Miller knew that the Plains Indian economy and social structure depended on horses. Theirs was, in large measure, a buffalo culture, and horses enabled them to survive and prosper. “An Indian’s riches is [sic] generally rated by the number of horses he possesses,” Miller wrote of this painting. And “as these…sometimes lessen in number, either through his war parties, stolen by other tribes, or natural deaths, it behooves him at stated intervals to call around him his ‘good men and true,’ with lariats and tackle in good order, and set out on a foray to catch these valuable animals.” (Ross, 169)
In this scene, a chief, adorned in a war bonnet, gathers a group of riders for a horse hunt. Oddly, though, no lariats or traps are to be seen. They are accoutered with shields and weapons, as if to go to war. The explanation is given by the artist when he further explains that in order to find horses, wild or otherwise, the party may encounter other such hunting parties from enemy tribes. Thus, to be prepared for war is first and foremost. The work of securing the horses is secondary.
Peter H. Hassrick