Catlin visited the Mandan in 1832. The Mandan had first been contacted by the French in 1738, but they had been familiar with European goods through trade with the Assiniboin. Before Lewis and Clark passed through their villages they had already been greatly affected by epidemics, primarily small pox. By 1837 the tribe had been wiped out by disease. When Audubon traced Catlin's steps up the Missouri he found things so changed he accused Catlin of misrepresentation.

Catlin's painting of a pipestone quarry, for this reason, is unusual. For it documents a landscape that Indians inhabit, change, work upon.