Skip to Main Content

Seth Eastman: Pioneer & Painter: Overview

Best Bets

Painting the Dakota: Seth Eastman at Fort Snellingby Marybeth Lorbiecki; paintings and drawings by Seth Eastman.
Illustrated with Eastman's work, this account gives in-depth biographical information as well as the history of the Dakota tribes in the Midwest.
Afton, MN" Afton Historical Society Press, 2000.
MNHS call number: E99.D1 E23 2000,

Seth Eastman: A Portfolio of North American Indians, by Sarah E. Hoehme, Christian F. Feest, and Patricia Condon Jonston.
Afton, Minn.: Afton Historical Society Press, 1995.
MNHS call number: Reading Room FOLIO ND237 .E35 S47 1995, also available for purchase

Memoir of General Seth Eastman, U.S. Armyby Seth Eastman.
This account of Eastman's life was published after his death in 1875. It focuses on his life in the military, his art, and his relationship with his second wife, Mary. No mention is made of his first wife, Wakaninajinwin or his daughter, Winona.
Washington, D.C.: 1875.
MNHS call number: ND237 .E35 M5

Artworks by Seth Eastman in the MNHS collections. 


General Seth Eastman in Army uniform, ca. 1860.Painter Seth Eastman is known primarily for his depictions of daily life among the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota.

He was born to Robert and Sarah Lee Eastman on January 24, 1808, in Brunswick, Maine. Eastman attended the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, where he received training in sketching and topography. While at West Point, he began to paint scenes featuring the daily life of local Native American tribes. 

In 1830 Eastman was assigned to topography duty on the frontier and spent a short time at Fort Snelling before returning to West Point to teach. While at Fort Snelling, Eastman married Wakaninajinwin (Stands Sacred), the fifteen-year-old daughter of Cloud Man, a Dakota chief. Eastman left in 1832 for another military assignment soon after the birth of their baby girl, Winona, and declared his marriage ended when he left. Winona was also known as Mary Nancy Eastman and was the mother of Charles Alexander Eastman, author of Indian Boyhood.

From 1833 to 1840, Eastman taught drawing at West Point. In 1835 he married his second wife, Mary Henderson, the daughter of a West Point surgeon. In 1841 he returned to Fort Snelling as a military commander and remained there with Mary and their five children for the next seven years. It was during this time that Eastman began visually recording the everyday way of life of the Dakota and Ojibwe people. His wife Mary also became involved in preserving Indian culture by writing books on local tales and legends, which he would illustrate for her. The most important of these books was entitled Dacotah, or Life and Legends of the Sioux Around Fort Snelling.

In 1847 Henry R. Schoolcraft, a former Indian agent, was chosen to conduct a study of the American Indian people. Eastman illustrated the six-volume set, published between 1851 and 1857 as Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Military Affairs also commissioned Eastman to paint images of seventeen important military forts, which he completed between 1870 and 1875. These paintings are now housed in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Eastman died of a stroke while painting at his home in Washington, D.C., on August 31, 1875. Eastman's works are significant for Minnesota history because art historians believe that Eastman based many of his paintings and sketches on his observations in the Sioux villages of Kaposia and Little Crow, as well as in Scott, Wabasha, and Winona counties.   

Research Options

Related Research Guides & Webpages

Guide Author

MNHS Reference Staff

MNHS Reference Staff

reading room bookshelves


Gale Family Library
Minnesota Historical Society Library

Located on the Second Floor of the Minnesota History Center
345 West Kellogg Blvd.
St. Paul, MN 55102

Library Hours:
Thursday to Saturday: 10am to 4pm
Sunday to Wednesday: Closed

More Information on Visiting the Library


Contact Us:


Email Us

Visit our Main Website

Gale Family Library • Minnesota Historical Society • 345 W. Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55102-1906 • 651-259-3300
Hours and More InformationEmail us