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“Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Prairies” by John Mix Stanley

'Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Prairies', oil on canvas painting by John Mix Stanley, 1845, Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington D. C.)

“Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Prairies” by John Mix Stanley

“Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Prairies” by John Mix Stanley depicts the American West and the Native American life in a highly naturalistic depiction. Stanley was an artist-explorer, a painter of landscapes and Native American portraits and tribal life. Unfortunately, over 200 of Stanley’s paintings, which were being held at the Smithsonian were lost in an 1865 fire. This significant loss of most of his works makes this portrayal of the American West highly valued.

This painting is one of his few surviving works, which reflects his sympathy and skills in depicting American Indian traditions. Stanley’s vision was to produce an atlas of the American Indian, but after the loss of most of his paintings the 1865 fire, he never completed it. He had also created an extensive collection of maps, which was held by the Smithsonian Institution, which, unfortunately, were also destroyed in the 1865 fire. We are fortunate to have this painting and can only imagine what could have been if Stanley’s paintings had not been lost.

Native American Horse Culture

A prehistoric horse had once existed in the Americas but became extinct some 12,000 years ago. The horse was reintroduced to the Americas when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, they brought horses with them and re-established the animal on the continent. The first horses to return were 16 horses brought by Hernán Cortés in 1519. Subsequent explorers brought increasing numbers, some from Spain and others from established breeding centres set up by the Spanish in the Caribbean.

The Native American people did not obtain horses in significant numbers to become a horse culture until after 1630. From trade centres in the New Mexico area, the horse culture spread north. The Comanche people were thought to be among the first tribes to obtain horses and use them successfully. By 1742, there were reports that the Crow and Blackfoot people had horses. The horse became part of the lives and culture of Native Americans, who viewed them as a source of wealth and used them for hunting, travel, and warfare.

Did you know?

  • Horses can sleep both lying down and standing up.
  • Because horse’s eyes are on the side of their head, they are capable of seeing nearly 360 degrees.
  • Domestic horses have a lifespan of around 25 years.
  • Horses gallop at around 44 kph (27 mph).
  • Horses are not colour blind; they have two-colour vision. Horses can see the blue and green colours of the spectrum and the colour variations based upon them, but cannot distinguish red.
  • Newly born horses can run shortly after birth.



  • How did the first people of the Americas react to the first sight of a horse?
  • How did the horse become an integral part of humanities progress?
  • Where would we be today without the horse?
  • How did the horse change Native American culture?
  • What animal had the most significant impact on human development, the dog or the horse?

Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Prairies

  • Title:               Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Prairies
  • Artist:             John Mix Stanley
  • Year:               1845
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions   102.9 × 154.3 cm (40.5 × 60.7 in)
  • Museum:       Smithsonian American Art Museum

John Mix Stanley

  • Name:          John Mix Stanley
  • Born:            1814 – Canandaigua, New York
  • Died:            1872 (aged 58) – Detroit, Michigan
  • Nationality:  American
  • Notable works:
    • Buffalo Hunt on the Southwestern Prairies


    “Inside of me, there are two dogs. One is mean and evil and the other is
    good and they fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins I answer, the one I feed the most.”
    – Sitting Bull – Native American Cheif


    Photo Credit: 1) By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “trish” [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons