- Historic Sites
The Boy Artist Of Red River
Between the ages of fifteen and twenty, young Peter Rindisbacher captured on canvas the lives of Indians and white pioneers on the Manitoba—Minnesota frontier
February 1970 | Volume 21, Issue 2
Peter lived there for three years and continued to paint, now using Winnebago, Sauk and Fox, and other tribes of that frontier area for his subjects. In 1829 he sold several paintings, including one of Keokuk, the celebrated Sauk and Fox chief, to Caleb Atwater, a United States commissioner who had come to Wisconsin to negotiate with various tribes at Prairie du Chien for the cession of rich mineral lands in the area. Atwater may have helped to introduce the artist’s work in the eastern United States, for another of the paintings he purchased from Rindisbacher, the Sac and Fox War Dance , was later published in Baltimore as a colored lithograph in the McKenney and Hall portfolio of portraits and views in the Indian Gallery at the Department of War in Washington; it became one of the most popular items in that collection.
That same year, 1829, Peter moved to St. Louis. In December a lithograph of one of his pictures, A Sioux Warrior Charging , appeared in a new periodical, the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine , issued in Baltimore. The artist by now had many admirers in the Midwest, and several of them wrote letters of congratulation to the magazine.
In subsequent issues nine more of his drawings appeared, as well as a letter from another of the artist’s friends, who praised his work and claimed that Rindisbacher’s sketches “from Hudson’s Bay to St. Louis, will no doubt, secure him a lasting reputation.”
In 1831 Peter opened a studio in St. Louis. He was now twenty-five years old and, hoping to make a living by his painting, advertised in the St. Louis Times on April 30 that he would execute “Miniature and Landscape Paintings on the most reasonable terms.” He added the warning that “his stay in this place is limited to the ensuing fall.” It is not known how well he did, though it is believed that his abilities as an artist now developed quickly and that during those last years of his life he turned out some of his finest water colors, particularly copies of scenes he had done earlier at Red River. With his sudden death in St. Louis in August, 1834, perhaps from cholera, there died the possibility of a second and even greater career, for it may be speculated that had he lived he might have joined the westward movement of Americans, just getting under way from St. Louis, and, like Catlin, Bodmer, and Alfred Jacob Miller, painted the Indians and mountain men of the great American West.