George Catlin: Explorer and Painter of the Mandan


  • Amy Trujillo Wichita State University


Native Americans, Native American life, painters of Native Americans, Seneca, Iroquois, Mandan


In a time when the majority of the United States' citizens viewed the Native American tribes as savages and a nuisance, George Catlin managed to capture a realistic view of these peoples. Catlin's art is probably the most receptive of the early Native American painters. His paintings demonstrated an understanding and even an appreciation of the native people. In 1837, few people in or outside of the United States had a clear picture of what the tribes of the Plains and the Rocky Mountains looked like. The copious amount of paintings, sketches and materials that Catlin brought back with him give some of the best, and in many cases, the only information about the tribes before the serious interference of Euro-American settlers and the government. For the majority of his adult life, Catlin traveled in the Louisiana Purchase Territory documenting the people through his paintings and his writing. Still, there is no doubt that Catlin believed that the Native Americans were doomed. One of the main motives behind Catlin's work was to document these people before they disappeared or the United Stated government changed their way of life forever. In many ways, Catlin was the first ethnographer of the native peoples and one of the most successful in capturing the tribes before outside interference.1 He was willing to paint and describe the Indians accurately. He did not give in to the stereotype of portraying the tribes as bloodthirsty savages. Through his art he attempted to show the American people the reality of the tribes, both good and bad, and doing this became his life's work.