George Catlin — An Inspiration

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One of my favorite research authors is George Catlin, a man who lived in the 1830’s.  The story goes that as a young man, he was sent to school to become a lawyer, but he imagescan664w8[1]soon tired of this occupation and began chasing his dream, painting.  Because he was born in 1796, he was much accustomed to being amongst the Eastern Indians.  However, he once witnessed a party of Indians come to Philadelphia from west of the Mississippi.  In their native costumes he was much impressed by them, and it wasn’t long before he decided to make it his life’s work to go amongst the Indians and paint them, setting down their life and customs for posterity.

images3[1]I’m so glad that he did.  Of all the works that I have researched in my nineteen years of writing historical romance books, George Catlin remains my favorite source of inspiration.  Here is a picture of a young girl of the Mandan tribe.  Catlin documents the unusual characteristics of this tribe in as much as they were a tribe of people who had many among them many people with blue and green eyes, as well as light-colored hair.  Notice that this girl has white hair in places — and yet when he painted her, she was 14 years of age.  The Mandans themselves couldn’t explain their unusual looks — so uncommon on the prairie (they were the only tribe that Catlin documents who had these unusual looks).  But Catlin does put forth a theory in his book that he believed  they were the decendants of a long lost Scottish prince — and indeed, a friend of mine told me that in Scotland, there is a long association of information on the American Indian.

a0000c7f1-150x150[1]This painting to the left of this post is of the Crow men bathing — now it’s not in any of my books — any theory as to why?  When I blew up this painting, lo and behold, there were some rather sexy images of these men as they rested and played.  So of course I had to download this to share with you.  Note also the extreme length of the air on these men.  Long hair was considered a treasure and it was never cut unless one experienced a death of a loved one — but as you can see here, it was grown to very long lengths.

karl-bodmer-mandeh-pahchu_-mandan-man1[1]I wanted so much to show you the pictures of Black Rock — a Sioux Indian, and One Horn, another Sioux Indian — but after an hour of trying to find the photos and download them, I gave up.  Once I finally found their paintings (that have inspired me so much), they weren’t available to copy.  However, this is another artist’s rendition of a painting that I have found unusual — but it doesn’t capture the flavor of the original Catlin works in my opinion.

Here’s another painting that illustrates the extreme length of the Indian’s a0000cb21-150x150[1]hairstyle at this point in their history.  One of the reasons I like researching Catlin is because he went amongst the Indians.  He lived with them and talked with them and really got to know them — so that when a person now reads his work, one is transported back to that time and place.  One comment that Catlin makes in his work is that in all his travels amongst all the Indian tribes of the Americas, not once did anyone accost him or try to steal his things, though there was much opportunity to do both.  It is a statement on the character and integrity of the American Indian.

imagesca8ttczf[1]There’s another hairstyle that was common upon the plains at this time in history.  Here’s a picture of it.  This is the painting (a reproduction) of a Blackfoot Indian who was at this time about fifty years of age.  Note the “bangs” in the center of the forehead.  I’ve tried often to describe this kind of hairstyle in my books — but I think sometimes it communicates better to simply see it for yourself.431px-assiniboin_indians_0065v1

Okay, I know this is an awfully big picture, but this picture shows the hairstyle on a man who is quite handsome and I have spent many an hour looking at this painting as I write.  This man was a warrior of distinction — one can tell this by the spear-bow that he carries.  Also note on his shield his medicine bundle.  This man was an Assiniboine Indian, which was at one time a tribe much related to the Sioux, but for some reason in the long ago, they split off from the Sioux (Lakota) and became their own tribe.

Another reason I’ve made this so big is because when I was on the Assiniboine/Gros Venture reservation, I was allowed to sit in on a tribal meeting.  The chief who was holding the meeting could have been a modern image of this man.  The lady who accompanied me said, “He’s a handsome man.”  I could only agree.  By the way, this painting was done by Karl Bodmer, who accompanied Prince Maximilian into the American West.

copy-of-180px-georgecatlinbyfisk1[1]In ending, I’d like to close with this image of a more elderly George Catlin.  I love this painting — it shows him not only at his work, but with those whom he came to know and acknowledge as friends — the Indians.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this particular blog today — it’s a bit of research that I must admit I have quite a fondness for.  And it’s because of George Catlin that we still have images of the long ago so that we can see the characterization of these people at this point in history.  If he were here today, I would thank him very much.

