Thursday, June 21, 2012

Little Spaniard and other Comanche warriors in Catlin's art

with the shields, horses and Plains warrior ethos in mind we will explore the paintings by George Catlin showing Comanche warriors.

    Maestro George Catlin painted Comanches in their village during the 1834 excursion onto the Great Plains, amongst them the noted warrior Little Spaniard. Here are his words describing this warrior:
 “A gallant little fellow [. . .] represented to us as one of the leading warriors of the tribe; and no doubt [. . .] one of the most extraordinary men at present living in these regions. He is half Spanish, and being a half-breed, for whom they generally have the most contemptuous feelings, he has been all his life thrown into the front of battle and danger; at which posts he has signalized himself, and commanded the highest admiration and respect of the tribe for his daring and adventurous career. This is the man  who dashed out so boldly from the war-party, and came to us with the white flag raised on the point of his lance  I have here represented him as he stood for me, with his shield on his arm, with his quiver slung, and his lance of fourteen feet in length in his right hand. This extraordinary little man, whose figure was light, seemed to be all bone and muscle, and exhibited immense power, by the curve of the bones in his legs and his arms. We had many exhibitions of his extraordinary strength, as well as agility; and of his gentlemanly politeness and friendship we had as frequent evidences.”

Here is the painting showing Little Soldier meeting with the US Dragoons under colonel Henry Dodge - the first US newly organized cavalry expedition onto the Plains.
Catlin described Little Spaniard in the moment of the meeting between the forces:
''He rode a fine and spirited wild horse, which was as white as the drifted snow, with an exuberant mane, and its long and bushy tail sweeping the ground. In his hand he tightly drew the reins upon a heavy Spanish bit, and at every jump, plunged into the animal's sides, till they were in a gore of blood, a huge pair of spurs, plundered, no doubt, from the Spaniards in their border wars, which are continually waged on the Mexican frontiers. The eyes of this noble little steed seemed to be squeezed out of its head ; and its fright, and its agitation had brought out upon its skin a perspiration that was fretted into a white foam and lather. The warrior's quiver was slung on the warrior's back, and his bow grasped in his left hand, ready for instant use, if called for. His shield was on his arm, and across his thigh, in a beautiful cover of buckskin, his gun was slung—and in his right hand his lance of fourteen feet in length. Thus armed and equipped was this dashing cavalier; and nearly in the same manner, all the rest of the party ; and very many of them leading an extra horse, which we soon learned was the favourite war-horse''    (  both the Eurasian and Americas  warrior practice of leading the war horse along, saving it for  the battle or chase only  )

On the Comanche horses:
No sooner were we encamped here (or, in other words, as soon as our things were thrown upon the ground), Major Mason, Lieutenant Wheelock, Captain Brown, Captain Duncan, my friend Chadwick and myself, galloped off to the village, and through it in the greatest impatience to the prairies, where there were at least three thousand horses and mules grazing; all of us eager and impatient to see and to appropriate the splendid Arabian horses, which we had so often heard were owned by the Camanchee warriors We galloped around busily, and glanced our eyes rapidly over them; and all soon returned to the' camp, quite "crest-fallen" and satisfied, that, although there were some tolerable nags amongst this medley group of all colours and all shapes, the beautiful Arabian we had so often heard of at the East, as belonging to the Camanchees, must either be a great way farther South than this, or else it must be a horse of the imagination.
The Camauchee horses are generally small, all of them being of the wild breed, and a very tough and serviceable animal; and from what I can learn here of the chiefs, there are yet, farther South, and nearer the Mexican borders, some of tho noblest animals in use of the chiefs, yet I do not know that we have any more reason to rely upon this information, than that which had made our horse-jockeys that we have with us, to run almost crazy for the possession of those we were to find at this place. Amongst the immense herds we found grazing here, one third perhaps are mules, which are much more valuable than the horses.
Of the horses, the officers and men have purchased a number of the best, by giving a very inferior blanket and butcher's knife, costing in all about four dollars! These horses in our cities at the East, independent of the name, putting them upon their merits alone, would be worth from eighty to one hundred dollars each, and not more.
(Interestingly, this is another piece of evidence to show that the Comanches were principally horse trades on the Plains, selling and exchanging their capture, mustangs and Spanish horses, to the other Plains tribes and Anglo-Americans)

In my post Comanche war bridle I gave Catlin's description of the Comanche horsemanship and further he states: 
  these people have several other feats of horsemanship, which they are continually showing off; which are pleasing and extraordinary, and of which they seem very proud. A people who spend so very great a part of their lives, actually on their horses' backs, must needs become exceedingly expert in everything that pertains to riding—to war, or to the chase; and I am ready, without hesitation, to pronounce the Camanchees the most extraordinary horsemen that I have seen yet in all my travels, and I doubt very much whether any people in the world can surpass them. The Camanchees are in stature, rather low, and in person, often approaching to corpulency. In their movements, they are heavy and ungraceful; and on their feet, one of the most unattractive and slovenly-looking races of Indians that I have ever seen[...]

