Plains Indian Ledger Art: Arrow's Elk Society Ledger - PLATE 21

Arrow's Elk Society Ledger

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Page No. 21
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

Essays & Videos

by Mike Cowdrey


No keywords for this plate.

Ethnographic Notes

In the author's opinion, there are too many differences in the dress and associations of this man for there to be any possibility that Arrow was depicting himself. This is a leading man of the Bowstring warrior society, and either a close relative or a friend of the artist. This emphasizes and partly explains why Arrow, who was an Elk Society warrior, might be in receipt of loaned Bowstring regalia (see discussion with Plate 17); or conversely, why he might wish to memorialize the exploits of men belonging to another organization.

The Cheyenne shown here wears only a long breechcloth of dark-blue wool, and a dark-blue wool jacket with buttons down the front. This may be a captured U.S. Army enlisted man's fatigue blouse, like those shown in Plate 5. He carries yet another distinctive type of Bowstring Society lance, with the golden eagle feathers of the attached banner alternating in bands of white and black. The black-tipped white feathers are from younger birds, which the Cheyennes call moeniz, "war eagle"; while the solidly-colored feathers are from the older xamaeniz, "ordinary eagle" (Moore, 1986: 184 & Gig. 4). Perhaps the combination was intended to counsel the rash courage of youth, while being tempered by the wisdom of age. Separate fans of moeoniz tail feathers, set in a base of parfleche ornamented with red wool and beadwork, are attached at either end of the shaft, which is covered in red wool cloth accented by four bands of yellow.

On a battlefield, as far as warriors could see the patterns of a feathered banner, they would be able to identify and go to the support of the man who carried it. Conversely, such an ensign made the same man a principal target for enemy marksmen, as did the wearing of an elaborate headdress. For this reason, it was said that warrior society officers like Arrow were "chosen to be killed" (Grinnell, 1923, II: 51). Always, they were expected to lead their fellows, and be in the thick of the fighting.

During society elections it often happened that several candidates in succession would decline the proffered honor of such a position, and this drawing clearly shows why:

"Some men...would not wear war-bonnets, because they made one conspicuous; and the enemy was more likely to shoot at a man wearing [one]...Whirlwind (died 1891) the celebrated fight with the Sauk and Fox [1854] had every feather of his war-bonnet shot away, but was not himself hit" (Grinnell, 1923, II: 1089-09).

" 'The balls,' he said, 'were flying thick about me, the feathers were cut from my war-bonnet, yet the [little stuffed] hawk that was [tied] in front was not hit, and I was not hit. Afterward, I wondered that I had not been killed...' " (Grinnell, 1915: 104).

Surely the Cheyenne shown here must have wondered the same, as he heard the whine of bullets all around him, and felt the concussion of feathers being blasted from his cap.

Nor was this an unusual experience in Plains warfare. In 1864, during the attack made by Colonel Chivington's gang of murderers on Black Kettle's winter camp at Sand Creek, Little Bear---later a leading chief of the Southern Cheyennes---was one of those who escaped on foot:

"The people were all running up the creek; the soldiers sat on their horses, lined up on both banks and firing...about twenty cavalrymen got into the dry bed of the stream behind me. They chased me up the creek for about two miles, very close behind me and firing...all the time. Nearly all the feathers were shot out of my war bonnet, and some balls passed through my shield; but I was not touched" (Hyde, 1968: 153-54).

A principal reason the Cheyenne depicted here has such confidence in his invulnerability is the "yellow hail" war paint with which his buckskin horse has been spotted (see the earlier discussion, Plate 19). There is an obvious analogy between the ice pellets of a hail storm, and the round, lead bullets used in muzzle-loading firearms. By surrounding his horse (hence himself) with a barrage of celestial bullets, he expected to pass unscathed through any similar barrage of gunfire. The famous Elk Society warrior Roman Nose did the same, painting his own naked body entirely black, then dappling himself all over, like this horse, with hail spots of yellow ocher (Grinnell, 1923, II: 119). Such exacting preparation took a long time. Roman Nose often arrived at battles late, because of the extensive painting he required (Bent, 1904-1918: May 24, 1906).

