Bear Tracks

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In 1932, ethnologist, Alfred W. Bowers (who had lived with the Mandan Indians for three years), was given a Mandan name. In bestowing this name upon an outsider, the Mandan historian, named Crows Heart, introduced Bowers to the tribe thus:

One hundred years ago we were a numerous and happy people with no fear of our enemies. Our people were brave and proud of their great leaders. Foremost of our leaders, and the bravest and wisest of all of them was Four Bears. He fasted in the Okipa for four days and he fasted nine days on a hill without food or water to get a God who would bring him success in war and make him a great leader among his people. Once he captured a herd of horses from the enemy and brought [it] to our village alone. He revenged the murder of his brother by walking 250 miles to the Arikiara camps where he entered their camp by night and murdered his brother. He was braver than the Cheyenne and once challenged their chief to a dual single handed. All these things he did to raise his name before the people and to spread the word to the enemy that the Mandans were the bravest people on the earth…

The McGary “Bear Tracks” is Four Bears at his prime. His buffalo robe displays his most famous ventures; his ermine and split-antelope horn headdress was a glamorous sign of his stature and wealth. Trade with the Europeans, particularly with the French, must have made his British officer’s coat available because until his last day, Four Bears never declared war on the white man. On June 19 1837, when Four Bears was still a relatively young man with a wife and young children, a steamboat from the American Fur Company arrived at the Mandan villages after stopping at Fort Clark just downstream. It was the carrier of smallpox.




Lifesize, 7′ x 6′ x 3′, Edition of 9


Upper Missiouri River Series