Pursuit of the Horizon: A Life of George Catlin, Painter & Recorder of the American Indian

Pursuit of the Horizon: A Life of George Catlin, Painter & Recorder of the American Indian

Pursuit of the Horizon: A Life of George Catlin, Painter & Recorder of the American Indian

Pursuit of the Horizon: A Life of George Catlin, Painter & Recorder of the American Indian

Excerpt

In his deaf lonely age, after thirty years abroad, he still signed himself George Catlin of Wilkes-Barre. The poet called Memory had made that fifty-house river town of Pennsylvania's Wyomin Valley his City Of the Celestial Frontiers. There the Red Men he had known in their splendor won against the settlers a victory so decisive and terrible that it became the Wyoming Massacre of ballad and legend. There the endless mountains leaned to the west, wolves howled in the forest moonlight, and the Susquehanna was the only road.

George Catlin was born in Wilkes-Barre on the 26th of July, 1796. As the town's reputation for rudeness and litigation kept away all settlers but innocent babies, the birth of a fifth little Catlin was good news. No coast metropolis provided better for small pink newcomers. Granny Sprague--"a dollar a baby, rich or poor"--was a notable midwife. The learned, eccentric William Hooker Smith, M.D., could cure anything but rigor mortis by liberal bleedings. This coming of the annual baby was his great opportunity to tell the busy young lawyer, Putnam Catlin, about his book, published later as Alchemy Explained and Made Familiar; or A Drop of Honey for the Despairing Alchymist . Doctor Smith was no Doctor Faustus. As Justice of the Peace, he fined Granny Sprague's divorced husband five shillings for swearing seven profane oaths.

Putnam Catlin had the courage of his old Connecticut ancestry. At the age of twelve he had enlisted in the fifes and drums of his father's regiment, to rub Yankee Doodle into the Redcoats for six years and . . .

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