Native American Funeral Scaffold in the Upper Missouri near Fort Pierre
A fine hand-colored print by Karl Bodmer depicting a poignant scene of Native Americans with a Sioux chief's funeral scaffold near Fort Pierre, in present-day South Dakota. This view was originally issued as Tableau 11 of Prince Maximilian of Wied-Neuwied's monumental pictorial work of the American West, Reise in das innere Nord-America in den Jaren 1832 bis 1834, or Travels in the Interior of North America, 1832-34, which was illustrated with aquatint engravings after Karl Bodmer's magnificent original art work. The work included detailed and accurate depictions of the landscapes, peoples, and cultures encountered by Bodmer during his journey, and is considered an important record of the American West during this time period.
According to Brandon K. Ruud, this scene was witnessed near Fort Pierre in April 1834:
Maximilian makes many references to the common Plains practice of scaffold burial. A corpse, accompanied by significant personal possessions, was tightly wrapped in blankets or hides or both and then placed on high platforms supported by stout poles. Later, after decay and desiccation, the skeletal remains might be buried in the earth. This particular scaffold, seen near Fort Pierre in April 1834, supported a warrior, presumably killed in battle, whose body was said to have been brought home from a distant place.
Maximilian’s American travel account first appeared in German (1839-41), followed by a French translation in 1840-43 and an English edition in 1843. The Paris-issued pictorial atlas contained eighty-one aquatint plates (48 "imperial" folios and 33 smaller "vignette" plates often called quarto in size), engraved and etched on metal sheets, after paintings by Karl Bodmer, and which accompanied all three editions. The plates are outstanding authentic depictions of the western plains and Native Americans by a highly skilled European artist. Bodmer avoided romanticizing his subjects, and attempted to record the people and places he encountered as true to life as possible.
The present print is a 1922 restrike from the original plate done in Leipzig by Schmidt & Guenther, issued on thicker vellum paper than the 19th century examples.