March 19th, 2009
George Catlin went West to paint what he thought were an endangered people, and rescue their primitive ways and looks from destruction. Pictured here in this Catlin painting is the image of 3 Native American Lacrosse players. Lacrosse was a Native American stick and ball game that was a team sport for males to play, it was first discovered, or come into contact with, by European explorers in the 1600’s. According to the National Lacrosse Museum suggests that there were many different forms of the game played by many different native groups. The primitive ball game now associated with Lacrosse, originated in the eastern part of America and the Great Lakes region, it was essential in keeping the Iroquois nations together, from what I have found, it is unclear as to whether or not the Plains Indians of the western territories were taught the game or if it was their own, similar, sport.
The image is important to race because it portrays a racially charged topic in Catlin’s work and portrays a sport that was primarily played and implemented in native American culture. Catlin’s trips out west, as chronicled in Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Conditions of North American Indians Volume 2. There were 2 volumes of his studies, the 2nd of which details the Plains Indians and their culture. His study was published in 1841.
Ball Players, the above painting, does not have a date given as to when it was painted, but given Catlin’ dates, he was born in 1796 and died in 1872, it was clearly painted in the 19th century on one of his trips out west to chronicle the Indian way of life and put together an Indian Gallery in an effort to protect the Indian way of life. Given this knowledge of what Catlin was attempting to do it is clear what the significance of this painting is to people of the 19th century and beyond, as with all of Catlin’s work, it embodied the spirit of the Native people of America and showed them in a whole new light and made an effort to portray them in a more positive, noble way. The significance of this image in particular is that it shows Lacrosse, a native sport, that gives another element to the people. Lacrosse was something that was truly theirs, and it could not be taken away from them, sure the white man adopted the sport as its own, and since it has become a very white sport, dominated by white players throughout it’s levels, but in its original form, it was a pure expression of native passion and athleticism. According to the Smithsonian Art Museum where it is housed, it is a hand-colored piece on lithograph paper, as far as I know the image is a photo or scanned copy of the original. Pictured below is an original lacrosse stick and a modern lacrosse stick to illustrate how far the once Native American only game has come.