Plains Indian Ledger Art: Arrow's Elk Society Ledger - PLATE 148

Arrow's Elk Society Ledger

No. 48 of 85
Next Plate Previous Plate
» Next in Search
« Previous in Search
Index of this Ledger
View Plate in Store
Add to Gallery

Document Info

Page No. 148
Dimensions: 8.5 * 14 inches inches


Cheyenne, 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

At first glance this appears to be rather a simple drawing showing two women and a man, whom we recognize as Arrow from the blue-stripe leggings previously seen in Plates 106 & 124. In compositional terms it is one of Arrow's most sophisticated drawings, including two figures shown in frontal (or rear) perspective, rather than the standard profile. The central figure's seated pose, apparently on a rock, is also a compositional departure.

This is Arrow's best self-portrait, showing himself engaged in smiling conversation, painted and dressed in his finest, and the object of rapt adoration from the young lady at the left. The double-width courting blanket Arrow wears, composed of red and blue halves, was a style of long preference among the Cheyennes. Writing in 1820, Edwin James observed:

"Another species of garment, in their the cloth robe, which is of ample dimensions, simple in form, one half red and the other blue, thrown loosely about the person, and at a little distance, excepting the singular arrangement of colors, resembling a Spanish cloak" (James, 1823, II: 181-82).

But what is really occurring in this drawing? Arrow appears to be talking with the central figure, rather than with his sweetheart; and if this is a "courting scene", why is a third party involved at all? The central person cannot be the girl's mother, whom a male suitor would avoid like Death itself.

The answer lies in one of the most important and interesting social roles of Cheyenne society, that of the He'eman (plural, He'emaneo) or halfman-halfwoman, sometimes called a "two-spirit person", or in ethnological terminology a berdache. These were individuals who, in varying degree, combined the sensibilities, as well as the talents, of both sexes. Cheyenne people consider them to be neither male nor female, but a superior combination of the two, a THIRD gender.

Genetically, the He'eman was born male, but at an early age evidenced a preference for female occupations, and female dress. With the physical strength of a man, he became accomplished in the female arts of hide tanning, lodge making, sewing, and the sophisticated embroidery in quillwork or glass beads which was the hallmark of the elite Women's Sewing Society (see Marriott, 1956; Coleman, 1980). Their characteristic industriousness made the He'emaneo wealthy, and they generally owned the largest and finest tipis.

" androgynous shamans [He'emaneo] were able to transcend the worlds and the crafts of male and female, drawing them together in a unity stronger than either" (Coleman, 1998: 59-60).

Partaking of both sexes, they excelled in knowledge of sexual matters: advising women on gynecology and childbirth; advising men on sexual technique, and the construction of courting flutes; and preparing for both women and men the exotic mixtures of perfumed herbs---such as Arrow and his Nisson comrade wear constantly on their brass-bead bandoliers---which might make them irresistable. He'emaneo were recognized as being especially adept at the sacred communication of dreams, so that all they did had the character of supernatural sanction.

Regardless of their feminine demeanor, He'emaneo commonly accompanied war parties, as cooks and doctors; and some He'emaneo were accomplished at the male craft of stealing horses from the enemy. A Northern Cheyenne He'eman named Pipe, with two others, stole forty mules from Fort C.F. Smith, M.T., in the summer of 1867 (Marquis, 1931: 13).

Other He'emaneo married men, and fulfilled all the functions of a dutiful wife (Kroeber, 1902: 19-20). In a misinterpreted drawing by Howling Wolf (Furst, 1982: 203), an elaborately-clothed He'eman wife, wearing both a female dress and a male breechcloth, hands a pipe and tobacco bag to her husband, a prominent officer of the Bowstring Society.

Another misinterpreted composition by Howling Wolf (Szabo, 1994b: Fig. 41; Berlo, 1996: Cat. No. 48) shows a He'eman wearing both a dress and a breechcloth, mediating a confrontation between an irate wife, and her drunken husband. This is the role that a priest might fill in Euro-American society. The He'emaneo certainly functioned as social advisors and counselors among the Cheyennes.

"They were very popular and especial favorites of young people...for they were noted matchmakers. They were fine love talkers" (Grinnell, 1923, II: 39).

Unquestionably that is what Arrow has depicted in this drawing: a He'eman positioned between himself and the (current) girl of his dreams. Note that although the central figure is entirely in female dress, "her" shoulders are wider than Arrow's own---twice as wide as those of the young woman at the left. Lacking a chaperone, it would be socially impossible for a young, Cheyenne woman to meet a young man, without destroying her own reputation. But in the presence of the He'eman, the couple and talk and joke with each other, and become acquainted; while the girl's parents, and all the otherwise gossiping neighbors, would essentially ignore the tryst.

In the 1860's and 1870's, the most-prominent He'eman among the Southern Cheyennes (Grinnell says the ONLY one) was named Good Road (Grinnell, 1923, II: 39-40), or Glad Road, Voeseme (Petter, 1915: 732). James Mooney collected a replica of Glad Road's painted tipi design, with facing horses at the center rear (Field Museum, Cat. No. 96960). The original of this exact tipi, with its owner, was photographed somewhere in western Kansas by Charles William Carter, ca. 1867 (see Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 53a & b). This is the earliest-known photograph of a two-spirit person. (Cowdrey, 1999: Fig. 53a is also available Online, in the Denver Public Library collection:

Search by "Call number browse", catalog number X-32023.) The tipi's owner wears a long, dress-like "shirt", with male leggings, a horned, eagle-feather headdress, and is holding a cavalry saber. It is nearly a certainty that Glad Road, the noted He'eman, is the same person whom Arrow has depicted here.

Grinnell (1923, II: 40) says that Glad Road died in 1879, and he was at some pains to assure his essentially Victorian audience that Glad Road had been the "last" He'eman in the Cheyenne tribe. The very next year, however, Col. Richard Dodge observed and recorded the emergence of a new He'eman, although he had no understanding of what he saw:

"At the very last Cheyenne dance that I attended [ca. 1880] I saw the only instance of anything like masquerade that I have ever seen among Indians, though I have heard it is not uncommon. One of three very pretty and bright little girls, of ten to twelve years old, had, with the forwardness of their age, gained the leadership in almost every figure. Two of them were well known, but the other was for a long time supposed to be a stranger, creating no little wonderment. Finally, a young man whith whom she was dancing discovered that 'she' was a boy dressed in his sister's clothing. The little rascal had played his part so well as to mystify the whole party for half the night, and with so pretty, sprightly, and NATURAL an action, that half the men in the dance had made love to him. It was considered a wonderful feat, and made great sport" (Dodge, 1882: 377).


+ Add CommentAll Comments For This Ledger
No comments found.