Charles M. Russell (1864–1926)
Indian Family with Travois, 1897
Watercolor and graphite mounted to board
Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, Texas, Amon G. Carter Collection
In the days when the Blackfeet were able to roam freely on the plains, the frequency of moving camp changed from season to season. The pattern of the weather, the availability of game, the ripening cycle of plants, and the requirements of the tribe’s own ceremonial calendar were all factors in determining the time for moving. Lodges and furnishings had to be portable and easily packed for transport. On the day before the move, most of the smaller items were packed so they could be quickly loaded onto a horse or travois—the carrying system utilizing the long dragging poles shown on the horses in this painting. At dawn on the morning of the move, the women of the camp took down the lodge. The buffalo-hide cover of an average tipi weighed about one hundred pounds, and it generally was supported by approximately nineteen poles, each about eighteen to twenty-two feet long. All these articles were packed and transported by the women of the tribe. This highly accomplished watercolor depicts a young Blackfoot woman and her son astride horses with travois and packs, having paused at a quiet stream. The figures wear bright trade blankets, and a fringed baby cradle hangs from the saddle horn in typical Blackfoot fashion. The woman’s knife has a fine, tacked sheath, but in reality it would not have been tucked into the folds of her dress. Likewise, the placement of the decoration on the woman’s dress is not typical, and the neck opening is much too large. The painted rawhide martingale across the front of her horse, however, is a rare and authentic form, and the decorated travois crupper on the horse’s flank is shaped like a semicircle—all true Blackfoot. Overall, Russell’s watercolor technique in this work is accomplished and masterful—the very height of the transparent watercolor technique.