Arrow's Elk Society Ledger

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Ethnographic Notes

This drawing must be considered together with Plates 19 & 27. All three share the same, basic composition, with the rider lunging forward on the far side of his horse to spear an enemy. Each Cheyenne wears a black shirt, and apparently the same pair of dark blue (shown as black) trade cloth leggings, and beaded strips in an identical pattern that appears nowhere else in the collection. Probably all three wear a red wool breechcloth, although in Plate 27 this garment is obscured.

The Cheyenne in Plate 27 is unquestionably the artist, for he carries the same Elk Society straight lance shown in Plates 7 & 163. The man in Plate 17 wears the identical eagle feather headdress as Arrow in Plate 27, distinguished by blue silk ribbons edging the long, red-wool trailer. These are absent from the otherwise identical headdress in LP 19; although it might reasonably be argued that the artist omitted them as an oversight. The rider in Plate 19 has long, otterskin hairwraps with green and red cloth tied near the bottom. These are identical to those in Plate 150, where Arrow identifies himself with a name glyph. Based on all of these similarities, therefore, a strong circumstantial case could be made that Arrow is depicting himself in each instance.

The three, different war shields, however, and distinctive war lances belonging to the Bowstring warrior society shown in Plates 17 & 19, raise puzzling questions we may be unable to resolve, but which must be considered.

It was not unusual for a man to own several different shields in succession. James Mooney's manuscript notes in the National Anthropological Archives cite numerous examples (Mooney, 1902-1906). In the collection of Cheyenne model shields which Mooney assembled, three had been owned at different times by Starving Elk (Field Museum, Chicago: Cat. Nos. 96906 & 96916; the third model has been traded to the Museum of Cultures, Mexico City, but is described in Mooney's Mss. No. 2538, Box 1, NAA). One of Starving Elk's shield designs was separately described to George Bird Grinnell (1923, I: 201).

It was also a common Cheyenne practice to approach someone who owned a proven and successful shield---particularly if he were a close relative---and ask to borrow it for use on a single war party. Any success that the borrower enjoyed, such as captured horses or other property, would be shared with the shield owner. Grinnell was told about the borrowing of shields (1923, I: 193-94); and the Mooney collection notes again contain many examples. So it is entirely possible that Arrow could be recording successes he enjoyed while using a series of shields; either ones he owned, or had borrowed.

The decorated lances shown in Plates 17 & 19 were insignia of the Bowstring Society (compare Berlo. 1996: Plate 53). It would, perhaps, seem surprising to find an Elk Society lance bearer borrowing different lances of a "competing" society, but this may have occurred also. Compare the Southern Cheyenne composition shown in the "Pamplin Cheyenne/Arapaho Ledger", Ledger Page 256 (another document on the PILA website). A facsimile is also given in Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 10. Here, a man carries an Elk Society crooked lance, but also wears a distinctive Dog Soldier Society headdress. Is he an Elk Soldier who borrowed the headdress; or a Dog Soldier who borrowed the crooked lance?

In the ethnographic literature, competition between warrior societies is most often emphasized; but this was only part of the situation. Roman Nose, one of the most renowned members of the Elk Society, spent the last two years of his life in the Dog Soldier camp (Hyde, 1968: 306-07); and he was killed while leading a Dog Soldier charge. Tangle Hair, a leading Dog Soldier chief, was a close friend of Little Wolf, the Head Chief of the Northern Cheyenne Elk Society; the two often went to war together (Grinnell, 1923, II: 52; 1915: 404).

Grinnell was told the Dog Soldiers usually invited leading warriors of other societies to join their celebrations (1927, II: 57). See Berlo, 1996: Plate No. 52, a composition created by Howling Wolf, showing precisely this---an Elk Society crooked lance bearer as an honored guest at a Dog Soldier ceremony. In still another composition created by Cohoe (Hoebel, 1964: Plate No. 7) a crooked lance bearer is shown as the guest of the Kit Fox Society, who are presenting him with a horse. These drawings are the more remarkable in that both artists actually belonged to the Bowstring Society. Membership in the warrior societies cut across family lines, however. Whenever a relative was honored, ALL of his kindred were pleased, regardless of their own society affiliation. This sort of social courtesy is the glue that holds Cheyenne society together.

