The Indian Attack

Popular journals routinely carried fictional accounts of Indian attacks and settler heroics both past and present. Like many, this romanticized illustration for a genteel magazine is more theatrical than true to life. Charles F. Hoffman’s accompanying poem notes that the mother’s maternal sympathies have overwhelmed her ability to act, while her sister (clutching a rifle) draws strength from the Bible lying on the table beside them. The vignette celebrates white motherhood, Christianity, and bravery, depicting a clash between civilization and savagery.

"The Attack"

William Perring, "The Attack" from Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine
Philadelphia: G. R. Graham, August 1843
Newberry A5 .38


Eugene Benson’s melodramatic tableau, Indian Attack, depicts the defense of a frontier home. Young and old, women and men, European and African figures work together to respond to the attacking Indians, visible out the window to the right. Benson’s carefully structured composition with its central triangle of figures and heroic gestures uses devices drawn from European grand-manner history painting. Details such as the coonskin cap and the primitive cabin interior, however, add a note of frontier authenticity to the highly theatrical scene. Though Benson’s painting does not depict a specific historical episode, it recalls the world as imagined by James Fenimore Cooper and other popular fiction writers of the day. The painting reinforces the notion that white settlers had a natural right to conquer Indians in the West, an idea known after 1845 as America’s “manifest destiny.”

Indian Attack

Eugene Benson, Indian Attack
Oil on canvas
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago, Daniel J. Terra Art Acquisition Endowment Fund, 1999.6

Map of the Ceded Part of Showing Also Portions of Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska<br /><br />

B. M. Smith and A. J. Hill, Map of the Ceded Part of Dakota Territory: Showing Also Portions of Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska
[St. Paul, MN]: 1861
Newberry Vault broadside Graff 3835
Bequest of Everett D. Graff