American Characters George Catlin & Jumping Sam Patch

American Characters George Catlin & Jumping Sam Patch

In The Devil May Care Tony Horwitz describes fifty Americans, as he puts it, "and their quest for the unknown." One of the accounts involves George Catlin, 1796 – 1872, who entered law school in Jump Connecticut and was admitted the bar the following year. But, within a few years he gave up the law and decided to become a painter. At first he specialized in miniatures, but seeing a delegation of American Native Indians in Philadelphia, he decided to make his career painting Native Americans. He made an 1800 mile trip up the Missouri River into the heart of Indian country where he painted Blackfeet, Crow and all of the river tribes. He moved on to the Southern plains and the Great lakes area painting as he went. He painted some three hundred oils of Indians from some fifty tribes and along with landscapes exhibited them. His "Indian Gallery" wasn’t profitable, so he petitioned Congress for support. In fact, he petitioned Congress numerous times for money and each time Congress ignored him. Finally, his collection ended in storage held by creditors. He traveled to South America to find his fortune and returned, penniless, to write several books. He died in New Jersey, but his Indian collections survived intact and the national Gallery of Art and the National Museum of American Art obtained his collections which can be viewed there today.

Then there is the account of Samuel Patch, 1799 – 1829, or "jumping Sam." In 1827, Sam dressed in a all white cotton parade dress and during the ceremonies of installing a new bridge span, jumped seventy feet into a river in Patterson, New Jersey. Sam survived and the crowd applauded, so Sam decided to become a professional jumper. He would run ads in the newspaper, put up flyer’s and announce his plan for spectacular jumps. He jumped from cliffs, bridges and any other place found in New York or New Jersey that would create a spectacle. A hat would be passed and Sam would be financially rewarded for risk life and limb. He became a national celebrity for jumps that were brave as well as foolhardy. In October of 1829 he even jumped seventy feet into Niagara Falls from the lower end of Goat Island. He didn’t feel he had received the acclaim his jump deserved so he had scaffolding constructed and ten days later jumped a second time. This jump was120 feet into the Niagara River. In November of that year he traveled to Rochester, New York where a twenty five foot platform was erected at Genesee Falls. There he leaped off 125 feet into the water below. A year later his body was recovered down river and he was buried in an unmarked grave.

The other people described in the book are equally notable and interesting characters. As the saying goes, "it takes all kind."

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