Do you have a favorite painting — or a favorite research — that inspires you?  Please come on in and let’s talk about it.  And if you’re interested, the book off to the right here was directly inspired by the writings and paintings of George Catlin.  Just click on the link and it will take you to a page to tell you a bit about the book, or visit my website at


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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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20 thoughts on “George Catlin — An Inspiration”

  1. Karen, Not knowing much about Indians at all, I love reading your posts. They are always full of knowledge and show the depths of research you have gone to. I really have no favorite painting or research so maybe that is one of the reasons Petticoats and Pistols is such a great blog to visit. Always full of wonderful information! The cover of Lakota Princess is so touching and beautiful.

  2. What a wonderful inspiration George Catlin is! I find the culture of the American Indian fascinating and love reading your posts and your books! Thank you for sharing your gift of writing and love of the American Indian culture.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your inspiration with us. I’m so glad you mentioned “character and integrity”, which is what I’m discovering in my own research. I just hope I can convey that message through my characters. Great post!

  4. I love Catlin’s paintings. He did the world a great service by putting down on canvas the many Indians he encountered. Because of him we know the hairstyles, the fashion, and the expressions on those people’s faces from long ago. No wonder you’re inspired. I’m inspired by true stories that were passed down from generation to generation, some of which are family stories. I truly treasure those. And to run across a diary or other things that were put on paper really are something to guard and protect. I enjoyed your blog today!

  5. I love the pictures.
    I did a lot of research for my book Wrangler in Petticoats because my hero was a western artist in the style of Frederick Remington and Charlie Russell and I ended up loving the western art I found and some of it included beautiful work involving native people.
    Great post! Love the beautiful clothing and long hair.

  6. Hi Melanie!

    Thanks so much for your delightful comment. I’ve been away almost all day (hadn’t planned on it) — so please forgive my being slow at responding. I love this research, actually. But in truth it was something that I came to love — at first I found it daunting. : ) Thanks again.

  7. Hi N. Bright!

    I’m sure you will. If you are there understanding it and looking at it, I’m sure you will. And I hope you have a wonderful time with your characters!

  8. Hi Linda!

    Boy, I couldn’t agree more — family histories, treasures, stories past down from one’s grandparents — these are treasures that are beyond price or compare. Thanks for mentioning that.

  9. Hi Mary!

    You know a similar thing happened with me when I began this research — I fell in love — simply fell in love with the time and the period and the stories and the lives of these very dignified people. Thanks for your thoughts.

  10. And sometime when I’m not so pressed, I need to explore those artists that you just mentioned. I’ve come across their paintings now and again — and I’d love to explore them even more.

  11. Thank you so much, Karen for this interesting informational post. I always learn so much from your posts and often they send me to learn more.

  12. Thanks for sharing pictures with us again. Catlin did excellent work as did Karl Bodner and a few others. I went to several sites that showed many of his pictures, but the one with the men bathing wasn’t on any of the sites. He had such a large body of work that I doubt many have seen his entire collection.

    As for favorite research, Petticoats and Pistols is among just a few blogs I try to follow that discuss author research and give links for following up. I love it, but it can turn into such a huge “time suck.”

    Thanks again for an enjoyable post.

  13. Enjoyed your post, Karen!

    Had never heard of some of the tribes, such as the Mandans -interesting info re: their coloring. Also amazing, the fact that Catlin was never harmed by the Indians – guess they knew he posed no harm, & was enamored with them.

    It must have been fascinating to sit in on a tribal meeting!

    I don’t have time for deep research, but have done some genealogy research of my family, & enjoy reading this blog -was never much of a history lover in school, & always read interesting facts here that I was never aware of.

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