A Plains Indian Hide Painting, on a "split robe", as indicated by the longitudinal seam in this buffalo hide. Probably depicting a war record, the picture shows a colorful cavalcade of four rows of equestrian Indian warriors in full regalia of warbonnets, feathered shields, lances and coup sticks. Red, yellow, black, blue and green pigments.
Expertly tanned by women, buffalo hides were utilized by men in the recording and proclaiming of their war exploits. In their monochrome colored drawings these Plains Indians developed a vigorous art style, which reflected the martial spirit of the their nomadic life style. This hide painting is representative of the style which replaced more archaic pictographs after c. 1860, particularly among the Western Sioux, Cheyennes, and their neighbors of the central northern Plains.
Characteristic is the increasing range of flat colors, the attention given to detail, the arrangement of figures in a number of rows, one above the other, all moving in the same direction, from right to left. The narrative character of these drawings promoted the detailed picturing of identifying elements: shields, headdresses, fur-wrapped lances, and other regalia. The apparent popularity of dark cloth coats suggests a circa 1870 date of the pictured event(s). It is also interesting to note that there are several lances which could possibly be identified to specific societies. An autobiographical quality is suggested by the lone horseman at the bottom of the composition.
Drs. T.J. Brasser Christie's Consultant
The collection history of this piece adds another dimension to the importance of the robe. Lt. G.G. Greenough of the 4th Artillery was attached to General George Crook during his second winter campaign in 1876. The 4th artillery was acting as infantry during this campaign.
Traveling out of Fort Fetterman they moved toward the Sioux and Cheyenne who had taken refuge along the headwaters of the Tongue and Powder Rivers after the Little Big Horn Battle. The followers of the Cheyenne chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf had camped at the head of the Willow Creek in the Big Horn Mountains and this is where Colonel Mackenzie and his cavalry unit, under Crook, discovered them on November 25, 1876.
Mackenzie's troop attacked the village of two hundred and five lodges and routed the Cheyennes. They captured the camp, and seven hundred and five horses. Mackenzie sent word to Crook and the rest of the column to come and help with the long rifles of the infantry to dislodge the Cheyenne still holding out in the high rocks. The captured camp was looted and the lodges, buffalo meat, valuable robes, ammunition, saddles, and "the comforts of civilization - in very appreciable quantities", were burned. The battle was one of the largest in the war and effectively ended the Northern Cheyenne participation in the Indian wars.
One could hypothesize that this robe was booty from this campaign. The split hide itself indicates the robe was tanned for Indian use, and the pictographs probably depicting interribal warfare also indicates this robe was made for Indian use. Typically such robes were created "to preserve a public record of these exploits, Plains men painted representational scenes on leather robes, tipi covers, and tipi linings...Its elements included episodic, non-chronlogical narrative content, precision in recording details of war equipment, and a stylization characterized by the flat, two dimensional treatment of each figure (Conn. p. 139)."
Paul Raczka Christie's Consultant