A bonneted warrior on the attack such as this was a metaphor for Indian valor, skilled horsemanship and dramatic display. The surging figure and the swirling drapery create a quintessentially romantic spectacle. Miller wrote that this scene was probably motivated by revenge and resulted in indiscriminate slaughter (Ross, 61). Whether it was something he actually witnessed or simply a scene he heard about around the camp fire is not known.
Stylistically, this watercolor appears to be from the early 1840s and may have served as a study or inspiration for the later, larger, more finished version commissioned by William Walters in the late 1850s (CR# 389A).
Peter H. Hassrick
Fights amongst tribes or between trappers and Indians were frequently recorded in journals of the fur trade era. Trapper Osbourne Russell related this account of his brigade’s run in with Crow headed to war: “A party of Crow Indians came to us consisting of 49 warriors. They were on their way to the Blackfoot village to steal horses … Another party of Crows came to us consisting of 110 warriors. We went with them to the Camp which we found about 10 mls below. They remained with the camp the next day and then left for the Blackfoot village which they said was at the three forks of the Missouri.”
And trapper Warren Ferris recorded this tale about the Snake headman named Horned Chief: “He was the owner of an uncommonly fleet bay horse, with which at one race, he has killed two deer, and but for the lack of arrows would have dispatched a third, from the same herd … he would invariably be successful in war, when mounted on his favorite steed … At one time, meeting a small party of Blackfeet Indians traveling on foot in the open prairie, regardless of danger, and alone, he rushed upon them, with his only weapon, a spear, and killed no less than six of their number. This great warrior, scorning to take the usual trophy of victory, returned to camp and told his young men, that if they wanted hair, with which to garnish their leggins; they would find some at a given place in the prairie. Several young warriors set out instantly, and soon returned, bearing six scalps to their astonished tribe.”
The War Horse:
The Indian war horse was highly regarded by its American Indian owner, who often honored and protected his war horse. These special steeds were often mentioned by trappers. Jim Beckwouth, for example, noted the power of the Blackfoot war horses at the onset of an attack: “On they came, making the very earth tremble with the tramp of their fiery war horses.”
Conversely, in notes regarding Blackfeet on the war trail, Miller wrote that these warriors “are decidedly rough riders, and have very little mercy for their horses. It is an unlucky day for the party who meets this ‘bête noirs.’”
Jim Hardee & Clay Landry
For Further Reading:
Beckwourth, James P., Life and Times of James P. Beckwourth
Bell, Michael, Braves and Buffalo, Plains Indian Life in 1837
Ferris, Warren A., Life in the Rocky Mountains