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War Record

attributed to Big Spring, b. 1865 d. unknown
Northern Plains

ca. 1915

canvas, paint

height: 105"
width: 57 ½"

Inventory # P4323


Related Examples

Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul, See: Dempsey, James, L. Blackfoot War Art: Pictographs of the Reservation Period, 1880-2000. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007, colour plate 19, for detail of a 50' canvas panel commissioned by Glacier Hotels (Great Northern Railway) in the 1920's showing in part the exploits of Arrow Top Knot

Science Museum of Minnesota, St. Paul - See: Ibid, 22 and 23 for two other panels commissioned by the Great Northern Railway showing in part the exploits of White Quiver and Green Grass Bull

Ibid - See: colour plates 20 and 21 for hand coloured photographs of panels commissioned by the Great Northern Railway reproduced from the booklet "Picture Writing by the Blackfeet Indians of Glacier National Park" (Eagle Calf and Heavy Breast)

This painting is one of only a handful of surviving panels commissioned from elderly Blackfoot warriors by the Great Northern Railway for display in one of three hotels the company built in Glacier National Park, Montana. The artist is Big Spring (b. 1865), son of Wolf Bedding and Many Necklace. His wife was Rabbit Old Woman.

The panels are described in L. James Dempsey's Blackfoot War Art: Pictographs of the Reservation Period, 1880-2000, University of Oklahoma Press, 2007, pgs. 352 and 387:

"A number of war record panels were displayed in the three Glacier Park hotels for which [very few] images are known to have survived. However, two typed records of the war experiences are in the archives of the U.S. National Parks Service office in West Glacier. One is an undated fourteen-page draft of an illustrated booklet that apparently was never published. Another is a sixteen-page document containing war records of a dozen elderly South Piegans. Both documents describe details of personal war exploits in such a way as to accompany illustrations. According to one document, “The Indians whose lives are pictured on the canvas are the oldest living chiefs of the Peigans. They painted their own histories and interpreted them thru one of their number who spoke Piegan and English tongues.”

Made around 1915, Big Spring transformed the surface of the canvas into a pictographic War Record of his own prowess as a noted horse raider. He has placed himself in the centre if the composition, raiding a Cheyenne horse corral together with his brother, who was killed during the invasion. Big Spring entered a corral that belonged to the Cheyenne and drove out all their horses. 

In the upper right-hand corner is shown an attack on Big Spring by some Crows who were hiding in the bushes. Big Spring shot one of them and stabbed the other with a spear. His horses are shown picketed above. Below he shows an incident that occurred “only a few year ago” near his home on the reservation. He and his wife came across an elk. He let his wife have his gun and she shot the elk. In the lower left-hand side of the picture he displays his lodges. One of them was called the Mink lodge and the other was the Fox lodge. Below in the right-hand corner of the section he designates the number of successful horse raids he made. The man with the pipe beside him represents a horse taken from a chief." (Dempsey 2007)

The composition also records the total number of Big Spring’s successful horse raids, represented by the eight markings on the upper far right corner. The small red pipe indicates a horse taken from a rival chief. By the time the painting was made, Big Spring had become one of the largest horse owners among the Peigan.

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