Given this fraternal interaction, what could be more natural than for a Bowstring Society member to offer the loan of his impressive feathered lance to his cousin, who belonged to the Elk Society? The honor and brotherly concern this demonstrated could only strengthen both organizations, and the tribe in general. Nor would there be any question of such exchanges being a cause for confusion to the Cheyennes. Everyone in the tribe knew who all the players were, and understood the intention. It is only confusing to NON-Cheyennes, who may try to comprehend these images more than a century later.

So it is also possible that Arrow, the Elk Society lance bearer, might occasionally have been in possession of one or two Bowstring Society lances. These would be great honors, which he would be anxious to record among his achievements. In turn, he honors the faith of his fellows by using their insignia to protect the tribe. When he returned the borrowed lance, a Ute or Pawnee scalp might be tied to the weapon, giving to the wife of the Bowstring who had loaned the lance a central and honored place in the Scalp Dance celebration that would follow, something her husband and entire family would deeply appreciate and remember (Grinnell, 1923, II: 40-44).

Another possible interpretation of Ledger Pages 17 & 19 is that they could represent close Nisson relatives of Arrow, lance bearers of the Bowstring Society, to whom HE has loaned some of his clothing and his impressive eagle feather headdress. The formula for such an offer was: "My friend, here are my moccasins and my war lie in ('To lie in' is to be killed in)" (Grinnell, 1915: 238). The compounded spiritual power such loans conveyed was considered instrumental in a man's success. And Arrow would have been remunerated too, with a share of any captured plunder.

Probably there is no way for us, now, to be certain which of these possibilities is correct. Most assuredly, however, these drawings evidence the strength and interconnection of Cheyenne society.

This unidentified Cheyenne in Plate 17, then, carries one of the lavishly-decorated lances of the Bowstring warrior society. Col. Richard Dodge, speaking of the period ca. 1869-73, observed:

"Next to the bow, the great offensive weapon for all the horseback or Plains Indians was, a few years ago, the lance. It consists of a shaft from eight to twelve feet long, terminated by a point of stone or metal...

"The favorite point was a long, straight sword blade, which they procure in great number from the Mexicans" (Dodge, 1882: 421).

Special triangular blades with cross tangs were also a staple of the Indian trade, designed to be hafted either as knives or as lances. All of the trading concerns carried these; especially, in regard to trade with the Southern Cheyennes, Bent, St. Vrain & Company; or they were made to Cheyenne specifications by trading company blacksmiths.

The wooden shaft of this lance is covered in a sleeve of red wool cloth, with contrasting stripes of green cloth sewn on in four places. Many other color combinations were also employed. Golden eagle feathers tipped with white spots of ermine fur or gypsum glue, and yellow-dyed horsehair, are laced all along the cloth sleeve. Two fans of golden eagle tail feathers, one near each end of the lance, are similarly trimmed and set into a base of rawhide covered with red wool cloth and a panel of beadwork. These are identical to the decorated fan tied to the horse's tail. Such fans were also carried separately as costume accents, and used to shade one's eyes, or for cooling (compare Plate 32).

The Bowstrings were the most recent of the Southern Cheyenne warrior societies. Their counterparts among the Northern Cheyennes are called Crazy Dogs. Founded ca. 1815 (Petersen, 1964: 146), only five years later the Long expedition encountered a Bowstring war party on the Arkansas River:

"...on their return from an expedition against the Pawnee Loups. They had killed one squaw, whose scalp was suspended to the spear of the partizan or leader of the party, the handle of which was decorated with strips of red and white cloth, beads, and tail plumes of the war eagle."

