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Catlin & Colt

November 2023
1min read


Sam Colt was an aggressive merchandiser, and during the 1850’s he arranged for George Catlin, the prominent and peripatetic painter of American Indians, to do a scries of canvases to illustrate the use of Colt firearms in a variety of exotic settings. Six of the paintings were lithographed and widely distributed—and a powerful advertising campaign was launched. Four of the scenes in the following portfolio were actually part of the sextet; the others (the ostrich, flamingo, and jaguar hunts) were done in much the same general spirit and format—Catlin the hunter using Colt weaponry—but were not used to push the armory’s line. The last illustration (pages 16 and 17) is a reproduction of one of the actual advertising lithographs, which today are quite rare. Apart from the zest of the paintings proper, Catlin’s enthusiasm for his task is repeatedly borne out in passages from his Life Among the Indians and Last Ramles Amongst the Indians of the Rocky Mountains and of the Andes , both published in the 1860’s. Catlin’s was a breezy, freewheeling prose style; one of his favorite devices was to attribute personality to “Sam.” “Sam! who’s Sam?” he would challenge the reader in his chatty, rhetorical way. “Why Sam Colt , a six-shot little rifle, always lying before me during the day and in my arms during the night, by which a tiger’s or alligator’s eye, at a hundred yards, was sure to drop a red tear.…” During his South American travels Catlin disdained to use blowguus and poisoned arrows: “I don’t wish to poison anybody! and game enough ‘Sam’ and I can always kill without it—powder and ball from Sam are rank poison .” So confident was Catlin of his armament (“made expressly for me by my old friend Colonel Colt,” he proudly wrote) that, before an ostrich hunt in Argentina, he said he was reckoned a literal one-man band: “I … with ‘Sam’ in hand and a six-shot revolver in my belt, was considered eyual to a war party.” Faced with such vigorous testimonials—to say nothing of the exciting lithographs in the ads—what man of action could resist buying a Colt?

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