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    TOM LOVELL (American, 1909-1997)
    Captain Murie's Pawnees, 1983
    Oil on canvas
    23 x 40-1/2 inches (58.4 x 102.9 cm)
    Signed, dated and inscribed lower left: TOM LOVELL NAWA / © 1983


    Private collection, Tulsa, Oklahoma, circa 1988;
    Altermann & Morris Galleries, Dallas.

    National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, National Academy of Western Art, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, n.d.

    Tom Lovell's panoramic Captain Murie's Pawnees illustrates a specific military story in the early history of Nebraska. In 1864, Sioux and Cheyenne Indians began waging battle on Nebraska's frontier communities, killing settlers and livestock and burning homesteads and trains. Because most U.S. soldiers were deployed in the Civil War at the time, the government enlisted the backup assistance of Pawnee scouts, who were expert warriors and the longtime enemy of the Sioux and Cheyenne.

    Throughout the spring and summer of 1867, the Cheyenne had been attacking the Union Pacific Railroad at Plum Creek on the South Platte River. Eager to provide relief to the railway construction crews, Major Frank North mounted an offensive and organized the Pawnee scouts into four companies of fifty men each, one led by Captain James Murie. In early August, Cheyenne Chief "Turkey Leg" and his band derailed, plundered, and burned a freight train near Plum Creek, murdering all of the trainmen. On August 17, under Captain Murie's direction, Lieutenant Isaac Davis and ten Pawnee horsemen embarked on a reconnoitering mission. Rightly assuming that the Cheyenne vastly outnumbered his dispatched team, clever Captain Murie had them dress sloppily in breechcloths and army coats buttoned only at the top, so as to appear to be clumsy U.S. Cavalrymen.

    When Lieutenant Davis and the Pawnees arrived at Plum Creek, they dismounted from their horses, ran up the creek bank, threw off their cavalry disguises, and opened fired on the unsuspecting Cheyenne. Captain Murie and the remaining Pawnee battalion circled in from both sides. Although the Cheyenne outnumbered Murie's men six to one, their bow-and-arrow defenses could not withstand the Pawnees' firearm onslaught. Captain Murie, who remarkably lost no men and only two horses in the engagement, effectively established peace in the area, allowing the railroad to run without further incident.

    Captain Murie's Pawnees captures the moment just prior to the battle, as the ten Pawnees and Lieutenant Davis approach the Cheyenne encampment. Lovell features historical details, such as the South Platte River in the background and the Pawnees' revolvers and their partially buttoned coats meant to look disheveled. The men's jovial expressions also suggest their feigned ineptitude. Visually, Lovell creates a powerful image with the rich blues and browns of the company bisecting the pinkish riverbank and tousled yellow grass of the foreground. His linear compositional structure, as the soldiers move from left to right, underscore a narrative in process and the pending denouement beyond the picture frame.

    In its accurate presentation of the dramatic prelude to the battle against the Cheyenne at Plum Creek, Captain Murie's Pawnees demonstrates Lovell's remarkable abilities as a historian and storyteller, which he acquired during his forty-year career as book and magazine illustrator. His insistence upon portraying captivating stories as well as historical and geographic details in his paintings necessitated a painstaking process: for Captain Murie's Pawnees, he researched primary source material; traveled to the original site to understand the landscape; photographed family members and friends posed as the painting's subjects in order to record facial expressions, costume, light effects, and compositional placement; and made many preliminary sketches in various media. Lovell's reputation as an authentic storyteller resulted in numerous accolades, including the 1983 Gold Medal Oil Award from the Cowboy Artists of America for Captain Murie's Pawnees.

    Condition Report*: Canvas is unlined. No apparent issues.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    November, 2014
    17th Monday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 4
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 4,146

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