In 1827, George Catlin, an illustrator from Philadelphia, became the first artist to attempt the perilous journey up the Missouri River, and the first to create visual records of his experiences traveling among the Plains Indians of North America. Catlin embarked upon his journey in the Spring of 1832, traveling from St. Louis up the Missouri on the steamboat Yellowstone to Fort Union, at the intersection of the Yellowstone and Missouri rivers. It was a path that Karl Bodmer was also to follow just a year later, leading along a series of trading posts that served as a conduit for the furs and pelts brought down from the Rocky Mountains and channeled east.
Catlin’s motivation was entirely unselfish and idealistic, and he labored unceasingly to persuade his contemporaries that Native American culture should be honored and preserved. The artist himself best expressed his goal in the preface to the first edition of his North American Indian Portfolio: “The history and customs of such a people, preserved by pictorial illustrations, are themes worthy the lifetime of one man, and nothing short of the loss of my life shall prevent me from visiting their country and becoming their historian.”