Bodmer's Chief of the Puncas
Karl Bodmer was engaged by Prince Maximilian zu Wied-Neuwied to provide a record of his travels in North America, with his final destination being time spent among the Plains Indians. Along with Davide Dreidoppel (Prince Maximilian's servant and hunting companion), the the trio travelled 1832 to 1834. They arrived in Boston in July 1832, traveled on to Philadelphia, where they stayed with Napoleon Bonaparte's elder brother Joseph. From here they headed west across Pennsylvania across the Alleghenies to Pittsburgh and the Ohio country, visiting all the important German settlements en route. The most important stop on their route west was at the utopian colony of New Harmony in Indiana. The Prince spent five months there in the company of some of the country's leading scientific men, and studying all the relevant literature on backcountry America. The trip into the Plains region commenced in March 1833.
The three Native Americans shown in the present print were met at different times and locations. The figure on the right is Schuh-De-Ga-Che (He Who Smokes), a Ponca chief wearing handsome peace medal; he went on board the fur company steamboat on 11 May 1833. The other two men were encountered in 1834: a member of the Oto tribe, whose name is not recorded, and a Missouri, known as Mahinkacha (Maker of Knives).
Maximilian’s monumental 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 from the 1922 Leipzig edition, issued on thicker vellum sheets. A faint ghost of the original publisher's inscription can be seen, a telltale sign of the Schmidt & Guenther Leipzig edition.