Permanent Galleries

American, Crow nation, about 1851–1904

White Swan
American, Crow nation, about 1851–1904
muslin and paint
74 x 78 inches (188.96 x 198.12 cm)
Gift of Rev. Edward W. J. Lindesmith, C.S.C.

Plains warriors commonly depicted war records on animal skin and, later, on muslin and paper. The practice was an extension of a long tradition: warriors had pecked or painted historic events and visionary experiences on rock surfaces for centuries. The scenes they illustrated on buffalo hide typically depicted an individual’s war exploits or hunting success, both memorializing and validating the accomplishments. Once the reservation period began, warriors had almost no access to buffalo skins and therefore used muslin and paper for their records.

White Swan drew this war record with pencil and ink and then painted it with watercolors on muslin. He was a Crow warrior and a U.S. Army scout from 1876 to 1881, the oldest of six Crow warriors to serve as scouts for General George A. Custer during the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Occasionally, he recorded his feats on buffalo skin, muslin, and paper, which he then sold. This is one of the largest and earliest known examples, depicting nine of his war exploits. In each of the vignettes, White Swan identifies himself with two signature elements: his red, white, and black loincloth and his yellow and red feathered hair ornament.