Henry Farny was a leading chronicler of Native American life on the Great Plains. When he painted "The Last of the Herd," his last westward journey was twelve years behind him. This hardly mattered, however, because Farny could not have witnessed scenes such as this. The United States government had closed the frontier in 1890, confining Native Americans to reservations and condoning the mass slaughter of the buffalo that had sustained them until none were to be found on the Plains.
This painting shows Farny’s typical blend of romanticism with fact. The dead buffalo, killed with a rifle acquired by trade with whites, symbolizes the perishing of the Native American way of life. Set off against the pale ground, the beast is depicted with a telescopic perspective that brings its shaggy, bloodied head close to the viewer. A superb designer, Farny set this denouement in a spare composition with an oblong format that emphasizes the expansiveness of the Plains.