Creating the American West title

The sense of loss experienced by Euro-Americans as the era of American expansion seemed to be coming to a close pales in comparison with the loss of Indigenous lifeways caused by genocide, disease, forced migration, and forced assimilation. In the 1800s, American expansion displaced more than five hundred nations of people who had lived on the continent for thousands of years. During that time, they had developed sophisticated trading routes, land management processes, and cultural, social, and political systems. By the 1900s, however, most Native Americans had been forcibly removed to reservations and encouraged to farm land that was not arable. The buffalo—and the accompanying way of life that surrounded responsible hunting of the animal—had been nearly killed off. Often denied the rations promised by an inconsistent federal government, Indigenous people suffered from starvation and poverty. Their children were regularly sent to boarding schools where they were subjected to cultural oppression and physical and sexual abuse. While Indigenous people continue to grapple with historical trauma stemming from such experiences, they have maintained their cultural practices and languages against great odds.

Alexander Phimister Proctor (American, born in Canada, 1860–1950)
Indian Warrior, modeled 1898, cast ca. 1922
Denver Art Museum: Funds from Sharon Magness and the Harry I. and Edythe Smookler Memorial Endowment, 2016.293

Alexander Phimister Proctor was one of the first sculptors to make public monuments of Indigenous peoples. After helping to create a monument of Civil War Union general William T. Sherman, Proctor was inspired to attempt his own horse-and-rider statue. The result was this sculpture, in which Proctor made his own statement about what constituted a great American military leader.

Charles Schreyvogel (American, 1861–1912)
Sevaro, Chief of the Capota Ute, ca. 1900
Oil on canvas
Denver Art Museum: William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, 2001.1203

By the end of the 1800s, artists interested in depicting Native American individuals and customs traveled to reservations and military forts in search of models. In 1893, New Jersey–based Charles Schreyvogel traveled to the Southern Ute Reservation in Colorado. There, he likely met Severo, chief of the Caputa band of the Ute people, whom he later painted in a fur coat and feather headdress.

Adolph Alexander Weinman (American, 1870–1952)
Chief Blackbird, Ogalalla Sioux, 1903
Denver Art Museum: Funds from the DAM Westerners, in honor of Lucy and Jim Wallace, 2013.35

Adolf Alexander Weinman produced this portrait of Chief Blackbird, a veteran of the Great Sioux War of 1876, after watching him perform in Colonel Frederick T. Cummins’s Wild West show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Wild West shows traveled around the country and around the world, entertaining visitors with romanticized and stereotyped visions of the American West that were reinforced in art, literature, and eventually film. Weinman’s portrayal of the chief is remarkably accurate, with his rugged face, eagle-feather headdress, and beaded hide shirt painstakingly recorded.

George de Forest Brush (American, 1855–1941)
Portrait of an Indian, ca. 1887
Oil on panel
Denver Art Museum: Roath Collection, 2013.97

This portrait probably features an Apache man who, as part of Geronimo’s band, had eluded capture by the US government for years. Depictions of the Apache Wars (including some of Frederic Remington’s earliest illustrations) populated eastern periodicals during the 1880s. When members of Geronimo’s troops were exiled from the Southwest to an army prison in Florida, George de Forest Brush traveled from New York to paint them. Here, he depicts this man’s melancholy—a reflection of the loss of territory and tradition forced upon Indigenous Americans during the 19th century.

Joseph Henry Sharp (American, 1859–1953)
Young Crow Indian, date unknown
Oil on canvas
Denver Art Museum: William Sr. and Dorothy Harmsen Collection, 2001.929

Joseph Henry Sharp moved north after working in Taos for many years and built a cabin at Crow Agency on the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana. He traveled throughout the region and painted many locals, such as the individual depicted in Young Crow Indian, as well as landscapes.

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