Sunday, July 16, 2017

American artist Seth Eastman (1808-1875) portrays a Buffalo Chase

Seth Eastman (American artist, 1808-1875) Buffalo Chase

For settlers of the Plains region in the mid-19C, bison hunting served as a way to increase their economic stake in the area. Trappers & traders made their living selling buffalo fur; in the winter of 1872-1873, more than 1.5 million buffalo were put onto trains & moved eastward. In addition to the potential profits from buffalo leather, which was commonly used to make machinery belts & army boots, buffalo hunting forced Natives to become dependent on beef from cattle. General Winfield Scott Hancock, for example, reminded several Arapaho chiefs at Fort Dodge in 1867: "You know well that the game is getting very scarce & that you must soon have some other means of living; you should therefore cultivate the friendship of the white man, so that when the game is all gone, they may take care of you if necessary." Commercial bison hunters also emerged at this time. Military forts often supported hunters, who would use their civilian sources near their military base. Though officers hunted bison for food & sport, professional hunters made a far larger impact in the decline of bison population.Officers stationed in Fort Hays & Wallace even had bets in their "buffalo shooting championship of the world," between "Medicine Bill" Comstock & "Buffalo Bill" Cody. Some of these hunters would engage in mass bison slaughter in order to make a living.

Born in 1808 in Brunswick, Maine, Seth Eastman (1808-1875) found expression for his artistic skills in a military career. After graduating from the US Military Academy at West Point, where officers-in-training were taught basic drawing & drafting techniques, Eastman was posted to forts in Wisconsin & Minnesota before returning to West Point as assistant teacher of drawing. --- While at Fort Snelling, Eastman married Wakaninajinwin (Stands Sacred), the 15-year-old daughter of Cloud Man, Dakota chief. Eastman left in 1832, for another military assignment soon after the birth of their baby girl, Winona, & he declared his marriage ended when he left. Winona was also known as Mary Nancy Eastman & was the mother of Charles Alexander Eastman, author of Indian Boyhood. --- From 1833 to 1840, Eastman taught drawing at West Point. In 1835, he married his 2nd wife & was reassigned to Fort Snelling as a military commander & remained there with Mary & their 5 children for the next 7 years. During this time Eastman began recording the everyday way of life of the Dakota & the Ojibwa people. Transferred to posts in Florida, & Texas in the 1840s, Eastman made sketches of the native peoples there. This experience prepared him for the next 5 yeas in Washington, DC, where he was assigned to the commissioner of Indian Affairs & illustrated Henry Rowe Schoolcraft's important 6-volume Historical  Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, & Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. In 1867, Eastman returned to the Capitol to paint a series of scenes of Native American life for the House Committee on Indian Affairs. From the office of the United States Senate curator, we learn that in 1870, the House Committee on Military Affairs commissioned artist Seth Eastman 17 to paint images of important fortifications in the United States. He completed the works between 1870 & 1875. Of his 17 paintings of forts, 8 are located in the Senate, while the others are displayed on the House side of the Capitol. Eastman was working on the painting West Point, when he died in 1875.