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Title: Some Protective Designs of the Dakota
Author: Wissler, Clark
Language: English
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                         ANTHROPOLOGICAL PAPERS

                                 OF THE

                       American Museum of Natural

                            Vol. I, Part II.



                             CLARK WISSLER.

                               NEW YORK:
                  Published by Order of the Trustees.
                            February, 1907.

                  American Museum of Natural History.

The results of research conducted by the Anthropological staff of the
Museum, unless otherwise provided for, are published in a series of
octavo volumes of about 350 pages each, issued in parts at irregular
intervals, entitled Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of
Natural History. The Anthropological work of the Museum is organized
under two heads. The Department of Ethnology exercises curatorial
functions in ethnography, ethnology and physical anthropology and in all
archæology except that pertaining to the present confines of Mexico and
the Central American States which has been delegated to a distinct
department entitled the Department of Archæology. This series of
publications aims to give the results of field-work conducted by the
above departments, supplemented by the study of collections in the
Museum. The editorial responsibilities are administered by the Curator
of the Department of Ethnology.

The following are on sale at the Museum at the prices stated.

   Vol. I. Part I. Technique of some South American Feather-work. By
                   W. Mead. Pp. 1-18, Plates I-IV, and 14 text figures.
                   1907. Price, $0.25.

          Part II. Some Protective Designs of the Dakota. By Clark
                   Pp. 19-54, Plates V-VII, and 26 text figures, February,
                   Price, $0.50.

                         ANTHROPOLOGICAL PAPERS

                                 OF THE


                            VOL. I, PART II.


                           BY CLARK WISSLER.


               GHOST-DANCE DESIGNS
               THE HOOP
               THE WHIRLWIND
               THE THUNDER
               THE SPIDER


            V. Model of a Shield, Museum No. 50-2929. Diameter,
                 39 cm.
           VI. Shield-design on a Cape, Museum No. 50-3102. Width
                 of cape, 178 cm.
          VII. Model of a Shield, Museum No. 50-5467. Diameter,
                 46 cm.

                             TEXT FIGURES.

            1. Shield-cover with Design
            2. Shield-design, from a Drawing by a Native
            3. Drawing, by a Native, of a Shield-cover
            4. Shield-design, from a Drawing by a Native
            5. Spider-design for a Shield, from a Drawing by a
            6. Shield-design, from a Drawing by the Man who
                 dreamed of it
            7. Shield-design representing a Thunderstorm, from a
                 Drawing by a Native
            8. Model of a Shield with Pictographic Design
            9. Design on Sioux Shield captured by a Fox Indian
           10. Front of a Ghost-dance Garment
           11. Back of Garment shown in Fig. 10
           12. Designs on the Front of Ghost-dance Garment
           13. Designs on the Back of Garment shown in Fig. 12
           14. Front of a Ghost-dance Garment bearing Dragon-fly
           15. Back of Garment shown in Fig. 14
           16. Circular Design upon a Shirt
           17. Sketch, by a Native, of an Elk-mystery Dancer
                 carrying a Hoop with a Mirror in the Centre
           18. Engraved Metal Cross
           19. Engraved Bone Object
           20. Whirlwind Design, from the Handle of a Club
           21. Whirlwind Design, from a Popgun
           22. Whistle, of Bone
           23. Design of a Spider-web
           24. Sketch of a Robe for the Medicine-bow Owner
           25. Design on a Metal Belt-ornament
           26. Design of the Spider-web on a Straight Pipe


The decorative art of the Dakota has been treated in a preceding paper,
in which brief mention was made of religious art, or that art in which
there was a definite, unmistakable motive on the part of the artist to
represent mythical or philosophical ideas. In this more serious art, a
large number of designs may be characterized as “protective designs,”
because their presence or possession is in part a protection. The idea
in a protective design seems to be a symbolical appeal to the source or
concrete manifestation of a protective power. It is not easy to get the
point of view and the spirit of the faith that make these designs
significant, but from the detailed explanations of them some general
idea can be formed. The descriptions given in this paper are based upon
the statements of Indians, in most cases the executers of the designs.
The attitude of the reader toward such a study as this is often that of
concluding that the points of view set forth by a writer are universal
in the tribe. This leads to a great deal of superficial criticism. In
the opinion of the writer, any rejection of such study because one or
two or several Indians deny all knowledge of some or all of the specific
native accounts upon which conclusions are based, is absurd. We might as
well test the artistic sense of a city by calling in one or two persons
from the street. As a case in point, the reader is referred to the
remarks of J. Owen Dorsey on the authenticity of Bushotter’s Double
Woman.[1] A great deal of the information received from Indians relative
to religion is largely individual, and every ethnological field-worker
must take the best of his material from the brightest men of a tribe.
The object of this study has been to bring together ideas expressed by
various individuals more or less eminent among their people, because all
of these individual conceptions seem to have much in common. The data
were secured by the writer when on Museum expeditions to the Teton and
Yankton divisions of the Dakota.


