Empire Builder Breakfast Menu by Reiss

In the 1930s, the Great Northern used paintings by its favorite artist, Winold Reiss, on the covers of some of its menus. Reiss had produced more than 50 Indian portraits that were purchased for the railway by Louis Hill, the Empire Builder’s son. Where most of his portraits were busts, the images on the menus, which Reiss had painted in 1927, were taller (the original paintings were 80″x36″) and show standing Indians.

Click image to download a 1.9-MB PDF of this menu.

This portrait features Chief Shot on Both Sides (sometimes called Shot from Both Sides), who became chief of his tribe, the Kainai Blackfeet, in 1913. Blackfeet receive their names at birth, usually based on something one of their parents did, so it was probably the chief’s father, Crop-Eared Wolf, who shot from both sides, perhaps while riding a horse.

Click image for a larger view.

For many years, Reiss spent his summers in Glacier Park, where he painted Indian portraits from life. During this time he did at least two paintings of Shot Both Sides. Above shows the chief wearing elaborate ceremonial clothing that is quite different from the menu painting. Below, he is wearing what may be more every-day clothing.

Click image for a larger view.

Below is a photo of Shot on Both Sides wearing the same ceremonial clothing shown in the menu. The similarities between this photo and the painting makes me wonder if Reiss used this photo to paint the painting in his New York studio rather than from life in Glacier Park.

The menu itself, which is undated but probably from the late 1930s, has six different breakfast meals ranging in price from 50 to 90 cents, plus an extensive a la carte listing. Among the options is “GN Health Cakes,” the recipe for which is given on the back. Since one of the ingredients for these pancakes is lard, people today wouldn’t consider them very healthy.

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