The expedition's account tells us further what the Bowstring warrior shown here would do subsequent to killing his Pawnee foe:

"The partizan, who killed the victim of this excursion, and two others, one of whom first struck the dead body, and the other who took off the scalp, were painted deep black with charcoal, and almost the entire body being exposed, rendered the effect more impressive" (James, 1823, II: 197; see also Grinnell, 1923, II: 40-41).

Col. Dodge also observed Cheyenne shield usage, precisely during the years Arrow is depicting here:

Almost every Indian, even at the present day, possesses a shield...made of the hide of the neck of a buffalo or ox. This hide, almost a quarter on an inch in thickness, is deprived of hair, soaked, rubbed, pounded, cut into shape, and then dried" (Dodge, 1882: 422).

In addition to the early information published by Grinnell (1923, I: 187-202), a number of important studies of Cheyenne shield iconography have appeared in recent years (Nagy, 1994a, 1994b, 1995, 1997a & 1997b; Kan & Wierzbowski, 1979). The author has also benefitted immeasurably from the insightful analysis of Cheyenne shield iconography in progress by Winfield Coleman.

Occasionally, due to compositional crowding, Arrow was forced to abbreviate or omit certain details. In this Plate, for example, on the shield adjacent to the red triangles he shows appendages of eagle feathers and split-ottertails; but only three of these are represented. Certainly there would have been a fourth cluster adjacent to the fourth triangle. Also, from comparison with many extant Cheyenne shields, we know that repetitive motifs---such as the red triangles---almost always are arranged symmetrically. We must recognize, therefore, that Arrow's depiction of this shield design is a bit impressionistic.

In the typology of Cheyenne shields developed by Imre Nagy (1995: 33-57, Plates 9 & 19), the composition shown here combines two basic units: "central circle with 4 diverging lines"; and "4 triangles on the circumference". Long ago, Grinnell (1923,I: 201) learned that the "four inward directed points" on Cheyenne war shields represented the Four Directions, and that the design originated among the Suhtaio, the cognate tribe who were incorporated into the Tsistsistas or Cheyenne proper in the 18th century, bringing with them the Sacred Buffalo Hat, the sweatlodge ceremony and the Medicine Lodge or Sun Dance. This same design of a circle with inward-directed triangles is painted on the face of Cheyenne Sun Dancers (Grinnell, 1923, II: 243).

Grinnell partly misspoke in saying the design represented the "four CARDINAL directions". Actually, it represents the SEMI-cardinal points: southeast, etc., at which are located the four sacred mountains believed to hold up the sky (compare Grinnell's more accurate description, 1923, II: 292; or Schlesier, 1987: 92-93). The red triangles in this shield design are the four mountains, called Vos (plural Vosoz) inhabited by anthropomorphic Maheono, or Spirits of the Four Directions, and with "large slabs of stones forming the doors, the entrance or door of each being watched by mountain lions, and powerful bears" (Petter, 1915: 721, "Mound").

This shield design, like many another, is therefore a model of the Cheyenne cosmos. The green background represents the surface of the earth, Notostoom, showing the new growth of spring, and the tenacity of life (Moore, 1974: 156). The shield's circumference represents the horizon where stand the four Vosoz of the Maheono. The surface of the shield, then, is the whole earth, divided into its quadrants. Although the triangles point inward, as mountains they are understood to be reaching UPWARD, and this lends a three-dimensional aspect to the design, which is amplified by the red central circle representing the Sun at meridian.

"A shield belonging to the [band] Mowissiyu was called the day shield. The painting on it represented...the the the sides were attached the tail feathers of eagles. On each side...tied to the strings where the otterskin...was attached, was a small, round, polished stone...

"When this shield was to be used, the man who was to carry it held the rising sun, the sky, and the setting sun. The sun was believed to enter the shield, and when the face of the shield was turned toward the enemy, to go out of it again and blind the enemy---dazzling their eyes" (Grinnell, 1923, I: 198).

