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A Romantic Conquest / Red Eagle

Essay/Description

This ledger artwork was created by a warrior artist named Red Eagle (Arapaho, Cheyenne) in 1887. Ledger art is an autobiographical figurative style practiced among Indigenous nations whose ancestral territories spanned the Great Plains in the United States and Canada. Red Eagle, wrapped in a red wool blanket, is lovingly embracing a young woman, likely his wife. He wears black wool leggings and a red wool breechcloth. The woman wears a dentalium-shell choker, and a striped shawl with black fringe over a green cloth dress. Red Eagle depicts a couple in the throes of young love, and the linework around the circumference of the tipi represents his footprints, because he was “sneaking around” the tipi when he came to call.1 The tipi is decorated with two small circles divided into four quadrants painted yellow and red. Buffalo tails and beaded ties hang from each of these emblems. The tipi is supported by thirteen cylindrical wooden poles, with two poles supporting the front flaps.

Fort Reno was established in Indian Territory to colonize the region (now Oklahoma) in 1874. Not long after, more than thirty Cheyenne and Arapaho men and one woman defied the military takeover of the land, and they were arrested and sent to Fort Marion (now called Castillo de San Marcos) in St. Augustine, Florida. At Fort Marion, attempts were made to assimilate and colonize the prisoners, who were encouraged to renounce their culture, and were given Western educations and taught to speak and write English. They also continued to make narrative figurative drawings and paintings, although now using media such as graphite, ink, colored pencils, oil pastels, and watercolors on paper rather than natural pigments and hide. The works are called ledger art because the paper was from accountants’ ledger books. After they were released from prison in 1878, several Fort Marion survivors returned to Fort Reno, where they enlisted as scouts and continued drawing.

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

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This text was informed in part through consultations with Gilcrease curatorial assistant Jenny Keller, and with Cheyenne and Arapaho Culture Program coordinators Fred Mosqueda and Chester Whiteman.
1A beau “sneaking around” a tipi is an attention-getting action, similar to throwing small pebbles at a woman’s window.

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Title(s): 
A Romantic Conquest
Creator(s): 
Red Eagle (Artist)
Culture: 
Native American; Arapaho, Cheyenne
Date: 
1887
Materials/Techniques: 
graphite and ink on ledger paper
Dimensions: 
Overall: 12 1/2 (L) × 7 1/2 in. (W) (31.8 × 19.1 cm)
Classification: 
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
4526.11.86
Department: 
Not On View

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