George Catlin (American artist, 1796-1872) Ru-ton-ye-wee-ma, Strutting Pigeon, Wife of White Cloud
New Jersey born George Catlin (1796-1872) is reknowned for his extensive travels across the American West, recording the lives of Native Americans. In 1818, Catlin practiced law in Connecticut & Pennsylvania, but he abandoned his practice in 1821 to pursue painting. Catlin enjoyed modest success painting portraits & miniatures, but he longed to be a history painter. In 1828, after seeing a delegation of western Indians in the east, he had wrote that he had found a subject, "on which to devote a whole life-time of enthusiasm." In 1830, Catlin made his initial pilgrimage to St. Louis to meet William Clark & learn from him all he could of the western lands he hoped to visit. Catlin traveled the frontier from 1830 to 1836, visiting 50 tribes west of the Mississippi, from present-day North Dakota to Oklahoma, creating an astonishing visual record of Native American life. He had only a short time to accomplish his goal—to capture with canvas & paint the essence of Indian life & culture. In that same year, the Indian Removal Act commenced the 12-year action that would remove the remaining Indians from land east of the Mississippi. Within a few years, the Mandan would be decimated by smallpox; with in a few decades, the number of buffalo would drop from millions to a few thousand, & the Native Americans' high prairies would be crosshatched by the plow & the railroad.