Eanger Irving Couse (American, 1866-1936)

The Captive - 1891
Oil on Canvas
Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona

I have viewed this painting many times and each time I wonder - Is the captive alive or dead.? The blood is fresh but the color of her face leads you to believe she is dead. I did not know the answer for a long time. The expression on the captors face tells another story. The story of the painting is below.

The Artist:
Eanger Irving Couse was born in 1866 and raised in Saginaw, Michigan where he was freely exposed to the culture of the Chippewa Indians. He trained at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Art Students League in New York, and the National Academy of Design. He moved to Paris in 1886 and for the next decade, studied at the Académie Julian and perhaps the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Couse spent his summers in Taos from 1903 to 1927, when he settled permanently. He was one of the six founders of the Taos Society of Artists. He gained the most recognition for his Indian paintings which were reproduced on the calendars of the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company.

"The Captive" - 1891
Occasionally Couse painted a picture with a historical background such as "The Captive", which was shown at the Paris Salon in 1892. "The Captive" is based upon a true incident in early Oregon history.

In 1838, Dr. Marcus Whitman and his wife came to the Oregon Territory to establish a mission to the Cayuse Indians under the sponsorship of the New England Mission Board. They were accompanied by another missionary pair, the Spaldings. In time, immigrants also came to the area and settled around the Whitman Mission. All went well until there was an epidemic of measles. The Indians were stricken by the disease and, though treated by the Whitmans, were not able to respond so well to medical treatment. Angry and terrified, they accused Dr. Whitman of deliberately poisoning them to get their land. In late November of 1847, they attacked the mission and murdered most of the staff, including Dr. Whitman and his wife. A number of others were taken captive, among them Lorinda Bewly. Lorinda, a seventeen-year-old teacher at the Mission, was spared from death by a Cayuse chief named Five Crows. When he saw her he decided that he would like the novelty of having a white woman for a wife. Needless to say, this did not meet with a favorable response from the captured girl.

Couse's painting shows us a dramatic scene -- Lorinda is lying on the floor of the chief's tepee, unconscious, with bloody bonds testifying to her terrified but courageous struggle in the face of death. Five Crows is seated on the floor, staring at her and unable to fathom her behavior, her aversion to him. Couse has shown us two cultures in tragic juxtaposition, and we are able to have an understanding of each.

Historically it is recorded that Lorinda continued to refuse the offer of Five Crows and after two weeks was put up for ransom. The ransom was paid by the British in Fort Vancouver.

Couse never felt superior to his subjects and never failed to combine reality with sympathetic understanding. This was a distinguishing characteristic of his work.

From the book: E. Irving Couse (1866-1936) by Nicholas Woloshuk, Santa Fe Village Art Museum, 1976.

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