About four months previous to the moment I am now speaking of, I had passed up the Missouri river on the steamboat Yellow Stone, on which I ascended the Missouri to the mouth of Yellowstone river. While going up, this boat—having on board the United States Indian agent Major Sanford, Messrs. Pierre, Chouteau, and M’Kenzie of the American Fur Company, and myself as passengers—stopped at this trading post, and remained several weeks, where were assembled six hundred families of Sioux Indians, their tents being pitched in close order on an extensive prairie on the bank of the river.
This trading post, in charge of Mr. Laidlaw, is the concentrating place and principal trading depot for this powerful tribe, who number, when all taken together, something like forty or fifty thousand. On this occasion, five or six thousand had assembled to see the steamboat and meet the Indian agent, which and whom they knew were to arrive about this time. During the few weeks that we remained there, I was busily engaged painting my portraits, for here were assembled the principal chiefs and medicine men of the nation. To these people the operations of my brush were entirely new and unaccountable, and excited amongst them the greatest curiosity imaginable. Everything else (even the steamboat) was abandoned for the pleasure of crowding into my painting room and witnessing the result of each fellow’s success as he came out from under the operation of my brush.
They had been at first much afraid of the consequences that might flow from so strange and unaccountable an operation, but having been made to understand my views, they began to look upon it as a great honor and afforded me the opportunities that I desired, exhibiting the utmost degree of vanity for their appearance, both as to features and dress. The consequence was that my room was filled with the chiefs who sat around, arranged according to the rank or grade which they held in the estimation of their tribe, and in this order it became necessary for me to paint them, to the exclusion of those who never signalized themselves and were without any distinguishing character in society.
The first man on the list, was Hawangheeta (one horn), head chief of the nation, and after him the subordinate chiefs, or chiefs of bands, according to the estimation in which they were held by the chief and the tribe. My models were thus placed before me—whether ugly or beautiful, all the same—and I saw at once there was to be trouble somewhere, as I could not paint them all. The medicine men or high priests—who are esteemed by many of the oracles of the nation and the most important men in it—becoming jealous, commenced their harangues outside of the lodge, telling them that they were all fools—that those who were painted would soon die in consequence, and that these pictures, which had life to a considerable degree in them, would live in the hands of white men after they were dead and make them sleepless and endless trouble.
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