Unlike many of the American and European sculptors who had crafted images of Native Americans, Dallin personally knew the people whom he portrayed. Dallin grew up on the American frontier, playing with Native American children, learning archery from them, and riding his first train East with chiefs and warriors of the Crow tribe. With this perspective, Dallin became the first to create sculptures that depicted Native Americans in naturalistic, sympathetic, and heroic forms.
While studying art in Paris, Dallin sketched Native American performers and their families at Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, and sculpted full-scale, clay models in clay to be cast in plaster and bronze. The finished works record Dallin’s interaction with his models and his medium that preserve the immediacy of his trained perception and personal vision.
In contrast, artists before Dallin might have selected poses from Renaissance and classical models, and applied feathered costumes to show that the sculptures represented New World inhabitants. American sculptors of previous generations prepared clay models that were shipped to Italy to be carved in marble. Craftsmen would “point up” the models to full scale, adding detail and finish at a distance.
Dallin began most of his Native American sculptures at the end of the Indian Wars, when the US Army subjugated the peoples driven from the West. His art may well be a protest or memorial to the nature of the conflict and its results.