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According to Rick Stewart, “Nancy Russell left a detailed description of The Medicine Man identifying the figure as Sleeping Thunder, the artist’s fictional character. She wrote, ‘When a Medicine Man went to a sick lodge to help drive away the bad spirits, he had his pipe and his medicine with him. He sits on his robe cross-legged, facing the lodge door where the sick person is to be healed. His body may be painted a bright yellow or a vermilion or possibly only a design on his natural bronze skin. A weasel’s skin and a whistle made from a bone in an eagle’s wing are tied in his hair. (The eagle whistle is very important, as it is used in many of the Sun or Medicine dances.) His hair is rolled with pitch or balsam gum with buckskin thongs woven through it, forming a flat mat or shield-like covering for his back. As the new hair grows out, it is rolled with pitch and joined with another thong, to this mat. The lasting fragrance of the balsam adds mystery to Sleeping Thunder’s ceremony. After the pipe is smoked, he lays it on the ground in front of him with the tobacco pouch or medicine bag, which was usually beaded with a design that revealed an incident of importance in the life of its owner. The tobacco was a mixture of willow bark, kinnikinic, and real tobacco, if they could get it. This, when dried and blended, gave a pungent odor to the smoke which clung to buckskin and was never lost. His rawhide tom-tom was decorated with eagle feathers and as he beats a rhythm, he chants his healing song.

“Across one knee are other symbols of his medicine—an otter skin, a wolf’s skull, and a bear’s claw. The otter is cunning, the wolf is smart and the bear is strong, and Sleeping Thunder is invoking the spirits of these three animals to help him drive away sickness or ‘bad medicine.’ Charlie has shown in this little figure, the great love the Indian has for all God’s creatures, how they believe in them and get strength from their contact with Mother Nature.”

Rick Stewart, Charles M. Russell, Sculptor (Fort Worth, TX: Amon Carter Museum, 1994), pages 240-44, example illustrated

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