Certainly this Pawnee enemy appears to be blinded, for he has overshot the Cheyenne twice, and is about to pay with his life.

Flying upward toward the sun, the four birds on the shield probably represent the only blue-colored bird of symbolic interest to Cheyenne people, the matsenez, or belted kingfisher. It is considered a "war bird', because it seldom fails to capture its prey, and its markings were copied by Cheyennes for war paint. Compare Plates 76, 132, 160 & 161, where the blue stripe across the mouth may have been inspired by kingfisher markings. The bird's ability to seamlessly dive into and out of water was associated in Cheyenne thinking with the passage of bullets, and the hope that any wounds they suffered might be likewise insignificant (Moore, 1986: 186 & Fig. 5; Grinnell, 1923, II: 151-52). The great Elk Society warrior Roman Nose wore a stuffed kingfisher skin for this purpose on his famous single-horn headdress (Grinnell, 1923, II: 120).

Attached to the circumference at each of the red triangles are four golden eagle tail feathers, and a black somewhat-amorphous object. On some shields it is common to find black, eagle spike feathers, which have a somewhat similar shape---compare Plate 27. There, the attached strip of quillwork denotes a stiff foundation---the quill of the feather. In Plate 17, however, these shapes are curved, indicating suppleness. By comparison with Plates 3 and 150, it may be seen that these represent the split tail of an otter---half of the tail.

The significance of these is not clear. In the above description of the Mowissiyu shield, note the reference to otterskin attachments. Otters are transitional creatures belonging to the Underwater Monsters, which are ever at war with the Thunderbirds. Surrounding each otter tail with eagle feathers may be a reference to that conflict, appropriate for an implement of war. On Eastern Algonkian war clubs, the carved or engraved figures of otters and Thunderbirds are often juxtaposed.

Note how all of the Cheyennes depicted in this ledger are handling their war shields: not one carries the shield "on his arm" when going into battle---as has so often been alleged in romanticized accounts of Indian warfare. Plains Indian shields did not have "straps" attached to the back, as did European bucklers, through which an arm might be slipped. Very occasionally, a Plains shield might have a hand grip in the center of the back, but even that is unusual. Most war shields had only a suspension strap by which they could be carried by one shoulder, hanging diagonally across the torso---see Plate 164. In combat on horseback, the arms would be slipped through this suspension strap to free them for handling weapons, and the shield then slipped down against the hip, with the strap around the waist like a belt. This protocol may be observed in Plates 7, 17, 19, 27 & 165; and in scores of other Cheyenne drawings as well.

If fighting on foot, as in Plate 21, the suspension strap was gathered in one hand, near the top edge of the shield, and the shield was simply held in front of the body. Some men preferred this technique on horseback also---see Afton, et. al, 1997: Plates 29, 30, 32, 34 and others.

Sometimes the shoulder strap was shortened, and the shield supported against the back of the neck, hanging across the chest and abdomen (Afton, et. al., 1997: Plates 42, 67, 81, 82 & others). When a man was fleeing, the shield would simply be swung around so that it hung against his back, as in Arrow's Plates 124 & 136, in which imitation shields woven of willow branches are so carried during a sham battle. Other examples are in Afton, et. al., 1997: Plates 68, 110 & 127.

Coleman (Forthcoming; and in the "Little Shield" commentary included on the PILA website) argues that war shields were OFFENSIVE as much as defensive weapons. The ways in which Arrow depicts shield usage supports that contention.

The Cheyenne In Plate 17 wears a magnificent headdress of golden eagle feathers, with a long trailer of red wool "saved list" trade cloth edged with blue silk ribbon; and a beaded browband fringed with profuse clusters of yellow-colored ermine fur. His dark blue (shown as black) wool trade cloth leggings have elaborate beaded strips. Wooden Leg, the Northern Cheyenne, explained:

"If a battle seemed about to occur, the warrior...hurriedly got out his fine garments...[and] did everything needful to...present...his most splendid personal appearance. That is, he got himself ready to die...Every Indian wants to look his best when he goes to meet the Great Spirit, so the dressing up is done whether the imminent danger is an oncoming battle, or a sickness or injury at times of peace" (Marquis, 1931: 83).

