Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
A Piegan Flirtation, ca. 1896
Transparent and opaque watercolor and graphite on paper
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
Walter McClintock, who lived among the Blackfeet and recorded their customs at the time Russell painted this watercolor, wrote that marriage within the tribe generally took place when a girl became about fourteen years of age. If it happened that a young man fell in love with her, the proposal came from his parents, because it was not customary for unmarried girls to associate with men. Russell was fascinated by such everyday customs and events. This watercolor sensitively portrays a somewhat surreptitious meeting between a young brave and an unmarried woman on the banks of a stream, away from the watchful eyes of the village. The young man on horseback regards the woman with a wonderful air of self-centered pride, while the woman turns coyly away, her expression a mixture of pleasure and amusement. According to McClintock, if a woman and her parents accepted a suitor, her father made the proposal by saying that the girl would carry food to the suitor’s lodge. If the man accepted this, she would continue to take food to him “for a moon,” signifying to the other members of the tribe that they were engaged. Marriage rituals within the tribe were well-established. The bride’s family presented gifts to each member of the intended husband’s family and arranged a feast for him and all his relatives. After the feast the man gave his future wife many presents to be distributed among her own family, while her mother prepared a new lodge stocked with blankets, robes, clothing, and other furnishings for the couple. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of a Blackfoot marriage was that the son-in-law never spoke to his mother-in-law, nor could she ever enter her daughter’s lodge while he was there.