Plains Indian Ledger Art: Arrow's Elk Society Ledger - PLATE 70

Arrow's Elk Society Ledger

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Document Info

Page No. 70
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

As noted earlier with Plate 32, most U.S. Army units had many dogs tagging along when they were on campaign. Some of these were mongrels belonging to the enlisted men. Others were pedigreed hunting dogs, kept by many officers for running wild game. During attacks on Indian villages, the "game" became women and children, and the dogs did their part in spreading confusion and terror. These were not small dogs, but breeds like greyhound, Irish wolfhound and Scottish staghound---the dog which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle immortalized in "The Hound of the Baskervilles", with bone-crushing jaws, and trained to rip out the throat of elk, or anything else that it attacked.

Lt. Col. George A. Custer kept 80 staghounds, and brought half a dozen of them along on his campaigns of 1867, 1868-69, 1873, 1874 and 1876 (Custer, 1874: 79, 172, 217-18; Wagner, 1934: 56-57 & 127). Compare the animals shown here, and in Plate 156, with the Scottish staghounds surrounding Custer in Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 33. Arrow is not depicting the actual dogs that belonged to Custer, for this period is several years after Custer had left the Southern Plains; but these animals are typical of hunting dogs kept by many officers of the U.S. Army. Custer's striker, or personal aide, described the temperament of the Colonel's favorite staghound, named Bleucher:

"One time...on a huntin' trip...Bleuch caught and held a big elk...til Custer killed it. The elk put up an awful fight. Bleuch was a vicious dog and he hung on even [after] he was torn up considerable. {After} the General shot the elk Bleuch lay limp, bleedin' at the [nostrils]...

"We had a hard time gittin' him back to camp, him bein' too big to carry on our saddles" (Wagner, 1934: 103-04).

The same dog was taken along by Custer during his attack on Black Kettle's Cheyenne village at the Washita in November 1868. From his own description, after his troops had attacked at dawn, and occupied the Cheyenne village:

"...Bleucher, seeing the [Cheyennes] riding and yelling as if engaged in the chase, dashed from the village and joined the Indians, who no sooner saw him than they shot him through with an arrow. Several months afterward I discovered his remains on the ground..."(Custer, 1874: 366-67).

From this disingenuous account one might gather that it had all been a lark, gone sadly awry. One finds no mention here of thirty men, women and children blasted to pieces, and pulled down by dogs in the snow. The Cheyennes had both cause, and good sense: OF COURSE they shot the hell hound.

When it suited him, Custer was adroit at dissembling. There had been an earlier scene on the same morning:

"The plan of attack having been announced, the columns were ordered to move at once to their respective positions, as only about an hour remained until daybreak. As Major Elliott's column moved out a number of dogs belonging to the command followed, and as it was feared that they would alarm the Indians prematurely, some of the men were directed to catch them and strangle them with lariat ropes, and dispatch them with knives..." (Utley, 1977: 220).

It is noteworthy that the commander did not have his own dogs dispatched, but only those belonging to his men. HIS dogs, we understand, were valuable.

Major Elliott, whom the dogs had tried to follow, during the attack led another officer and sixteen enlisted men three miles beyond the village, as they chased a group comprised largely of women and children. The soldiers were unaware that hundreds of allied Arapaho and Kiowa warriors, hearing gunfire from the nearby Cheyenne village, were coming speedily to assist. Elliott's men rode directly into this relief force, were quickly surrounded, and eventually wiped out (Grinnell, 1915: 302-05; Hyde, 1968: 318-22).

Custer, seeing the approach of additional Indians, left Elliott and his men to their fate, and withdrew after burning Black Kettle's village. For this he was both blamed and censured by fellow officers. It was, in fact, but a few weeks later, when he was ordered back to search for Elliott's missing men that, as he says, Custer discovered the remains of the dead staghound. In his memoir (1874: 217), Custer refers to Bleucher by name, as his "faithful companion...destined to...finally meet death in a tragic manner." The names of the enlisted men whom he sacrificed are not even mentioned. Major Elliott is mentioned less often than the dog.

The Cheyennes, through painful experience, came to associate these vicious canines with the loss of their homes and relatives. For further example, during Gen. Hancock's campaign of 1867, he and his officers, including Custer, had so many hunting dogs along that they seem to populate the scene as the Dog Soldier village on the Pawnee Fork (111 lodges---Powell, 1981: 462-73) goes up in flames---see Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 34. With very good reason, Cheyennes tried to kill such dogs wherever they found them.

Although Arrow's drawing gives few clues to the identity of the man portrayed, it is likely that this, too, is a self-portrait. The white shirt with red stripes is repeated in the following drawing, where the little feather tied to the horse's tail assures us that is Arrow. The blue riding pad may be repeated in Plates 76, 79, 80, 86, 88 and 104, although here it is given a white binding. It is doubtful that if this encounter had happened to another Cheyenne, Arrow would have been inspired to record it.

The striped shirt is of commercial manufacture, with a high, buttoned collar indicated by the open loop below the throat. Compare the shirts in Plates 104 & 136. Here, over the collar, Arrow wears a choker made of dentalium shells strung in rows between leather spacers that have been painted red. This necklace appears again in Plate 148. His leggings and blanket are of dark blue (black) trade cloth, worn with a contrasting breechcloth of the same material in red. The blanket is held in place by a cartridge belt.

Arrow has wrapped his hair with striped red-and-blue cloth, topped by a straw hat with blue band. From under this hat hangs a string of small, rectangular, nickel-silver plates. This strip is tied to the top of his scalplock, and the end secured under his left hairwrap. Compare Plates 144 & 154, where this fashion can be seen in more detail.

Arrow's horse is dressed with his standard headstall of nickel-silver. Here, however, the chin strap is indicated in red---a detail which the artist usually omits. Compare Plates 132 & 165, in which other chin straps are indicated. Aside from its headstall, the horse has received no preparation for anything other than a pleasant ride: the artist was not expecting any trouble, nor to encounter this dog.

Compare the handgun seen only partly here, with its full appearance in Plates 37, 72 and 86. With its slim barrel, square cylinder case, and walnut handgrip extending to the base of the hammer, Arrow's pistol most closely resembles the Whitney Navy revolver, 11,000 of which had been purchased for use of Union cavalrymen during the Civil War. The more common Remington Army revolver is similar in appearance, but has a rectangular cylinder case, and a tapering profile below the barrel (compare Woodhead, 1996: 65-66).

Arrow has fired two shots at the staghound, indicated both by the dual muzzle blasts, and the black bullets whistling past the target. We may judge that the dog escaped; else Arrow would have shown it wounded.


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