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Welcome to Campfire Stories with George Catlin

Take a virtual journey to meet American Indians of the 1830s with artist, ethnologist, and showman George Catlin. This site compiles paintings, historical documents, and commentary from contemporary experts so you can explore the intersections of two cultures, both in Catlin's time and today.

Who Was George Catlin?

In the 1830s, George Catlin (1796–1872) packed his paintbrushes and trekked through remote Indian country in the Great Plains. Committed to documenting traditional Native culture, he visited more than 140 tribes and painted more than 325 portraits and 200 scenes of American Indian life. Catlin's prolific works, both his art and his writings, illustrate Indian cultures on the precipice of radical change—change that would come with U.S. expansion into tribal territories.

This website presents and interprets hundreds of Catlin's artworks from the Smithsonian American Art Museum's permanent collection. Text resources include Catlin's primary source documents—a handwritten sketchbook and his 1841 publication Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians.

Campfire Stories will help visitors learn about Native American individuals, lifeways, and homelands using Catlin's art and writings as departure points. Contemporary American Indians, historians, artists, and other experts narrate the multimedia stories. These present-day perspectives provide context for understanding Catlin, his art, and his nineteenth-century encounters.

How Is This Site Organized?

The core of this site is comprised of four campfire stories, each featuring artworks by Catlin. You will need the Flash 6 or greater and Quicktime plugins to view this presentation.

Campfire Stories address the following topics:

  • Ancestral Lands spotlights Native American homelands.
  • Catlin's Quest illustrates George Catlin's life and vision.
  • Chiefs and Leaders describes tribal leadership and historical figures.
  • Western Landscape covers Great Plains ecology and geography.

Each theme comes alive through multimedia interviews, a gallery of artworks with exhibition labels, a timeline, and maps. Transcripts of the interviews are also provided.

Furthermore, a rich database contains Catlin's writings and hundreds of his artworks. From the search page, locate artworks or texts that relate to your topics of interest.

Educators, please visit For Teachers to find out how to use this resource in your classroom. Lesson plans linked to curriculum standards are available.

To learn who contributed to this presentation, see our credits page.

Thanks for visiting Campfire Stories with George Catlin. Please bookmark us and return soon!

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