Howard Terpning, b. 1927,
Major North and the Pawnee Battalion (1989)
oil on canvas, 36 x 58 in. (91.4 x 147.3 cm)
signed lower right: © Terpning 1989 CA
Historical information provided on the back of the painting by the artist:
Frank and Luther North were considered to be among the best white scouts on the western plains. Because of Frank’s friendship with and knowledge of the Pawnee, the Army in 1864 asked him to form a company of Pawnee Scouts. In time the company became a battalion and Frank North rose from Captain to Major. His brother, Luther, joined the command in January 1866.
The Pawnee were bitter enemies of the Sioux and Cheyenne and because of their outstanding ability as trackers and scouts and their great courage in battle, they were able to perform an invaluable service for the US Army and they served with distinction and honor until the battalion was mustered out in June 1877.
Note: The original oil painting, following publication of Spirits of the Plains People – Howard Terpning, was subsequently corrected by the artist. It was brought to Howard’s attention that the Pawnee Battalion flag or pendant in the far upper right corner was an inaccurate portrayal of what the pendant would have looked like during that particular period of time. As a result, Howard corrected the error by changing its depiction to include feathers instead of being flag-like.
• Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery of Western American and American Indian Art, Chandler, AZ, 1992-2014
• Autry National Center, Howard Terpning-Tribute to the Plains People Exhibit, Los Angeles, CA, May 12-July 1, 2012
• Tucson Museum of Art, Tucson Seven Ride Again Exhibit, Tucson, AZ, February 19-May 15, 2005
• Phoenix Art Museum, 24th Annual Cowboy Artist Show & Sale, Phoenix, AZ, October, 1989.
• Spirit of the Plains People – Howard Terpning, published by Greenwich Workshop in 2001, authored by Don Hedgpeth, image of this painting is depicted on pages 40 & 41.
Narrative Used at Autry National Center, Howard Terpning-Tribute to the Plains People Exhibit, Los Angeles, CA,
May 12-July 1, 2012:
The Pawnees were accomplished horsemen, farmers and traders. They were also known as formidable warriors. With their faces and scalp locks painted red for battle, they projected an intimidating appearance. Following the Civil l War, U.S. Troops were dispatched to the northern Great Plains to quell Indian uprisings. Major Frank North enlisted 100 Pawnees as scouts as campaigns against their traditional enemies, the Sioux. These scouts proved to be able allies to U.S. Forces. Later, during the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad, 200 Pawnees were sent as security for the construction crews and formally designated as North Pawnee Battalion.
The complexity of this composition is essential in telling the story. From the wagon wheel in the left foreground, the viewer’s eye travels upward to the army officers and personnel, the map and the table. The suggestive detail of the wagon and tents creates the necessary contrast, and the autumn colors of the trees provide the background for these four primary figures which become the focal point. The scouts and their mounts face the army officers awaiting their instructions. The crouching Pawnee scout in the right foreground, the three horses, and the other two scouts provide balance to the composition. To the far right of the battalion banner, rising smoke calls attention to the suggested rock canyon. The sensitive use of light goes almost unnoticed, yet it is critical to the overall composition.
Narrative from the book Spirit of the Plains People – Howard Terpning:
The Platte River valley of central Nebraska was home to the Pawnee. They were not nomadic like most of the other Great Plains tribes, although they did hunt buffalo and were accomplished horsemen. The Pawnee lived in permanent villages of earthen lodges and cultivated crops of corn. Twice each year they left their villages to hunt buffalo on the prairie, returning in time to plant or harvest their crops. The Pawnee villages became points of early contact with white traders who came to barter for buffalo robes. The Pawnee got along reasonably well with the white men and allowed them to establish posts at which the roving bands from farther west could come to trade.
Following the Civil War, U.S. troops were dispatched to the northern Great Plains to quell Indian uprisings. Major Frank North enlisted one hundred Pawnee scouts to assist in the early campaigns against their old enemy, the Sioux. They were able allies. Later, as the Union Railroad built out onto the plains, a contingent of two hundred Pawnee was sent to provide security for the construction crews and was formally designated as North's Pawnee Battalion.
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