The Pawnee attitude toward combat and potential death was remarkably different than that of the Cheyennes, as is reflected by the dress of the enemy shown here. Pawnee men preferred as little restrictive clothing as possible, even in winter weather, often charging into battle entirely naked (Long, 1823, I: 384). In ledger drawings, or the earlier paintings on rock outcrops and animal skin, the features meant to identify and distinguish a Pawnee warrior are his bald-plucked pate, with a narrow crest of roached hair, and one or two scalplocks; black-dyed moccasins with high cuffs, or ankle flaps; and a short breechcloth, often extremely short---compare Afton, et. al., 1997: Plates 28, 70, 76, 80, 126 & 128. For photographs highlighting these features of Pawnee dress, see Cowdrey, 1999: Figs. 6, 12, 13 24 & 25.

The Pawnee shown here wears a green shirt, probably of calico, patterned with rows of black dots. His face has first been rubbed with red ochre, then over-painted with streaks of green---four paint-dipped fingers dragged down each side of his face.

Note that his quiver lacks a separate bowcase (compare Cheyenne styles of bowcase-quivers in Plates 9, 21, 80 & 86), and that it is carried under his arm when in use. The ends of his arrows are thus as close to his hand as possible, permitting easy access with an overhand draw, and rapid fire. Col. Richard Dodge often had Pawnee auxilliaries serving as scouts under his command, and marveled at their expertise:

"The wonderful thing about the Indian bow practice is the remarkable rapidity and force with which he can send his arrows. He will grasp five to ten arrows in his left hand, and discharge them so rapidly that the last will be on its flight before the first has touched the ground, and with such forse that each would mortally wound a man at twenty or thirty yards. The blow of the string in this practice is so very severe on the left forearm, that when expecting to go into a fight this arm is always protected by a shield or gauntlet of stiff deerskin" (Dodge, 1882: 420).

Skillful as this foeman might have been, two missed opportunities have failed to deter the Cheyenne lance which is about to pierce his heart. Soon after, a small section of his scalp surrounding the scalplocks will be sliced off by his killer, or another Cheyenne riding behind, stretched on a hoop, and carried home to become the focus of a victory celebration (Grinnell, 1923, II: 39-44).

Afterward, scalps might be burned, or simply discarded; but because part of the soul of animal or man was believed to reside in the hair (Schlesier, 1987: 9-10), scalps also fulfilled a variety of other social functions. They might be presented as offerings to the Sacred Buffalo Hat, or the Sacred Arrows (Stands In Timber,& Liberty, 1967: 69). During the Medicine Lodge or Sun Dance ceremony, the Pledger dances with an enemy scalp tied to his wrist (Powell, 1969: 817 & 832). The hair was used to trim the garments of war leaders, officers of the military societies (Grinnell, 1923, II: 37), such as the yellow-painted shirt shown in Plate 163; or fastened to warrior society implements, particularly some lances of the Bowstring Society.

Another subsequent use is illustrated here: decorated with symbolic painted patterns, scalps commonly were tied to the bit of a horse ridden to war, or to its lariat "war bridle", if that were employed. Recalling that the eagle tail feathers adorning the horse's tail symbolically transform him into a raptor, such scalps suspended near the mouth denote that these Thunderhorses will literally devour the enemy. That this is the intended meaning is illustrated by two Cheyenne drawings which depict the stuffed skins of hawks or eagles, mounted on a lodgepole and elevated as a protective ensign high above the owner's tipi. Each of these raptors is shown with an enemy scalp in its beak, or talons (Nagy, 1997b: Fig. 8; Maurer, 1992: Cat. No. 143). Also, when a visionary painted the design on a war shield, men who wore these same, stuffed hawkskins adorned with the enemy scalps on their heads, were asked to sing during the process (Grinnell, 1923, I: 191).

