Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Bringing Home the Meat, ca. 1891
Oil on canvas
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
In Russell’s day it was the general practice of most of the northern plains tribes to hunt pronghorn, deer, or elk on foot. The hides of these animals were very useful for the manufacture of clothing for summer dress. Winter, when there was little or no snow on the ground, was a particularly good time to hunt the fleet-footed pronghorn, for they could be found in sheltered river bottoms and were easy to bring down. While the men of the tribe assumed the duties of the hunt, it was the women’s responsibility to help butcher the game and carry it back to camp. In this painting, Russell shows a Blackfoot family packing the results of a particularly bounteous hunt: four freshly killed pronghorns. The man and woman each carry an animal across their saddles, while a pack horse between them hauls two carcasses. Even in his early paintings, Russell was a close observer of Blackfoot culture. The woman wears a dress made of stroud cloth, a trade cloth made in England that was dyed indigo blue or bright red. The dyeing process left the material with a white sawtooth-edged selvage that the Indians preferred to keep on the fabric as a decoration. On the woman’s dress seen here, two pieces of this cloth have been joined by a strip of red ribbon, which was common practice at the time. The woman’s horse wears a rawhide martingale with decorated beadwork in typical Blackfoot fashion. Both the woman’s horse and the pack horse have woman’s saddles, with typically high saddle horns shaped into large flat disks. These disks could either be decorated with brass tacks, as on the woman’s saddle, or fringed with strips of rawhide, as it is on the pack horse.