George Catlin (1796-1872), American historian and artist, traveled to Native American settlements in the Great Lakes Region, the Southern Plains and along the Mississippi River throughout the 1830s. From these trips, he assembled Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians (1841), a written and graphic record of Native American culture in nearly fifty tribes in the United States. In the document, he describes his effort as the act of "lending a hand to a dying nation, who have no historians or biographers of their own to portray with fidelity their native looks and history."
There is certainly truth to the notion that Catlin's work--observed both in Letters and Notes and in his exhibitions, which traveled over the United States and Europe in the 1830s and 1840s--contributed to the popularization of Native American imagery. Tiffany & Co., with its hallmark sensitivity to national identity, produced many objects in the Native American style, a number of which incorporated Catlin's compositions.
The present plaque is almost certainly based on Catlin's The Cutting Scene, Mandan O-kee-pa ceremony, 1832 (The Denver Art Museum). The O-kee-pa ceremony, as recreated in the present scene, constitutes a sacrifice to the Great Spirit on the part of young men, hopeful for a courageous and fertile adulthood. The ceremony was practiced by the Mandan Indians of the Mississippi River.
For more information see:
William H. Truettner, The Natural Man Observed: A Study of Catlin's Indian Gallery, 1979, pp. 23-27, pp. 290-291.
Amy Dehan, "Tiffany's Buffalo Hunt Loving Cup," The Magazine Antiques, January 2006, pp. 152-159.