George Catlin sketched this scene on the Upper Missouri River in 1832. While he insisted that his images were accurate documents of what he saw, it is clear that Catlin’s artistic eye led him to edit his compositions. Here he chose to position the buffalo so that its rounded form echoes the hills in the distance.
Catlin was horrified at what the wolves had done to the bull, noting that the animal’s eyes “were entirely eaten out of his head—-the grizzle of his nose was mostly gone—-his tongue was half eaten off, and the skin and flesh of his legs torn almost literally into strings. In this tattered and torn condition, the poor old veteran stood bracing up in the midst of his devourers …”
My eye caught a dark form lying on the river bottom. It took me a few moments to comprehend what I had stumbled upon. Lying peacefully in the shallow waters of the river, only a few meters from shore, was a full-grown cougar. The contrast between the serenity of the scene I was witnessing and what must have played out here in the cougar’s final moments made me shiver. It was the first shiver of many, as I stripped down and waded out into the icy water to get this shot. x