Catlin, George. The North American Indians Being Letters and Notes on Their Manners, Customs, and Conditions, Written During Eight Years' Travel Amongst the Wildest Tribes of Indians in North America

Regular price $650

Shipping calculated at checkout.

Leary, Stuart and Company: Philadelphia, 1913. First edition thus.  Illustrated with 320 color illustrations plus folding map, 2 volumes rebound in buckram. 

A very good copy, top edge gilt, prior owner's bookplate, two plates loose and missing piece from frontis tissue guard in volume 1.

Though not the first artist to paint American Indians, Catlin was the first to picture them so extensively in their own territories and one of the few to portray them as fellow human beings rather than savages. His more realistic approach grew out of his appreciation for a people who “had been invaded, their morals corrupted, their lands wrested from them, their customs changed, and therefore lost to the world.” Such empathy was uncommon in 1830, the year the federal Indian Removal Act forced Southeastern tribes to move to what is now Oklahoma along the disastrous “Trail of Tears.”

Catlin grew up hearing tales of Indians from settlers and from his own mother, who at age 7 had been abducted, along with her mother, by Iroquois during a raid along the Susquehanna in 1778. They were soon released unharmed, and Polly Catlin often told her son about the experience.

When in c. 1828, a delegation of Indians stopped in Philadelphia en route to Washington, D.C. Catlin found his life purpose. Captivated by “their classic beauty,” Catlin then began searching for Indian subjects. He felt that “civilization”—particularly whiskey and smallpox—was wiping them out, and he vowed that “nothing short of the loss of my life, shall prevent me from visiting their country, and of becoming their historian.”

Catlin’s greater contribution, undoubtedly, was his signal role in helping to change the perception of Native Americans. “Art may mourn when these people are swept from the earth,” he wrote, “and the artists of future ages may look in vain for another race so picturesque in their costumes, their weapons, their colours, their manly games, and their chase.”