 Here, a bison hunts:
with bows

with lances

War Party 
seeing the enemy

fully armed

Comanche and Osage warrior duel


 Mountain of Rocks  -“the largest and fattest Indian I ever saw [..] A perfect personation of Jack Falstaff, in size and in figure, with an African face, and a beard on his chin of two or three inches in length. His name, he tells me, he got from having conducted a large party of Camanchees through a secret and subterraneous passage, entirely through the mountain of granite rocks, which lies back of their village; thereby saving their lives from their more powerful enemy"
 Corpulency is a thing exceedingly rare to be found in any of the tribes, amongst the men, owing, probably, to the exposed and active sort of lives they lead; and that in the absence of all the species of life, many of which have their effect in producing this disgusting, as well as unhandy and awkward extravagance in civilised society.

Dragoon NCO officerHugh Evans was a Sergeant, Company G, United States Dragoon Regiment ) gave a brief description of Mountain of Rocks - '' the old chief come riding on a, verry[sic] fine horse he was a verry[sic] large man corpulent and muscular in appearance he inquired where our great Captain was and repaired thither immediately he imbraced[sic] Col Dodge and called him his great white brother.''

 Beaver - “a warrior of terrible aspect, and also of considerable distinction.”

He Who Carries a Wolf - a distinguished brave; so called from the circumstance of his carrying a medicine-bag made of the skin of a wolf; ho holds a whip in his hand. This man piloted the dragoons to the Camanchee.

 Hair of the Bull’s Neck

Bow and Quiver  - “pleasant looking [..] without anything striking or peculiar in his looks; dressed in a very humble manner [...] his hair carelessly falling about his face, and over his shoulders,”[..]“the only ornaments to be seen about him were a couple of beautiful shells worn in his ears, and a boar’s tusk attached to his neck, and worn on his breast.”

Wolf Tied with Hair 
 James Hildreth, describing the US Dragoon expedition to the Plains in 1834 said this about the Comanches:

''The Camnnches are a very numerous tribe, and extend themselves over that vast extent of country extending between the Red River and the north fork of the Washita, which you may easily point out upon the map. They have no established villages, but wander about from place to place, living chiefly upon game and wild fruit. They are armed with bows and arrows, and spears, and clothe themselves in the skins of the buffalo, elk, and deer. They are of a bright copper color, their faces broad and large; they are generally muscular men, and differ only in appearance from their squaws in the manner of wearing the hair, the latter having their heads cropt very short, whilst the former wear their hair in long tufts. They are the allies of the Pawnees, Kioways, and Arripahoes [Arapahoes]  and together, when prepared for battle, form a host not easily conquered. Among the Camanche women we discovered several Spanish females who had probably spent the greater portion of their lives among the Indians, and had assimilated their manners to their wild habits.
The Camanche, when mounted, presents a fine classic appearance; with his covering of variegated hide, his broad shining face, his spear and target, he is apt to remind one of the more chivalrous days of ancient Britain, when the tilt and tourney claimed no less the prowess of the bold than the plaudits of the fair; when the knight templars laid lance in rest, and sovereigns marshalled their followers on the plains of Palestine.''

and time to say - until the next time:
 ...a sketch of one of these extraordinary scenes, which I have had the good luck to witness; where several thousands were on the march, and furnishing one of those laughable scenes which daily happen, where so many dogs, and so many squaws, are travelling in such a confused mass; with so many conflicting interests, and so many local and individual rights to be pertinaciously claimed and protected. Each horse drags his load, and each dog, i.e. each dog that will do it (and there are many that will not), also dragging his wallet on a couple of poles; and each squaw with her load, and all together (notwithstanding their burthens) cherishing their pugnacious feelings, which often bring them into general conflict, commencing usually amongst the dogs, and sure to result in fisticuffs of the women; whilst the men, riding leisurely on the right or the left, take infinite pleasure in overlooking these desperate conflicts, at which they are sure to have a laugh, and in which, as sure never to lend a hand.

* all Italicized text by Catlin himself  from George Catlin, ''Letters and Notes,'' vol. 2,  1841

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