John Mix Stanley witnessed and admired the hunting skills of the Piegan Indians (one of three major Blackfeet tribes) while at Fort Benton, Montana in 1853. This painting is not merely documentary, however. Stanley positioned his figures in a pyramid arrangement, a sturdy composition that has origins in Renaissance art. Further, the mounted warriors recall early equestrian portraits, imbuing the Blackfeet with respect similar to that given to great European leaders.
Stanley traveled to the American West in the 1840s and 1850s in search of American Indians and frontier themes on an expansive scale. He assembled a vast collection of portraits and scenes of daily life into an Indian Gallery of over 150 paintings. Sadly, all but seven paintings were destroyed in an 1865 fire at the Smithsonian, where they were on exhibit . This same fire destroyed most of Charles Bird King’s portraits of Native American Leaders.