Tracker Pixel for Entry

Intrigue behind a Sitting Bull Painting: The little know story of artist Caroline Weldon

by HPR Contributor | .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) | Arts | September 25th, 2019

Sitting Bull portrait by Caroline Weldon 1890

By Kim Jondahl

Sometimes the curious, behind-the-scenes stories of museum artifacts are as intriguing as the actual pieces. In the little-known story of a painting of Hunkpapa Lakota leader Sitting Bull hanging in the State Museum, the art, the subject, and the artist all share remarkable roles.

I’ve walked past this 1890 oil painting of Sitting Bull, or Tatanka Iyotanke, hundreds of times during my museum career. I’ve squinted behind the glass case at the amateur painting and the scrawled signature of “C. S. Weldon” with no recognition. It wasn’t until artist Caroline Weldon (December 4, 1844–March 15, 1921) became the celebrated protagonist of the 2018 motion picture “Woman Walks Ahead” that I—and many of our museum visitors—learned the fascinating story of this unusual woman’s courage and determination.

“Woman Walks Ahead” is loosely based on Weldon’s life from 1889 to 1891, when she traveled twice from her East Coast home to Standing Rock Indian Reservation as an activist to help Sitting Bull and additional tribes resist US government proposals to break treaties. Her lifelong fascination with Native American culture had begun in her teen years, and her passion for Indigenous justice led her to later join the National Indian Defense Association. As a single woman in her forties, she traveled to meet Sitting Bull at Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which crossed the borders of North Dakota and South Dakota.

When she arrived, Weldon served in unofficial capacities as Sitting Bull’s translator and lobbyist, and even lived in his household for a time. An amateur artist, she also painted up to four portraits of Sitting Bull. Her life choices were rare both in terms of 19th-century activism and for a single woman in the Victorian era, and the tribe gave her the name “Woman Walking Ahead.”

Not everyone appreciated Weldon’s efforts. Her unconventional Indigenous rights campaign as a single, white, outspoken woman of the late 1800s created a national stir. Criticized by many, Weldon was unjustly vilified in headlines nationwide.

Weldon left the reservation just weeks before Sitting Bull’s death and became a footnote in history. Her painting was hanging in Sitting Bull’s cabin on Dec. 15, 1890. On that morning a gunfight broke out when Indian agency police came to arrest him, and Sitting Bull and others were killed. Shortly afterward, a police officer whose brother had just been killed smashed the painting with his rifle, tearing the canvas. US Cavalry officer Matthew F. Steele stopped further destruction, took the painting, and later purchased it from Sitting Bull’s widows for two dollars. 1

Steele’s purchase apparently went unnoticed. In a few scattered mentions about Weldon’s painting over the following decades, historians muse about this painting and her others as being missing. A 1964 article in The West refers to Weldon’s painting as “a picture, now lost, bearing the artist’s sketched initials in the bottom left corner.” 2

I can only guess that State Historical Society staff must have been unaware of the handful of historians still speculating about the painting’s whereabouts, because Weldon’s canvas, with a crudely repaired tear and a replaced frame, had been gifted to the State Historical Society by the Matthew F. Steele estate in November 1953. In a North Dakota History article of 1984, a staff member wrote about the Steele donation: “The location of the only one of Weldon’s Sitting Bull portraits is now known.” 3

Our Caroline Weldon painting can be viewed on exhibit at the State Museum, and a second Weldon painting of Sitting Bull is housed at The Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock.

Woman Walks Ahead mentions our State Museum as the location of a Weldon painting, which created a flurry of national interest in her work. We’ve enjoyed welcoming visitors from across the country who have come to view it since the film’s release.

It’s fitting that this misunderstood woman, lost in history, is finally having her day in the sun. Caroline Weldon is worth remembering as a courageous activist who sought to build cross-cultural friendships and implement positive national changes while knowing her actions would rankle some and infuriate others. I’m enjoying seeing the increased visitor traffic to respectfully view Weldon’s special painting and learn more about a controversial time in our nation’s history. And I’ve gained a deeper appreciation, not only of a piece of art, but of the remarkable artist behind the story.

