BODMER, Karl (1809-1893)
Saukie and Fox Indians
[Vig. 10] Paris, Coblenz and London: 1839. Hand-coloured aquatint engraving by Hürlimann after Bodmer, engraver's name and vignette number not visible. Lower left corner with section repaired, just touching plate area. Sheet size: 11 x 14 3/16 inches. Plate mark: 10 1/8 x 13 3/8 inches.
Bodmer first encountered the Sauk (or Sac) and Fox (Mesquaki or Muskwaki) Indians in St.Louis in March of 1833. A group had come to plead for the release of Chief Black Hawk who had engaged in a series of running battles with the US army which had ended in his defeat and capture on 3 August 1832. Bodmer pictures this alert but wary group as they await a decision from the government. All are shown with a crestlike ornament made of stiff deer hair on their heads (some with an inserted feather indicating success in battle). Most carry weapons: a stone-headed club, a musket, a musket-stock axe or a spear. Following a bloody defeat by the French in 1730, the Fox united with their kinsmen the Sauk, and made peace with the French in 1740. By the time of Bodmer's visit their territory was largely between Lake Michigan and the upper reaches of the Mississippi river. Their eventual relocation to the plains released the last hold the Indians had on the Northeastern lands.
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 Assinboine, they continued to Fort Clark, visiting there the Mandan, Mintari and Crow tribes, then the Assinboins 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.