The artist's early European training, especially the English Life Class he took in Rome, enabled Miller to achieve considerable sophistication in rendering the human form, an attribute that is evident in the classical elegance of this early figure study. The Snake Indian bowman, even as encumbered as he appears to be trying to fire an arrow with a large hide robe over his shoulders, evidences grace, balance and sureness of purpose.
This study was probably made at the rendezvous where the Snake Indians were in abundance. The blue, shadowed mountain escarpment in the distance would suggest such a setting as well. This work was number 38 in a set of 87 drawings and watercolors that were set aside after the 1837 trip west to be part of a boxed portfolio for the delectation of visitors to Stewart’s Murthly Castle library.
Peter H. Hassrick
Metal Arrow Points:
Trapper Warren Ferris pointed out that before the white man came into the west, Native Americans used stone-tipped arrows and “they manufacture spears and hooks, also of bone, for fishing, but they are not to be compared to the same instruments made of metal by the whites. But they have been supplied by the traders with light guns, spears, and iron arrow points, which have in measure superseded their own weapons; still, however, bows and arrows are most frequently employed in killing buffalo.”
Bear Claw Necklace:
While among the Shoshone in August 1806, Lewis and Clark reported: “The warriors or such as esteem themselves brave men wear collars made of the claws of the brown bear which are also esteemed of great value and are preserved with great care. these claws are ornamented with beads about the thick end near which they are peirced through their sides and strung on a throng of dressed leather and tyed about the neck commonly with the upper edge of the tallon next the breast or neck but sometimes are reversed. it is esteemed by them an act of equal celebrity the killing one of these bear or an enimy, and with the means they have of killing this animal it must really be a serious undertaking.”
Trapper Jim Beckwourth observed that such adornments were not only reserved for humans: “I was presented with the best war-horse they had ever seen; that he had two panther-skins on his saddle, and a collar about his neck trimmed with bears' claws, and a bridle surpassing all they had ever heard of.”
Several trappers noted Native Americans from various tribes wearing buffalo hides painted with tribal symbols. When a Sioux band visited Warren Ferris, he recorded that “some wore painted buffalo robes, and all presented a lively, dashing appearance. They were, without exception, all finely mounted; and all armed – some with swords, shields, and lances, others with bows and arrows, and a few with guns.” Ferris also marveled at the attire of a Flathead contingent that was “fantastically ornamented with scarlet coats, blankets of all colours, buffalo robes painted with hideous little figures … and sheep?skin dresses garnished with porcupine quills, beads, hawk bells, and human hair.”
Prince Maximilian, touring the Rocky Mountain West in 1833, left a detailed description of the robes he saw while among the Blackfeet: “A major part of the costume is the buffalo robe, usually painted, but less artistically than among some other nations. Usually these robes have parallel black lines painted on the tanned side, with a few alternating figures, often with arrowheads or other simple arabesques. Others … are painted black, yellowish red, and green, with hieroglyphs of a certain kind that represent their deeds in war, capture of prisoners, weapons, horses, horse stealing, scalps taken, wounds, and flowing blood. Such robes often have a transverse band, beautifully embroidered with porcupine quills and decorated with round rosettes, which divides the robes into two equal sections. Often the tanned surface of the hide is also dyed reddish brown, and black figures are painted on it. The aforementioned hides painted with hieroglyphs are found among all Missouri Indians … The most beautiful paintings seem to be found among the Crows, Mandans, and Hidatsas. Such robes are sometimes expensive; in the company’s stores, they can be had at a price of six to ten dollars.”
Maximilian also observed that other large animal skins were used for robes, noting that, “Mr. Bodmer sketched an Indian in a beautifully painted elk hide with every conceivable heroic deed on it.
Jim Hardee & Clay Landry
For Further Reading:
Beckwourth, James P., The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth
Ferris, Warren A., Life in the Rocky Mountains
Moulton, Gary E., ed., The Journals of Lewis & Clark
Witte, Stephen S. and Marsha V. Gallagher, The North American Journals of Prince Maximilian of Weid
UL: 38. LC: Snake . Indians
The artist; Sir William Drummond Stewart, ca. 1839; Frank Nichols; [Chapman’s, Edinburgh, 1871]; Bonamy Mansell Power; Edward Power, 1900; by descent to Major G.H. Power, England, 1966; [Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, NY, 1966]; Joseph M. Roebling, Miami, FL; present owner by gift, 1980