Richard Barrington Nevitt was a draft dodger from the American Civil War. Yet the horror and the brutality of violent conflict was to pursue him all his life. Studying medicine in Toronto, Nevitt signed up as an assistant surgeon with the North West Mounted Police in 1847 on their great march to bring law to the western frontier. In the years that followed, he became one of the earliest and most prolific artists of the Canadian West.
Decent and caring, Nevitt gained the trust of the Blackfoot Indians who were turning to the Mounties for help when the buffalo all but disappeared. He became their doctor. His paintings and letters home to his sweetheart, Elizabeth Beaty, constitute a unique record of the struggle to bring justice to a lawless land and medicine to a destitute people.
When he returned to marry and raise a family of his own, Nevitt became a founder of the Toronto Women’s Hospital and a leading proponent of women’s medicine in Canada. He delivered thousands of babies in the years that followed, yet had the tragedy of seeing many of them killed in the First World War, including his own son. The often pointless tragedy of war and his haunting memories of The Great Lone Land stayed with him all his life.