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Chiefs and Leaders
Peter Matthiessen

Prominent Men

Catlin paints Indians who are famous in American history—such men as Black Hawk, the Sac and Fox chief, and vanquished leader of the so-called Black Hawk War; Kee-o-kúk, who replaces Black Hawk as chief of the Sac and Fox; and Os-ce-o-lá, war leader of the Seminoles of Mikasuki (Mikasuki-speaking) Seminoles. All of these men were involved in fierce struggles to retain their native lands. Catlin also paints men of prominence who are still in control of their lands. Although these men are little recognized in written history, they are well remembered in the oral literature of their tribes—the Mandan chief Four Bears; the Hidatsa chief Black Moccasin, whose portrait conveys the reverence of traditional peoples for their tribal elders; Buffalo Bull's Back Fat, head chief of the Blood Indians; and the Grand Pawnee leader, Horse Chief.

Dignity and Bravery

My impression is that many of those American Indian chiefs and leaders were great, great, truly great leaders. They had a reverence from their people that's extraordinary. They had a self-respect and a dignity and a bravery and an endurance that are impressive—that we could all learn from. I think that the best of the Americans who encountered them—even people like General Crooks—were astonished by their fortitude, by their honor, and their integrity. And much of the cruelty in warfare that's been attributed to Indian people was brought on really by our cruelty, it was a response to it. It was not something that they did originally by themselves.

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