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Warriors on Horseback / Carl Sweezy

Essay/Description

In his Warriors on Horseback, Arapaho artist Carl Sweezy employs a somewhat naturalistic style to represent the war party’s riders, their horses, and their regalia while simultaneously flattening and simplifying some of the details. The warriors gather into trotting formation atop a grassy hill. Lying nearby on the prairie grass is a buffalo skull, the emblem of forced removal and the reservation era on the Southern Plains.

As a means of controlling Indigenous nations, the U.S. government hired hundreds of professional hunters to slaughter millions of buffalo between 1865 and 1882. Removing the buffalo—the largest mammal on the continent—from the Great Plains eliminated what was for many Indigenous communities an essential spiritual and cultural component, as well as a crucial source of sustenance. This was a crippling and devastating era for those whose hunting protocols and livelihoods required the full use of the animal. Profiteers sold buffalo hides and bones by the pound, and sometimes by the ton. These were then shipped via the newly established railroads to factories across the nation for use by companies such as Michigan Carbon Works in Detroit, a charcoal and fertilizer manufacturer.

The arrow lying on the ground symbolizes the peace that was called for in the hundreds of treaties created between the U.S. government and various Indigenous nations. The dystopian colonial reality of the treaty-making period is contrasted with the war party’s ease and camaraderie.

—Jordan Poorman Cocker, Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2021

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Title(s): 
Warriors on Horseback
Creator(s): 
Carl Sweezy (Artist)
Culture: 
Native American; Arapaho
Date: 
early 20th century
Materials/Techniques: 
oil on canvas
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
01.579
Previous Number(s): 
0127.579; 3093 & AIP-20th-319; 37163
Department: 
Signed by hand in paint, "Carl Sweezy." in lower right on recto; Handwritten notes are present on artwork; Inscribed by hand in pen, “Warriors on horseback photo B&W/W” in upper left on verso.
Not On View

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