Miller describes this scene as one of frustration for the men in his party, pointing out the group of Sioux on shore uninterested in helping the trappers ferry their goods across the river. Yet he regarded the Sioux in higher esteem than the trappers, “so far as quiet dignity was concerned, they had the best of it” (Ross, 7) and, as such, they became the focus of this painting.
Here, Miller paints the Sioux at rest, smoking and calmly surveying the scene before them. For main figures, he offers two warriors, posed in such a way (in profile and facing away) that allows the viewer to take in their dress and features without the threat of the gaze. Using both pose and accoutrement, Miller manages to weave together in the figures a sentimental air of refinement, as well as reference to the Sioux’s war-like reputation. Miller elegantly drapes the figures’ dress, drawing out supple lines and folds. He also depicts the profiled Sioux with defined and elongated arms and small hands that gently wrap around his gun. Through these artistic choices and conventions, Miller hopes to reinforce his opinion of the Sioux and “depict a refinement of emotions that could (or perhaps could only) be cultivated in a natural environment, beyond the reach of eastern social conventions.” (Strong 2008, 184)
Emily C. Wilson