Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, drew this study for a series (never realized) of paintings based on William Cullen Bryant’s poem “The Fountain” (1839). The poem evokes several eras of American civilization through incidents that occur at a forest stream. In this scene, a wounded brave (modeled after the Hellenistic sculpture known as the "Dying Gaul," which Cole had seen in Rome) symbolizes the plight of many American Indians in an era of forced relocation.
Bryant’s verse reads in part: "I behold/The Indian warrior, whom a hand unseen/Has smitten with his death-wound in the woods,
/Creep slowly to thy well-known rivulet,/And slake his death-thirst."