I ran across this painting the other day and it almost took my breath away. It may look a little familiar. I use a black and white reproduction of this painting taken from The Sac and Fox Indians by William T. Hagen for the image associated with this blog. I have been looking for a better copy of the original, and until now had not found it. It can be found at this website, which publishes images of paintings that are in the public domain.
The painting was by Charles Bird King, and it is of Chief Poweshiek, who was also known as “the roused bear.”
The painting was made during Poweshiek’s trip to Washington in 1837. His name is spelled Powasheek here, and the name is explained as meaning “to dash the water off.” I don’t know why there is a difference in the explanation of the meaning of the name, but I have a theory.
Poweshiek and his people had been removed from his boyhood village (where Davenport, Iowa is now) by the “Black Hawk Purchase of 1832”, a coerced treaty, and they were living near the current location of Iowa City. The trip to Washington was intended to assist in making peace with the Sioux, with whom the Meskwaki had been fighting. During the trip, Black Hawk and Poweshiek met with John Ross, the leader of the Cherokee Nation. I believe that during this trip Poweshiek became aware of the full effects of the Indian Removal policy that was in force at the time.
The trip became an excuse for a land succession treaty, and Poweshiek was forced to relocate shortly after the conclusion of the trip.
Was he conveying his sorrow at the state of his condition, and the condition of his people? The water that was dashed off—was that his tears?
I don’t know…