Tab 42 - Fort McKenzie (August 28, 1833)

Karl Bodmer

Bodmer’s America


Pulled from the original steel and copper plates, engraved in Paris between 1836 and 1843 under Karl Bodmer's direction, after the artist's own watercolours drawn from nature during the journey.

The engravings are hand-printed in colours, à la poupée, with extensive hand-colouring and some application of gum arabic, in the nineteenth-century manner.

Engraved by Manceau and Hurlimann
Printed by Bougeard


During the stay at Fort McKenzie from August 9 to September 14, 1833, Karl Bodmer produced a number of portraits of the Piegan, Blood, and other Blackfeet tribesmen who came to the compound to trade. Located approximately 650 miles upriver from Fort Union, a distance which had taken the travelers from Europe nearly five weeks to cover, Fort McKenzie had been erected only the previous year at the mouth of the Marias River, replacing an earlier, abandoned post built further downstream. At the time of Bodmer's visit, it represented the westernmost establishment of the American Fur Company on the upper Missouri.

Bodmer also painted an unfinished watercolor of Fort McKenzie, now in the Joslyn collection, which served as the background for a later aquatint. It documented an incident that occurred here on August 28, when a party of some 600 Assiniboin and Cree attacked a Blackfeet camp outside the fort and inflicted considerable damage and casualties, before being forced to retire. The traders and their foreign guests were not directly involved in the conflict, which they witnessed for the most part from the safer vantage of the fort.

As represented in what is perhaps his most famous print, Bodmer's view of this engagement between rival factions seeking to dominate Missouri River commerce was created in Europe from memory. It presents the scene from the imagined viewpoint of a participant in the battle. Most of the figures in the foreground were derived from studies of French models, who posed for Bodmer in his Paris studio.

Other scenes, portraits, and landscapes painted by Bodmer at Fort McKenzie also are featured in Vignette XIX and Tableaux 33 and 44 through 46.

For additional Assiniboin subjects, see Vignette XVI. Two Cree portraits are reproduced in Vignette XXI and Tableau 33.

Text by David Hunt, Director, Stark Museum, Orange, Texas, USA

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