1 “Catherine Weldon, Sitting Bull,” North Dakota History 72, nos. 3 & 4 (2005): 12.

2 “Was Mrs. Weldon Sitting Bull’s White Squaw?,” The West, October 1964, 67.

3 Robert C. Hollow, “Portrait of Sitting Bull by Caroline Weldon,” North Dakota

RECENTLY IN

Arts

Tracker Pixel for Entry HPR Sales Tracker Pixel for Entry HPRONLINE Tracker Pixel for Entry HarborHealthClinic Tracker Pixel for Entry TAK

Recently in:

COVID-19, or Coronavirus, has started to make its rounds in the United States. As of Tuesday, Mar. 17, three residents in North Dakota, 11 in South Dakota, and over 60 in Minnesota have been confirmed to have the disease. The…

by Sonja ThompsonDebra Ruh is the CEO and Founder of Ruh Global IMPACT, a consulting firm that strives to help clients amplify their impact and become disability inclusion leaders. She also serves as the Chair of the United…

Best Bets

Ladies Ag Night

by HPR Staff

Thursday, March 19, 4:30- 8 pm1609 19th Ave N, FargoCass County Soil Conservation District is hosting their annual Ladies’ Ag Night supper event. This event has a goal of bringing together multiple generations of women involved…

Not long ago, we did not have Coronavirus or Covid-19 in our vocabulary. Now our worlds have been changed. And that change is not stopping anytime soon, it would appear.Most of us are in the same boat. Our businesses are in…

The 14th Century Black Plague Started Something Beyond Thoughts And PrayersI see Donald the Lyin’ King has decided that Easter will not be a good time to fill churches--but maybe April 30 will be. King Donald had talked so much…

To say that this year’s Bartenders Battle was the best display of talent in the six years since its creation would be an understatement and a disservice to not only the bartenders who made it into the competition, but also the…

It goes without saying that Valentine’s Day is the most profitable of all the holidays and the one with the most tortured history, literally. It is confusing how an ancient Roman festival that involved sacrificing animals and…

Fargo obviously loves their classical music. Audiences have still turned out during the 2019-2020 season of the Sanford Masterworks Series performed by the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra despite an unrelenting winter. That…

Eliza Hittman’s Sundance favorite “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” which played in theaters for just three days before Focus Features pulled the film amidst the widespread and unprecedented coronavirus-related closures, will…

This weekend, the 10th Annual Unglued Craft Fest will be held at the Plains Art Museum, featuring over 70 local and regional artists selling handmade items. Though most are Fargo-Moorhead residents, artists from Minneapolis, Sioux…

Theatre

Fargo Film Festival 2020

by HPR Contributor

by Dominic EricksonThis March, the Fargo Film Festival will celebrate its 20th year of entertaining die-hard cinephiles and casual moviegoers alike. The festival begins on March 17 and concludes March 21. The event is once again…

by Kris Gruberperriex1@gmail.comAdam Quesnell's last show at The Cellar beneath the Front Street Taproom in Fargo was in early September of 2018. He was embarking on a seminal move from Minneapolis to LA. As always, his comedy was…

by Jill Finkelsonjsfinkelson99@gmail.comFar North Spirits, located up in Hallock, MN, is the northernmost distillery in the lower 48. They may be young in the distillery world but the farm and the spirit reach far into the past.…

Wellness

Discover Yoga Differently

by HPR Contributor

by Laurie J Bakeremsdatter@gmail.com Part of modern yoga is participating in the world around us. We live in a time of upheaval in society and nature, and of great suffering in humans of all ages. Most of us perceive this suffering…

by Devin Joubertdevinlillianjoubert@gmail.comIt’s that beautiful time of the year that’s filled with seasonal decorations, sparkly lights, warm family gatherings, and delicious feasts. I love everything about this time of the…

#12 of On Tyranny: Make eye contact and small talk- “This is not just polite. It is part of being a citizen and a responsible member of society. It is also a way to stay in touch with your surroundings, break down social…