Although he had but a mediocre talent, George Catlin was driven by a sense of mission to produce a body of important work. Obsessed with the fear that Indian culture would soon disappear, he traveled beyond the frontier and, by his own count, visited more than a million Indians. The paintings he made on his travels to the tribes east of the Rockies brought him a solid reputation. His later work, done in South America, the west coast of North America, and the American Southwest is but little-known. This volume corrects that situation with over 150 reproductions of his work, many published here for the first time, and with a selection from his texts.
Catlin’s writing shows a pleasant narrative and descriptive style, together with a sense of wonder. His purpose, however, is to render accurate accounts of the geology, flora and fauna and, above all, the ethnography of the regions he visited, although he is not averse to moralizing or pictorial design; Catlin was nevertheless observant, precise, and truthful. His ability to write a report made him unique among white visitors to an area. His work, therefore, is primary documentation.
As a personality, Catlin was indomitable but compatible. He made friends easily, unaffectedly revealing his respect and admiration for the Indians, whom he easily persuaded to sit for him. His special interests were legion, and in word and picture he described customs and costumes and the trappings of hundreds of Indian societies. He observed and related the making of a flint arrowhead and how canoes are dug out, and the book is worth reading if only to leam how to make mosquito soup.