniboine arrived at Fort Union, the uppermost point for steamer traffic just above the junction of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, on June 24, 1833, after a journey of seventy-five days up the Missouri River from St. Louis. They stayed until July 6, when they departed upriver by keelboat for Fort McKenzie. The Assiniboins, like the Sioux, frequently placed their dead on platforms secured to scaffolds or tree limbs: here the quietness of the place is emphasized by the luxuriant trees and undergrowth surrounding the clearing in which the burial stands. 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 the villages, the 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.