Encyclopedia of the Great Plains

David J. Wishart, Editor


Peter Rindisbacher was born on April 12, 1806, in Berne, Switzerland. In the summer of his twelfth year he toured the Bernese Alps and studied art with Swiss miniature painter Jacob S. Weibel. Fifteen-year-old Peter began painting the Canadian West when his family arrived at Lord Selkirk's colony on the Red River, near present-day Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1821, more than a decade before American artist George Catlin reached the upper Missouri River country.

The trading post at the Red River settlement bartered with Assiniboine, Ojibwa, and Sioux peoples, all of whom are portrayed in Rindisbacher's detailed sketches and vivid watercolors. He was a skilled draftsman, and his paintings are well composed. His artwork provides an accurate record of the dress and daily life of the Native peoples such as a Sioux bow hunter on snowshoes pursuing a buffalo or a Chippewa family traveling by canoe. Rindisbacher was the first European American artist to capture life inside a tipi, in his Scene in an Indian Tent (ca. 1824). His best-known work, The Murder of David Tully and Family by the Sissatoons, a Sioux Tribe (ca. 1823.30), chronicles the dramatic deaths of former members of the settlement in 1823.

After barely surviving at the Red River colony and following the destructive flood of 1826, the Rindisbacher family made their way to Wisconsin, living there for three years before moving to St. Louis in 1829. During the next four years, a number of lithographs and engravings of Rindisbacher's work appeared in the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine, published in Baltimore. He died August 15, 1834, at the age of twenty-eight of unknown causes.

See also EUROPEAN AMERICANS: Douglas, Thomas (Earl of Selkirk).

Ken Rogers Bismark Tribune

Josephy, Alvin M., Jr. The Artist Was a Young Man: The Life Story of Peter Rindisbacher. Fort Worth: Amon Carter Museum, 1970.

Nute, Grace Lee. "Peter Rindisbacher, Artist." Minnesota History 14 (1933): 283–87.

Vazulik, Johannes W. "Peter Rindisbacher's Red River Watercolors at the West Point Museum." North Dakota History 64 (1997): 20–29.

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