The Bowstring leader depicted here has similarly devoted much effort to preparing his horse and himself. Perhaps before he was ready, others of his war party made the attack. This is suggested by the multitude of tracks encircling the domed habitations at far left, which represent a camp of Mountain Utes. The hail warrior may have joined this surround for a time, since he has shot away all but two of his arrows.

Reining his horse to a stand he dismounted, pulling the reins down over the horse's head. Animals were trained to stand when their reins were hanging, awaiting the return of their rider. This war horse is so excited, however, that he kicks and curvets, anxious to follow his master. Throwing down his cougarskin quiver, his bow and the two arrows, the barefoot Cheyenne charges on foot with only his lance and shield, to attempt the most honorable kind of coup.

Often when such personal displays of bravado were made, a lull occurred in the fighting while the other Cheyennes waited to see what success he might have, to witness any valorous deeds, and be prepared to attempt a rescue if he should be wounded. We can imagine Arrow watching with concerned anticipation as his comrade risks his life for the glory of a first coup.

Before all these witnesses, and into the teeth of such withering arrow and gunfire, the Cheyenne races afoot up to the screaming baby which has been abandoned by its mother in the confusion of the Cheyenne attack, taps the baby on its left arm with the point of his lance, then sprints away, fragments of shattered eagle feathers exploding in the air as the Ute bullets cut close. Instantly, over the crash of enemy gunfire, rises the shrill and lilting "Li-li-li-li" of Cheyenne approbation, as his fellows sing him safely out, and away from danger.

Note that the shield of this Bowstring officer is simply held in front of his waist as he advances. It is painted with a black circle near the circumference, and the figure of a black bear. The Dog Soldier chief Tall Bull, killed at Summit Springs in 1869, owned a similar shield (Grinnell, 1923, I: 201).

The Cheyenne band which first migrated to the Southern Plains, ca. 1817 (Long, 1823, II: 187), forming the nucleus that would become the Southern Cheyennes, was the Hevataneo or "Hair Rope" band, named for the soft ropes of plaited buffalo hair they carried when they went far south to steal horses from the Comanches, and the Mexicans. Shields of the Hevataneo band often were painted with figures of bears, and at night were wrapped in the tanned skin of a black bear, painted on the flesh side with red stripes across the wrists and ankles, and with a bunch of eagle feathers tied between the shoulders (Grinnell, 1923, I: 198-99). This motif derived from the more ancient Mandan and Hidatsa eagle-trapping bundles, which have identical wrappers. Undoubtedly these were adopted by Cheyenne ancestors when they shared eagle-trapping territory with those two tribes north of the Black Hills in the latter-18th century (Bowers, 1950: 210).

The trailer of the Cheyenne's elaborate headdress is tied around his waist, and he has tucked the end of the trailer up into his belt so that he can run freely. Whenever a Plains Indian drawing shows a person's clothing tucked up in this way, the intended inference is to running.

The headdress is crowned with a pair of buffalo horns painted red, their tips heated then slightly recurved, and ornamented with red-dyed horsehair. Note that the man's face paint echoes these red horns. Both sets of horns probably refer not to actual buffalo, but to some visionary connection with the Ax'xe, a monstrous, subterranean bull-like creature thought to devour humans, which figures in numerous Cheyenne myths. The Ax'xe was inspired by Cheyenne discoveries of fossilized bones of Tyrannosaurs, and other genuine monsters, long before paleontologists stumbled onto the same. See Grinnell, 1923, I: 98-99; Kroeber, 1900: 182-83; and Petter, 1915: 717.

In regard to such war paints, and their relationship to protective shields and warrior society lances, George Bent reported:

"Warriors painted their faces and bodies with red paint, yellow, pink, white, green, blue and black paint. This was all Indian paint they get themselves. In fact, it is clay they dug among some hills up north. Old men that had [the rights to] these shields and spears...made them for young men. No man can make these unless he had [dreamed] them himself. Young man takes pipe to him to make these for him, and tells him what he is going to pay him...This man that is going to make Shield or Medicine Spear or Lance calls in all them that have same shield or spear, in lodge. Then feast, smoking and medicine making goes on. It takes whole day to do this" (Bent, 1904-1918: Jan. 24, 1906).

