History of the Butterfly, Part 79: Catlin on Keokuk

“From Dubuque, I descended the river on a steamer, with my bark canoe laid on its deck, and my wife was my companion, to Camp Des Moines, from whence I am now writing.

After arriving at this place, which is the wintering post of Colonel Kearney, whit his three companies of dragoons, I seated m wife and two gentlemen of my intimate acquaintance, in my bark canoe, and paddled them through the Des Moine’s Rapids, a distance of fourteen miles, which we performed in a very short time; and at the foot of the Rapids, placed my wife on the steamer for St. Louis, in company with friends, when I had some weeks to return to my track, and revert back again to the wild and romantic life that I occasionally love to lead.  I returned to Camp Des Moines, and in a few days joined General Street, the Indian Agent, in a Tour to Ke-o-kuck’s village of Sacs and Foxes.

Colonel Kearney gave us a corporal’s command of eight men, with horses, etc. for the journey; and we reached the village in two days travel, about sixty miles up the Des Moines.  The whole country that we passed over was like a garden, wanting only cultivation, being mostly prairie, and we found our village beautifully situated on a large prairie, on the bank of the Des Moines River.  They seemed to be well supplied with the necessaries of life, and with some of its luxuries.  I found Ke-o-kuk to be a chief of fine and portly figure, with a good countenance, and great dignity and grace in his manners.

General Street had some documents form h, to read to him, which he and his chiefs listened to with great patience; after which he placed before us good brandy and good wine, and invited us to drink, and to lodge with him; he then called up five of his runners or criers, communicated to them in a low, but emphatic tone, the substance of the talk from the agent, and one of the letters read to him, and they started at full gallop—one of the m proclaiming it through his village, and the other sent express to the other villages, comprising the whole nation.  Ke-o-kuck came in with us, with about twenty of his principal men—he brought in his costly wardrobe, that I might select for his portrait such as suited me best; but at once named (of his own accord) the one that was purely Indian.  In that he paraded for several days, and in it I painted him at full length.  He is a man of a great deal of pride, and makes truly a splendid appearance on his black horse.  He owns the finest horse in the country, and is excessively vain of his appearance when mounted, and arrayed, himself and horse, in all their gear and trappings.  He expressed a wish to see himself represented on horseback and I painted him in that plight.  He rode and nettled his prancing steed in front of my door, until his sides were in a gore of blood.  I succeeded to his satisfaction, and his vanity is increased, no doubt, by seeing himself immortalized in that way.  After finishing him, I painted his favorite wife (the favoured one of seven), his favourite boy, and eight or the of his principal men and women; after which he and all his men shook hands with me, wishing me well, and leaving, as tokens of regard, the most valued article of his dress, and a beautiful string of wampum, which he took from his wife’s neck.”

From Catlin, 1913.  This would have been in the mid 1830’s, after the Black Hawk war.

About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
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