Plains Indian Ledger Art: Arrow's Elk Society Ledger - PLATE 9

Arrow's Elk Society Ledger

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Document Info

Page No. 9
Dimensions: 8.5 * 14 inches inches


Cheyenne - Southern


Various Private Owners


Collected in 1882 at Darlington, Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by Sallie C. Maffet.
Descendants of Maffet sold the manuscript at Sotheby's auction in N ...More

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by Mike Cowdrey


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Ethnographic Notes

Again, there is nothing specific in this drawing which identifies it as a self-portrait by the artist. It could show the exemplary actions of a relative or friend. However, it seems to be a memorial to a well-beloved horse, and that suggests a very personal involvement by Arrow, himself. Also, it is possible that the white felt hat that he is wearing is the same one which he is seen capturing in Plate 1, spruced up a bit by the addition of an eagle feather.

The Cheyenne's long hair is wrapped with strips of red wool cloth. His long, characteristic breechcloth is of the same material. The leggings are of dark blue saved-list wool cloth (again, shown as black). Aside from the white selvedge stripe along the outside of the flap, they are undecorated; as are his moccasins. He wears a black wool vest over a long-sleeved, gingham shirt, accented with nickel-silver armbands. The strap across his chest supports an undecorated bowcase and quiver, the bow and one arrow from which are held in his left hand.

Quite a lot of action is inferred by this essentially static composition. We see that the horse has been wounded seven times (one bullet struck him through the saddle girth); is in fact tottering in the throes of death, blood gushing from his mouth, and streaming from each wound. The Cheyenne has just jumped down from his mount, and perhaps is speaking a last encouragement. The two comrades gaze at each other in sad farewell.

A numerous foe is suggested by the multiple bullet wounds; and the nearly-level trajectory of these wounds indicates that the enemies were probably entrenched. The Cheyenne was making a valorous charge along the enemy position, when a barrage of gunfire struck the horse. It is significant---and a primary purpose of the artist to demonstrate---that although the Cheyenne himself passed through the same fusillade, none of the bullets touched HIM.

This drawing provides a fine example of Cheyenne riding protocol, and the etiquette of Indian warfare. The Northern Cheyenne Wooden Leg remembered:

"Each Indian horse used for going into...battle had only a blanket strapped upon its back and a lariat rope about the neck. In riding, the lariat was looped into the horse's mouth, or was looped over the head and then into the mouth, for a bridle. The surplus of the long rope was coiled and tucked into the rider's belt. If a man fell from his horse the coil would be jerked from his belt, so he would not be dragged. Also, the uncoiling as the horse might move away would leave a long rope trailing after it, so it was easy to recapture the animal. That was the regular Indian way of riding" (Marquis, 1931: 243-44).

The horse here pictured has a separate bridle and reins, with a silver-mounted headstall; but the lariat rope is in position, and being used as Wooden Leg described. A further custom was that if a horse was shot and had to be abandoned,

"According to the Indian way...the warrior was supposed to stop and take off the bridle from the killed horse, to show how cool he could conduct himself" (Marquis, 1931: 199-200).

That is precisely what the Cheyenne is doing here. Probably he is still in an exposed position: the wound near the horse's heart, and the shattered hind leg guarantee he could not have gone far. But still the Cheyenne stays, faithfully attending the last moments of his friend. Another blood-choked breath, or two; the trembling legs will buckle, and the charger will go down. Only then will the lariat and bridle be taken off, and the Cheyenne honorably retreat.

On subsequent occasions when this man's warrior society might be parading, he would have cause to recall the valor and the sadness of this day:

"The horses were often painted with symbols of the coups that their riders had counted...If one of the men had his horse shot under him, he painted his steed with a round dot to show where the ball or arrow had entered, generally using red paint" (Grinnell, 1923, II: 61).

Such wound symbols appear on horses shown in Plates 65 & 124.

Although there might seem to be an inequality in the armaments of these opposing forses---arrows against bullets---the advantage did not always lie with the higher technology, as many soldiers learned to their cost. In the June 26, 1867 skirmish near Fort Wallace described in regard to Plate 4, above, Capt. Albert Barnitz reported:

...every Indian appeared to have...his powerful bow and arrows: some of the latter were shot with such force as to pierce through the hard beechwood of our saddle trees, with two thicknesses of rawhide covering ! Several of our killed were shot through with numerous arrows, besides being literally riddled with balls..." (Utley, 1977: 78).


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