Native American
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Mató-Tópe (Four Bears) (American, Mandan, ca. 1795–1837),
Battle with a Cheyenne Chief , 1833
watercolor and pencil on paper, 12 3/8 x 15 3/8 inches, 31.43 x 39.05 cm
Gift of Enron Art Foundation, 1986.49.384. Photograph © Bruce M. White, 2019

Mató-Tópe earned his name in a skirmish with a party of Assiniboines. His comrades fled under the onslaught of the enemy attack, but Mató-Tópe held his ground and fought so furiously that the Assiniboines were forced to retreat; later, in admiration, they declared Mató-Tópe's strength and ferocity to be the equivalent of a charge by four bears. Like most Plains warriors, Mató-Tópe proudly displayed pictographic representations of his battle accomplishments on his hide tipi and clothing. Two painted robes attributed to him are preserved in European museums, and both feature prominently his battle with a Cheyenne chief, which he considered to be of special significance. He recounted the tale to the German naturalist-explorer, Prince Maximilian zu Wied, several times:

Mató-Tópe was, on that occasion, on foot, on a military expedition, with a few Mandans, when they encountered four Chayennes [sic], their most virulent foes, on horseback. The chief of the latter, seeing that their enemies were on foot, and that the combat would thereby be unequal, dismounted, and the two parties attacked each other. The two chiefs fired, missed, threw away their guns, and seized their naked weapons; the Chayenne, a tall, powerful man, drew his knife, while Mató-Tópe, who was lighter and more agile, took his battle-axe. The former attempted to stab Mató-Tópe, who laid hold of the blade of the knife, by which he, indeed, wounded his hand, but wrested the weapon from his enemy, and stabbed him with it, on which the Chayennes took to flight. Mató-Tópe's drawing of the scene . . . shows the guns which they had discharged and thrown aside, the blood flowing from the wounded hand of the Mandan chief . . . and the wolf's tail at their heels -- the Chayenne being distinguished by the fillet of otter skin on his forehead.

With paper, pencil, and colors provided by Maximilian and his artist, Karl Bodmer, Mató-Tópe produced this image of his exploit. It resembles his renditions on hide, but there are subtle differences in style. This is likely due in part to the artistic influence of George Catlin and Bodmer, whom Mató-Tópe closely observed while they were painting. The media difference would, perhaps, be equally influential, the paper, watercolor brush, and pencil allowing a greater facility for the creation of fine lines and shadings than the rougher surface of the hide and the traditional bone paint applicator.

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