If the Cheyenne's bold gesture had resulted in his death, the consequences for his family and friends would have been far different than the celebration which Arrow's drawing prefigures here:

Sometimes after the death in war of a young man with many relatives, a long line of mourning women was seen marching around the camp, their legs bare and bleeding. If the young man owned a war-bonnet, the first woman might carry it; another might carry the lance; his horses might be...painted as for war, with tails tied up, and feathers in manes and tails..." (Grinnell, 1923, II: 161).

Grinnell notes further that although the dead man's personal possessions were usually laid away with his body, if he had a cougarskin case for his bow and arrows, generally it would be presented to a close friend (Grinnell, 1923, II: 160). Presumably, this was because mountain lions were difficult to hunt; and the pelts---especially spotted ones of yearling animals, such as the cat shown in Plate 126---were coveted, and overlain with rich, symbolic associations.

Such a combined bowcase-quiver of cougarskin is shown lying in the right foreground of Arrow's drawing. For other examples see Hoebel & Petersen, 1964: Plates 1-4. The quiver shown here is cut from the rump of a cougarskin, so that the tail, backed with red wool cloth, hangs at the open mouth of the arrow container. Here, the tail lies to the right, shown as a long, red triangle. The open mouth of the quiver is ornamented and reinforced with rolled beadwork around the edge, and further decorated with fringe at top and bottom. A strip of the skin about six inches wide, including the fore and hind legs with both paws, is cut from each side of the pelt. Each of these strips is sewn into a tube. One is tied along one side of the quiver, fixed at two points, forming the bowcase. The other is looped over the quiver at right angles, attached at the same two points as the bowcase, and becomes the carrying strap. One cougar paw hangs at the bottom of the bowcase, with the other forming a fold-over flap at the top, to protect the bow from moisture. The paws at either end of the suspension strap also become decorative pendants, with a strip of red wool cloth tied above each paw. See Holm, 1981: Fig. 2, for a diagram showing how such a bowcase-quiver is constructed. An 1875 photograph of the Southern Cheyenne Feathered Wolf carrying a cougarskin bowcase-quiver is in Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 20.

Other Plains tribes, principally Arapahoes, Sioux, Kiowas, Comanches and Utes, made structurally similar cases of cougarskin. One added feature shown here, unique to the Cheyennes, is the decorative panel of printed calico, or perhaps silk, which is sewn over the quiver, and which would float like a banner when the wearer was on horseback.

Although the structures shown at left are simplified, and might be interpreted in various ways, the style of baby carrier is very specific, and can only depict that of the Utes. Comparison with the photos given in Cowdrey, 1999: Figs. 21 & 22 will make this clear.

The absence of any blood on the baby denotes the Bowstring warrior chose not to harm it, but merely to shame its parents by demonstrating that he might have done so, due to their neglect.

Among the most famous Cheyenne warriors of the 19th century was one who was captured as a young boy in 1858, from the Utes. This was Yellow Nose, trained and reared by the Dog Soldier chief Lean Bear, and later by Spotted Wolf. During a fight in 1865, when still a boy, Yellow Nose was shot through the chest by U.S. soldiers, but managed to stay on his horse and outride the men who tried to kill him. In 1876, at the Battle of the Little Bighorn, it was Yellow Nose who rode straight through the soldiers' defensive line at Calhoun Hill, capturing their guidon with which he counted coup, and precipitating the panicked rout which culminated in the annihilation of Col. Custer's entire command within minutes afterward (Hyde, 1968: 192 & 297; Grinnell, 1915: 201 & 351).

As a baby, Yellow Nose was swaddled in a cradle like the one shown here; and his future was altered dramatically in a scene much like the one which Arrow has depicted.


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