Often, the artistic "palette" provided by such scalps was divided vertically down the center, and each half painted a different color. The same color combinations are found on Cheyenne war shields, doubtless with related symbolism (see Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 14). In this drawing and in Plate 27 the colors are red and blue; while in Plates 19, 21 & 163 they are red and black. This symbolic dyad is integral to Cheyenne religious philosophy. Red symbolizes the Sun, the phallus, and all things masculine; black (or dark blue) denotes night, death, the womb, and all things feminine (Moore, 1974: 151-52).

In directional symbolism red is generally associated with the east, and black with the west; but as John H. Moore has noted so perceptively: "These symbolic elements are capable of nearly infinite permutation" (1974: 154). Ceremonially, red may denote the warm, masculine south, opposed to the black, feminine north (Grinnell, 1923, II: 292). Cheyenne people are deeply philosophical about color relationships, and were never casual about anything having to do with war. If one pays careful attention to the ways that colored scalp patterns are arranged, different symbolic orientations may be inferred. The exact intention will always elude us; but that these are not random choices should be clear.

A final purpose for which an enemy scalp might be employed was to break the taboo which forbade a married man to speak to, or even to look at, his mother-in-law. This onerous custom, common to many Plains tribes, was at the heart of Cheyenne war psychology. The life of a newly-wed couple was fraught with inconvenience because of it. Although courtesies arranged through third parties might be exchanged between a man and his mother-in-law, they dared never be at the same place or event together. In a small community, this enforced avoidance necessitated endless vigilance, caution and worry, or the reputation of the entire, extended family might suffer.

Eventually, a young wife would be diistracted by the custom; often, quite soon she might become resentful and withdrawn, urging her husband to free them from the strictures of the taboo. This he could accomplish only by presenting to his mother-in-law the scalp of an enemy killed by his own hand. She could then publicly proclaim the deed, while having a central role in the Scalp Dance which celebrated the victory. Probably during that public event the mother-in-law would have it announced that she intended to honor her daughter's brave husband.

The wife's mother then must embroider a finely-tanned buffalo robe with parallel stripes of red and yellow porcupine quillwork, at least twenty such stripes the length of the robe---perhaps the labor of an entire year. When this had been presented to the son-in-law, together with a fine horse, the taboo was considered lifted. The family could then resume a normal existence, and with their social reputation greatly enhanced (Grinnell, 1923, I: 147-48; II: 389). For an 1863 photograph of a buffalo robe of this type, embroidered with more than EIGHTY quilled stripes, see Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 15. Among the Cheyenne property which George Custer reported he had destroyed with Black Kettle's village at the Washita in 1868, were "573 tanned buffalo robes, many decorated" (Powell, 1980: 616).

In concept, the "mother-in-law taboo" was quite a practical way to encourage productivity in the community: it required young men to be active and aggressive; and older women to practice the creative embroidery for which the tribe was renowned. This in turn maintained the Women's Sewing Society, an important social institution which often indirectly affected tribal politics, by the influence that wives might have on the agenda and decisions of their husbands.

Also, in a society where successful men in their forties often took a second or third wife who might be only 17 or 18, the mother-in-law could be YOUNGER than the husband, and perhaps of equal physical attractiveness as her daughter. The avoidance taboo worked to avert extra-marital relations which would be both unseemly, and socially devisive.

Within recent years these taboos have still applied in Cheyenne society, although now of course without the mortal requirement of the scalp. The woman still proffers some form of embroidery---a decorated tipi, or perhaps only a pair of beaded moccasins. The son-in-law responds with any gift of commensurate value (Marriott, 1956: 25-26; Coleman, 1980: 56).

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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: 9
Page No: 17
Dimensions: 8.5 * 14 inches
Various Private Owners
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