Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Indian Fight, 1898
Watercolor, opaque watercolor, and graphite on paper
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
Although the conflict between the Indian and the white man was an important component of western history, evidence demonstrates that intertribal warfare was far more common. By the middle part of the nineteenth century some tribes, like the Blackfeet and Lakota (Sioux), were rapidly expanding their territories at the expense of their neighbors. Russell was one of the few artists of his day to develop the subject of Indian tribes at war with one another. His interest was due in part to the oral accounts of such exploits that he had heard from his Indian friends. Even though such personal accounts may have been embellished, the general conflicts Russell heard about were consistent with the historical record. It is significant that Russell actively sought to interpret such events on the frontier from the Indian’s point of view. This watercolor depicts a group of mounted Blackfoot warriors. The two riders at the center of the composition look directly at the viewer, and one of them prepares to loose an arrow in the viewer’s direction. The shield on the Indian to the right is decorated in a way common to Russell’s paintings of the period. The shield on the central rider is decorated with a scalp lock or a buffalo’s tail—both common as decorations in the period. The Blackfoot knife sheath on the central figure is very accurately rendered, including the slot that allows it to be fixed to a belt; it clearly dates from the reservation period (1890s). The central figure also wears a feather crown (“exploding”) headdress, which was only worn by members of a tribal war society. The figure to his right wears a “scout” headdress made of a wolf or coyote head.