The Life and Death of Four Bears

  • Colin G. Calloway
Part of the The Bedford Series in History and Culture book series (BSHC)


By any standard, Mato Topé, second chief of the Mandans, was a remarkable man. Known to the whites as Four Bears, he was the most prominent Indian of his day on the upper Missouri River. He was without peer as a warrior, but he was also a husband, father, artist, and ceremonial leader. The American artist George Catlin described him as an “extraordinary man,” handsome, generous, and brave, “the most popular man in the nation.”1 The life of Four Bears, as recorded by himself and by visiting artists, and his death, as recorded by fur trader Francis Chardon, illustrate the warrior culture of the Plains Indians and the sudden collapse of an entire society amid the horrors of a smallpox epidemic.


Northern Plain Sudden Collapse Buffalo Meat American Artist Body Paint 
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  1. 1.
    George Catlin, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of North American Indians. 2 vols. (London: Author, 1844), 1:145.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    W. Raymond Wood and Thomas D. Thiessen, eds., Early Fur Trade on the Northern Plains: Canadian Traders among the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians, 1738–1818 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985);Google Scholar
  3. James P. Ronda, Lewis and Clark among the Indians (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1984);Google Scholar
  4. Reuben G. Thwaites, ed., Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, 1804–1806. 7 vols. (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1904–05), esp. 6:80–120.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    John C. Ewers, “Early White Influence upon Plains Indian Painting,” in his Indian Life on the Upper Missouri (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968), 98–116.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The robe is in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University. Evan M. Maurer, et al., Visions of the People: A Pictorial History of Plains Indian Life (Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 1992), 188.Google Scholar
  7. 13.
    Michael K. Trimble, “The 1832 Inoculation Program on the Missouri River,” in John W. Verano and Douglas H. Ubelaker, eds., Disease and Demography in the Americas (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1992), 257–65.Google Scholar
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    Russell Thornton, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History since 1492 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987), 95–99.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© BEDFORD BOOKS of St. Martin’s Press 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • Colin G. Calloway
    • 1
  1. 1.Dartmouth CollegeUSA

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