Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Indian Scouting Party, 1900
Transparent and opaque watercolor over graphite underdrawing on paper
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
On the northwestern plains, the Blackfeet and their allies reached the height of their power in the early nineteenth century. They raided the Flathead and Kootenai tribes west of the Rockies, as well as the Crow Indians in the Yellowstone Valley to the south. They also stopped the expansion of the Cree and Assiniboine peoples into their territories from the east. By 1830 the Blackfeet controlled an area twice the size of New England, and they twice drove white expeditions from their territory. However, by the time Russell arrived as a young man in the Montana Territory in 1880, the alliance had been sundered by war and disease, and small raiding parties like this one were mostly a thing of the past. In this watercolor, Russell shows a group of Blackfeet on horseback descending quietly down a rocky outcrop, obviously intent on stealth. The second rider motions to the others behind him to proceed cautiously and quietly. The leader of the group wears a fur cap that may be made of wolfskin; if so, it could signify the man as a scout. The Blackfeet and some other tribes regarded the wolf as a master of percipience and stealth. The leader sits on a Hudson’s Bay Company trade blanket with a dark blue stripe. He wears a tack-studded belt of Blackfoot design, as well as a bracelet made of trade brass. The beadwork on his shoulder strap is also a Blackfoot design that dates from the reservation period—that is to say, contemporary with the date of this watercolor.