Arrow's Elk Society Ledger

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Ethnographic Notes

In the second-to-last letter of his prolific correspondence with George Hyde, the great-hearted Cheyenne historian George Bent recalled how, in his youth, the Cheyennes prepared for war:

"Medicine men always painted up the war horses for young warriors, before going into battle. This was an old custom...If the warriors had a long way to go, they used the saddles; but if it was near they used only saddle blankets. Warriors tied [up] their war horses' tails with feathers and red cloth. They used nice bridles on their war horses; common bridles on their buffalo horses" (Bent, 1904-1918: May 6, 1918).

Here, we see most of those features: a silver-mounted headstall, a folded blanket used as a saddle, and the horse's tail wrapped with plaited red cloth, and adorned with a fan of golden eagle tail feathers tipped with yellow-dyed horsehair.

There is no evidence in the drawing that the buckskin horse is specially painted, but he may have been mystically protected nonetheless. Wooden Leg, a Northern Cheyenne, recalled his own preparations for battle:

"My father taught me some medicine practices for myself. He showed me where to gather the seed of certain grass that had power to shield me. A quantity of the seed was put into a buckskin pouch, and this I carried tied to my backhair. In the pouch was also a piece of loose buckskin. To prepare the medicine, a few seeds were pulverized between the fingers...A little saliva was mixed with it by the stirring of a finger. A slight spray of saliva was then put into the palms...and they were rubbed together. When they had been well rubbed they were passed all about my body or clothing, near the skin or clothing, but not touching. Bullets then would be diverted and slip aside from me.

"My horse was protected by the same medicine. In the same way the palms were passed all over the body of the horse, close but not touching. This would turn aside bullets from him...The medicine made him have a keen sense of smell and a clear eyesight. This helped him to find his way without difficulty during darkness or at any time when running" (Marquis, 1931: 153-54).

If this drawing were isolated, we could not be sure of the identity of the Cheyenne protagonist. One might suspect that it is a self-portrait, but there are drawings in the ledger that clearly depict other men, so the suspicion alone could not be proven. A helpful detail, and one which the artist certainly intended, is in the way his scalplock is wrapped. The black, zig-zag strips hanging at the bottom of his scalplock represent a narrow wrapping of otter fur with the ends flying back. Compare the disussion of the otter-wrapped lance in Plate 7. This otter strip tying his scalplock is shown again in Plates 13, 144, and 156, where other details make it certain the artist is showing himself. The protagonist is Arrow, who ultimately includes bragging name glyphs identifying himself in the courting scenes depicted in Plates 150 and 154.

In addition to the carefully-braided scalplock, Arrow's hair is parted in the center, and gathered on each side into long queues which are wrapped with plaited bindings of red and dark-blue wool trade cloth, with the white selvedge (the "saved list") retained as decorative accents at the ends. Although often, as here, Cheyenne artists depicted such cloth as BLACK, it actually was very dark blue. Different dye lots of such saved-list cloth varied from medium to dark shades of blue, with the darkest often preferred by the Cheyennes. Arrow's leggings, and his saddle pad are of the same material.

Over a spotted calico shirt he wears a natty, black wool vest. Trailing back from the speed of his charging horse is the long, red tail of Arrow's breechcloth. The length of this essential garment is one of the signature features which identifies the wearer as a Cheyenne. Writing early in the 20th century, George Bird Grinnell noted:

"Until recently all the older Cheyenne men wore the breechcloth, which they still appear to regard as a sign of sex. Among the Northern Cheyennes, until about 1900, all still wore the breechcloth under the trousers, and the string about the waist, next to the skin. They said that if they took that off they would lose their manhood. Little boys, as soon as they can walk, have the string put upon them, and wear it constantly but wear no breechclout...Just before his death in 1904, it was said of Old Little Wolf that he was the only one in the camp who commonly left off the breechcloth when assuming trousers" (Grinnell, 1923, I: 221).

The civilian enemy shown here wears a white shirt, and black wool vest with satin back. He has black, high-heeled boots worn under grey, corduroy trousers, with the ribbed fabric carefully depicted. The man's curly hair is also represented, and a bald pate shown X-ray fashion through the fabric of his white felt hat. Either the man's hat was knocked off, revealing the bald spot; or he was killed, and Arrow learned that detail while examining his body.

Although nothing specific indicates when this event occurred, or the identity of the enemy, it is most likely that he was one of the commercial hide hunters illegally poaching in the Cheyenne country during the early-1870's. Arrow holds a rifle carbine by its barrel, and has lunged forward with it over the horse's neck, to strike the Whiteman as the horse runs him down. This act of touching a live enemy without killing him, with the hand or something held in it, was both dangerous and greatly admired:

"To kill an enemy was good in so far as it reduced the numbers of the hostile party. To scalp an enemy was not an important feat, and in no sense especially creditable...but to touch the enemy with something held in the hand, with the bare hand, or with any part of the body, was proof of bravery---a feat which entitled the man or boy who did it to the greatest credit...In Indian estimation the bravest act that could be performed was to count coup on---to touch or strike---a living unhurt man and to leave him alive, and this was frequently done...

"The Cheyennes counted coup on an enemy three times; that is to say, three men might touch the body and receive credit, according to the order in which this was done...When a Cheyenne touched an enemy...[he] cried 'Ah haih !", and said 'I am the first'. The second to touch the body cried, 'I am the second', and so the third" (Grinnell, 1910a: 296-99).

The Northern Cheyenne, Wooden Leg, noted:

"Eagle feathers stuck up from the back hair of many a Sioux. The number of such feathers worn by one man was supposed to denote the number of enemies he had killed. The Cheyennes never adopted this custom" (Marquis, 1931: 75).

While the Cheyennes may not have prorated eagle feathers in accord with the number of coups a man had earned, nonetheless the right to wear such feathers was always dependent upon prior success, and established bravery. Wooden Leg also recalled:

"If some immature young man pretended to such high standing before it seemed to his companions that he ought to do so, he was twitted and shamed into awaiting his proper time" (Marqis, 1931: 85).

We may be certain, therefore, that this coup is not Arrow's first brave deed, as the eagle feather tied to his scalplock proudly attests.

As this silver-mounted headstall, and like examples appear throughout the ledger, it may be of interest whether the Cheyennes were making these themselves, or whether they were obtained through trade. As with so much of 19th century Cheyenne culture, George Bent preserved the answer:

"Silver [crosses] were made [by] Mexicans, who made silver bridles too. The Kiowa, Com[anches] and [Kiowa] Apaches bought these from Mexicans. The traders sold German [nickel] silver to the Indians, and the Indians made crosses like the Mexican ones from this" (Bent, 1904-1918: Aug. 11, 1905).

Most of the silver accoutrements in use by Cheyennes, including the women's concho belts shown in Plates 148 & 150, were received through trade; although the pieces commonly were accented with rocker engraving by the Cheyenne owners. See Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 2, for an 1874 photograph showing a silver trade bridle of this type.

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Various owners (dispersed). Collected in 1882 at Darlington, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by Sallie C. Maffet....

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Plate No: 2
Page No: 1
Dimensions: 8.5 * 14 inches
Various Private Owners
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