Here Miller portrays the confusion that ensues when a band of Blackfeet attack a trappers’ encampment under cover of night to steal their horses. “The poor Trappers, confounded by the suddenness of this onslaught, and the quickness of their enemies’ retreat, have little chance to repel them…” Miller conveys the sense of chaos in his composition, which is teeming with movement from rearing horses and charging Blackfeet. Miller creates a nearly unbroken line of horses along the horizon running in different directions from mid-ground to back. The small group of trappers huddles at the lower left outside their tent, firing their rifles in vain. Diagonal streaks of clouds animate the sky, and the campfire flares up, its bright orange flames echoing the lines in the sky.
Although Miller’s sketch is sympathetic to the trappers, the Blackfeet were under enormous pressure in the decade when Miller painted his watercolor. In 1837, they suffered a devastating smallpox epidemic which killed more than six thousand people and ended their political domination of the northern Plains. White hunters encroached on land where the Blackfeet hunted bison and imperiled their food supply, followed by a series of treaties that pushed the Blackfeet onto a reservation in 1855. By the 1860s, raiding had become more than a way of leveling the field with rival fur traders. Rather, it was a last ditch means of survival for the Blackfeet.
LR on mat: No. 35/Stampede by Blackfeet Indians. LR: AJMiller Pt
The artist; Alexander Brown, Liverpool, England, 1867; by descent to Mrs. J.B. Jardine, Chesterknowes, Scotland; present owner by gift