Letters and notes on the North American Indians

Michael M. Mooney ( Mooney, Michael M. )
George Catlin ( Catlin, George )
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Indigenous peoples -- West (U.S.) 
"George Catlin's Letters and Notes on the North American Indians was originally published in 1841 in two volumes. It is an astonishing work by an extraordinary reporter. It is the record, and sometimes the only record, of the last high afternoon of glory for the Indian nations west of the Mississippi. This single-volume edition, illustrated with Catlin's portraits and line drawings, preserves the best of his description and anecdote.

Because Catlin saw the frontier advancing behind him, he worked with the fever of the possessed. His travels, the number of his paintings and sketches, the volume of his notes, were prodigious. He had to record every detail he could, he said, for it would all soon be lost.

He was the first professional painter of the West; the first to paint the Arikara of the northern plains, the various Sioux, the Omaha, the Osage, the legendary Mandans; the first to paint the Caddo of the southern plains, the Wichita, the horsemen of the Comanche. He painted and reported on the manners, customs, and traditions of twenty-three tribes of the lakes and woodlands, and twenty-six tribes of the plains. In some cases, he was the only one to portray them, because, after Catlin, they were extinct.

Catlin was out beyond the frontier from 1832 to 1836. In 1837 smallpox decimated most tribes and destroyed some. Missionaries, settlers, traders, whiskey dealers, and the army succeeded smallpox on the plains. The faiths of the Indian nations cracked. Their medicine and mysteries failed them. They had the choice of dependency or war to extinction. Catlin reported them in the nick of time.

His Letters and Notes describe the Indians while they still inhabited their own country; they reported the native customs, occupations, dances, great medicines, feasts and ceremonies and principal personalities — all portrayed in delightful anecdote.

Catlin's stories charm, but his purpose was serious and his work significant. He was the first to propose a national park to preserve some corner of the West unspoiled for the Indian nations. He proposed and collected material for a national museum of Indian arts and crafts. He understood exactly that his paints and his pencils were his only weapons in the Indian cause against the mists of oblivion.

Michael M. Mooney has edited Catlin with a sensitive eye, and has added an introduction for the general reader which includes a short biography of Catlin's amazing life, combined with a review of the history of the West at the time of Catlin's remarkable voyages.

Michael M. Mooney spent six years tracking Catlin's trail — in libraries and museums, and in tents at Catlin's campsites along the upper Missouri in the Dakotas and Montana. He says he was first attracted by Catlin's portraits, then discovered the artist as a great storyteller, and finally came to believe that Catlin was one of the great nineteenth-century adventurers — rivaling even Sir Richard Burton. By editing Catlin's works to one volume, Mr. Mooney hopes to make them available again to the general reader."--Book jacket. 
xv, 366 pages : illustrations ; 29 cm. 
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