Fight with cavalry and mountain guns, Anonymous Kiowa 1870s
“Native American drawings became important sources of intercultural communication—pictorial means to educate whites about indigenous traditions and histories. Even the act of making drawings for sale held a profound meaning for those who made them: it was an act of resistance to chronicle the old ways and keep them alive. Today, the drawings speak on many levels about Native history, oppression, resistance, autonomy, and the powerful human urge to draw.”
Plains Indian drawings, 1865-1935 Janet Catherine Berlo

Fight with cavalry and mountain guns, Anonymous Kiowa 1870s

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Fight with cavalry and mountain guns,
Anonymous Kiowa 1870s

The inscription on this anonymous picture reads "Fight with cavalry and mountain guns." The picture is on two leaves of a ledger book and is a drawing of graphite, coloured pencil, and crayon. It shows clearly that the artist knew the contrasting styles of fighting adopted by the soldiers and warriors in the Plains Wars. The warriors mount a frontal assault and the U.S. troops, both cavalry and footsoldiers, are organized into close formation and a defensive line respectively. The mountain howitzers featured in the defensive line are clearly taking their toll of the attacking force, which is mounted on painted ponies. The warriors wear the red sashes of “no retreat”.

It is probably a drawing of one of the battles which took place in the Red River War, which ended native American resistance in the southern Plains in 1875 with the transportation to St. Augustine, Florida of seventy two warriors, mostly Cheyenne and Kiowa with a few Arapaho and Comanche and one Caddo. Some like Grey Beard were leaders but others were randomly selected to make up the quota. The Cheyenne included Mo-chi (Buffalo Calf), a woman who, following the Sand Creek Massacre, had married Medicine Water and ridden as a warrior by his side.

Jailed in Fort Marion from 1875 to 1878, they were provided with artists’ materials. Their response was to use the opportunity to create pictures which recorded and celebrated their experiences and culture, although the idea was that they would be able to support themselves by making souvenirs for tourists. They filled many drawing ledgers, small drawing books which sold for two dollars each. Some drawings showed life in Fort Marion, while others recorded everyday events in life on the Plains, such as a buffalo hunt by Squint Eyes. At first, Captain R.H. Pratt, the officer charged with overseeing their transportation and incarceration, was hostile towards their drawings because they recalled their own cultural tradition. However in time he concluded that they had “possession of fine native ability and art” and tried to influence their artistic approach.

“Although Pratt strongly suggested that the Indians further their practice of drawing, he made sure to restrict any stylistic traditions that would be reminiscent of their life on the plains. With the hope of providing the students with proper examples of the Western artistic tradition, Pratt invited two illustrators to visit the fort. The first was a St. Augustine citizen named Greatorex, who worked within the confines of European artistic convention and 'often entertained the Indians with his art, teaching some of them samples of this ability to entertain.' The second visitor was J. Wells Champney, best known for his illustrations in Scribner’s Monthly, who came to the fort to render features of the education and prison life for Harper’s Magazine. The Indians were slowly influenced by the example and teaching of these artists.”
(A Kiowa’s Odyssey: Etahdleuh Doanmoe’s Sketches from Fort Marion, by Kathleen McWeeney)

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© Chris Smallbone September2006