honoring a courageous soldier
after the fetterman fight
2008, oil, 36"h x 50"w
With this painting, ZS Liang tells the story of a little known yet very significant and “unique” historical event, involving the Plains Indians and the U.S. Army, that took place in 1866 near Fort Phil Kearny in Banner, Wyoming.
To fully appreciate the story of this painting and the significance of the event that is portrayed, it is helpful to be aware of the fact that the 1860s was a time when settlers began arriving, in large numbers, into the region. And seeing this influx of settlers, the Plains Indians feared for the loss of their natural homeland and ultimately for their way of life. And because of this, they felt compelled to wage continuous conflicts against the U.S. Army troops who were stationed in that area to protect the settlers. These conflicts eventually became known as the “Plains Indian Wars”.
One such conflict, known as the Fetterman Fight, took place on December 21, 1866 when over 1000 Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho warriors attacked a cavalry troop which had been sent out from Fort Phil Kearny. A fierce battle took place that day - with the entire outnumbered cavalry troop perishing in the fight.
And in the history of the Plains Indian Wars, this one fight stood out as the greatest victory against the U.S. Army, for the Plains Indians, until the Battle of the Little Bighorn (Custer’s last stand) - which would take place ten years later.
During the Fetterman Fight, the warriors took notice of one particular army soldier (the bugler) who displayed extraordinary bravery and courage by continuing to sound his bugle and to also use it as a weapon to fend off the attacking warriors - even as he was being struck with their arrows. Although the soldier died fighting, his supreme act of bravery so impressed the victorious warriors that after the battle - when they saw his lifeless body, full of arrows, on the ground - they felt a need to honor this exceptionally brave soldier who fought against them on that day.
And in an unprecedented sign of their complete respect and admiration for his courage and for his bravery in battle, the warriors performed a simple act - that demonstrated their feelings - of ceremoniously and respectfully covering the body of this brave soldier with a painted buffalo robe.