Miller saw the Pawnee Indians as serious adversaries. They were frequently pictured by the artist lurking along the ridges, spying surreptitiously on the expedition as the troop moved westward. There were no reported confrontations, but the Pawnees posed a constant threat. This scene, therefore, is something of an anomaly. As serene as it appears, picturing an Indian man smoking contentedly beneath an arbor of blanketed bows and beside a lovely young woman, its placid exterior belies the nasty character typically suggested by Miller. Miller’s commentary on the scene is one of total disdain. The man is described as an arrogant martinet whose imperious, pugnacious habits are a threat to his fellow tribesmen and neighbors. (Ross, 115)
This watercolor is a study for one of the William Walters commissioned works, titled simply Indian Encampment (CR# 422A).
Peter H. Hassrick
Miller’s title indicates that the people in this sketch are of the Pawnee nation. A warrior and his spouse recline in the shade created by an awning made from a striped wool blanket. George Catlin visited and painted the Pawnee in the early 1830s and indicated that there were four bands that made up that nation; Grand Pawnee, Tappage Pawnee, Republican Pawnee, and Wolf Pawnee. These people lived in four separate villages a few miles apart along the banks of the Platte River. They were allied with the Omaha (also called the Maha) and Ottoe tribes whose villages were near to the Pawnee. Like many of the river-based tribes, the Pawnee were farmers as well as buffalo hunters.
The warrior smokes a long-stemmed pipe as he rests against a bale of furs or buffalo robes. The “calumet” was originally a highly decorated wand or reed used in native ceremonies to represent the eagle spirits and provide an intermediary between man and the creator. The tobacco culture ceremonies eventually combined the calumet reed with the stone pipe bowl and the combination became the highly revered “calumet pipe.” This pipe was used as a passport symbolizing good faith and good will among both the Plains and Woodlands native peoples.
Various kinds of stone were used to make pipe bowls by the Plains Indians. The criteria required a somewhat soft stone that could be easily shaped, including steatite, chlorite, and limestone, however the most desirable stone was a hard, pressed red clay slate. This pipestone and the places to quarry it, located in present day Minnesota and Wisconsin, had been known to Native Americans since prehistoric times. This red pipe stone, called “catlinite,” was named for George Catlin who visited and wrote about the quarries in 1836.
Various species of tobacco plant were cultivated and used by Native Americans prior to their contact with Euro-Americans. Tobacco was considered a gift of the supernatural powers to man and originally limited to ritual usage. The beginning of recreational use among native tribes seems to coincide with Euro-American contact and the use of tobacco as an item of trade for both Plains and Woodland tribes.
For Further Reading:
Catlin, George, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians, Vol. II.
Hail, Barbara A., Hau, Kola!
UR: No. 118. LC: Pawnee Indian Camp
The artist; by descent to Louisa Whyte Norton; [Old Print Shop, New York, NY, 1947]; The Boatmen’s National Bank of St. Louis, MO; Bank of America, New York, NY; present owner, 2013