INDIANS OF THE PLAINS
These collections of the American Museum of Natural History have been secured from among those tribes of Indians living on the Plains and Prairies west of the Mississippi where formerly ranged the vast herds of buffalo. The flesh of these animals formerly comprised the main article of food of these Indians; the tipi was their home, and the horse with the travois—an A-shaped drag frame of poles their means of transportation.
The cases are so arranged as to separate those tribes designated as Village Indians from the Nomadic Indians, the latter constituting the majority of the Plains Indians.
In the quadrangle between the entrance from the Woodlands Hall and the exit leading to the Southwest Hall, will be found the specimens obtained from the Village Indians, while the southern and western portions of the hall contain typical material secured from the Nomadic Indians.
The plains indians Village tribes include the Hidatsa, Mandan, Santee-Dakota, Osage, Iowa, Pawnee and Wichita, and excellent examples of their handicraft, consisting of decorated parfleches, used for packing clothing, interesting types of basketry, skin vessels, horn spoons, samples of pottery, clothing, decorated buffalo robes and implements used in their games and ceremonials, are displayed.
Representative of the symbolic designs used by the plains indians in their various decorated articles, is a miniature baby board in the Pawnee series. This baby board is symbolic in the sense that it was not made for actual use but was given to a little girl at a ceremony as a part of the prayer for her future well-being. If in the future children should be born to her, a larger board would be made after this pattern. The designs at the head of the board represent the morningstar surrounded by rainbows, the idea being that a child placed on such a board would be under the direct protection of the morningstar, eveningstar and the four gods in the west,—lightning, thunder, clouds and wind.
On the top of the right-hand wall case may be seen the primitive round "bull" boats, made by stretching buffalo skins over wooden frames, used by the Hidatsa Indians, and near the center aisle a model of a Hidatsa earth-lodge from the original formerly standing on the Fort Berthold Reservation, North Dakota, which well depicts in miniature the home life of this tribe.
On the south side of the hall and in the Tower Room adjoining is a comprehensive series of specimens collected among the Plains Cree, Assiniboine, Dakota, Sioux, Crow, Sarsi and Blackfoot Indians.
In the wall case on the left is a valuable lot of specimens collected by the late Colonel Sword. One of the most important objects in this collection is a decorated war shirt of mountain sheep skin. According to tradition, such shirts were formerly worn only by the four head chiefs of the tribe. The fineness of the porcupine quillwork on the costumes and medicine bags and the interesting bead decorations on the leggings and sandals are especially noteworthy.
Displayed in the Assiniboine case are fine examples of porcupine quill and beadwork. These plains indians show a preference in their decorative art for dark backgrounds; some show blue or purple, and they have made frequent use of the square (box), cross and feather patterns. In moccasin decoration this tribe used practically every type of design found in the northern plains.
From the Dakota Indians are articles of dress decorated with porcupine quillwork, implements used in their daily life and excellent examples of catlinite pipes of the best known types made by the Dakota; some of the specimens were collected as early as 1840. The painted robe of buffalo hide, bearing a design known as the Black War Bonnet pattern, is undoubtedly one of the finest robes in existence.
Conspicuous in this collection of the American Museum of Natural History are the costumes worn by those plains indians who participated in the Ghost Dance, a religious ceremony founded upon the belief in the coming of a Messiah, which resulted in the tragic death, on December 15, 1890, of Sitting Bull, and which terminated with the massacre of Wounded Knee on December 29 of the same year. These garments, bearing decorative symbolic designs, were worn by all the participants in the Ghost Dance and were believed by them to be bullet proof.
From the Crow Indians are the regalia worn by the members of secret organizations known as the Big Dog Society, Military Society and Tobacco Society, as well as specimens of their clothing and personal accessories handsomely decorated with bead and quillwork.
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