Pictographic Buffalo Robe
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Plains Indian (Mandan) Pictographic Buffalo Robe

Plains Indian (Mandan) Pictographic Buffalo Robe

This was a personal wearing robe with the head and legs intact. It served as a historic record of coups by a particular society covering many years.

Mandan

This robe is one of the most recognizable examples of early Native American art. The warriors and horses are shown in stick-figure fashion. Several artists were involved in the painting recognizable by the manner in which people and horses are drawn. Tribes are shown by the hair style. The long hair are Arikara, the hair tied in a bun are Hidatsa and the short haired are Sioux. The men have their legs shaded black for artistic effect, but are fighting naked. Most have a bow with the quiver in front for easy access to their arrows. Flintlock guns, when shown, still have the warrior with the faster-firing bow and arrow. The war leader is the figure in the bottom row with the feather bonnet, peace pipe and green shield.

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Plains Indian (Mandan) Pictographic Buffalo Robe


Plains Indian (Mandan) Pictographic Buffalo Robe, detail of warriors 1

The narrative structure of this robe organizes the sixty-four figures into combinations of twenty-two episodes of combat. Most groupings show two warriors near each other with the hero hitting his enemy using a bow, spear, club or gun. There are twenty men on horseback, but many are on foot because horses were not plentiful in 1805. The battles on this robe show the Sioux and Arikara against the Mandan and Hidatsa.

Picture 1 shows a Hidatsa (hair tied in a bun) holding a red shield while astride a buckskin horse. He strikes an Arikara (with long hair) using his war club and bow.

Picture 2 shows dotted lines connecting a warrior on a roan horse to his victims. He first strikes a sash wearer who has a muzzleloader and powder horn.  His second victim is a warrior holding a bow and quiver (upper left). He also counts coup on a warrior shown with a single, long braid (upper right). Each figure drawn is identifiable by his shield, weaponry or horse.

Plains Indian (Mandan) Pictographic Buffalo Robe, detail of warriors2
Plains Indian (Mandan) Pictographic Buffalo Robe, detail of warriors3

Picture 3 illustrates an Arikara warrior with a bear shield connected  to an adversary. The Arikara points his gun at the adversary indicating that he is counting coup. Nearby another Arikara warrior holding a quirt and on a paint horse counts coup with a flintlock on an enemy (five eagle feathers in his hair).

center above quill strip Plains Indian (Mandan) Pictographic Buffalo Robe, detail of warriors4
Plains Indian (Mandan) Pictographic Buffalo Robe, detail of warriors5

Picture 5 shows the leader of the expedition with a peace pipe and warbonnet. His green shield would have identified the name of this person to those “reading” this robe.

 

Artifacts by Sioux Replications / All images © Franz Brown


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