[1] Dorsey (Eleventh Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology,
p. 480).


The circular shield was distributed over a large part of North America.
A conspicuous part of the arms of Mexican warriors was “the round, small
‘target’ worn by the ‘brave’ on his left arm, and made of canes netted
together and interwoven with cotton ‘twofold,’ covered on the outside
with gilded boards and with feathers, and so strong that a hard
cross-bow shot could alone penetrate them;”[2] but “merely ornamental
shields [were also] used and carried by warriors and chiefs on festive
occasions only.”[3]

According to the same author, in Pre-Columbian times some of the Pueblo
Indians used a thick disk of buffalo-hide as a shield. On the Plains,
from the Rio Grande to the Saskatchewan, the circular shield of
buffalo-hide was, until the extinction of the buffalo, a part of the
regalia of every warrior. These shields usually bore symbolic designs.
In many cases the designs were painted upon the rawhide itself, and
protected by a buckskin cover; while in other cases the designs were
painted upon the cover. Practically no shields of buffalo-hide are to be
found in the hands of the surviving Dakota; but in social and religious
ceremonies, models or shield-covers of buckskin or cloth, upon which are
painted the designs formerly placed on shields, are often used. For
purposes of study the writer secured such models of shields, with
explanations of the designs and with other shield-lore, from persons who
formerly owned buffalo-hide shields.

When the enemies of the Dakota were armed with native weapons, the
shield had some value in itself, because few arrows could get through
it, and it was of sufficient strength to ward off a blow from a club or
an axe; but even at that time the designs and medicine objects tied to
the shield seem to have been regarded as of greater importance than the
mechanical properties of the shield itself. It was the power represented
by the design to which the owner of the shield looked for protection.
Naturally, with the introduction of fire-arms, shields ceased to have a
real protective value; but their designs were still looked upon as
capable of affording protection against evil. According to the
statements of some old men who still have faith in protective designs,
the ancient shield manifested its power upon the mind of the enemy by
influencing them to shoot at the shield rather than at the exposed parts
of the body of its bearer. But when fire-arms were introduced,
experience demonstrated that the shield was no longer a desirable object
in battle, because the same influence that drew arrows to it drew
bullets also, and in this case with fatal results. From this they
concluded that guns represented a mystic power superior to that of
shield-designs, but that the latter were still efficacious, except where
so overpowered.

This explanation is interesting, because these men seem to have grasped
the idea that the shield, being a conspicuous object, would attract the
attention and thus the aim of the enemy; but they confused this
psychological explanation of the observed facts with a mystic conception
that the magic power of the design upon the shield was the cause or
force that reached out and lay hold of the attention of the enemy. Yet
the introduction of fire-arms did not relegate the shield to oblivion;
and shield-designs are still cherished by men of the olden time, because
they represent a kind of individual totem or protective power.

The following descriptions of shield-designs are given with the
interpretations of their owners.

A shield-cover decorated with feathers, bearing a design used by a chief
on ceremonial occasions, and said by him to be the copy of a shield
carried in his youth, is shown in Plate V. The black border on top of
the shield takes the form of the new moon, which it represents. In the
centre of the shield is a well executed drawing of an Indian on
horseback. The horse is in blue, with zigzag black lines extending down
the legs. The blue color of the horse indicates his connection with the
thunder, or the powers of the sky. The background of the shield is in
yellow, but the lower part has been worked over with green.
Symmetrically arranged around the mounted figure are four circles of
purplish color, representing a phenomenon observed in the sky, which
seems to have been either the halo of the sun, or the phenomenon that
passes under the name of “sun-dogs.” From the description of the owner
of the shield, it appears that these four circles were associated in his
mind with the medicine-hoop. He stated that this design as a whole was
the representation of what he saw in a dream; that the moon with its
dark color was drawn to represent the night, because that was the time
when he had this experience; and that in the dream he saw a horse and
rider appear in the sky surrounded by the four circular objects, as
indicated upon the shield. It appears from his explanation, that the
association of the rings with the medicine-hoop was his own individual
interpretation of the significance of his dream. In the dream he could
see a shield associated with these objects as they would appear in
reality; but in the design he attempted to convey an idea of what he saw
in conformity with the conventional modes of representative art
practised by his tribe.

[Illustration: Fig. 1 (50-2970). Shield-cover with Design. Diameter, 42

Another shield-cover (Fig. 1) bears a bird-design, representing to the
owner the osprey (?). One half of the background of this shield is in
yellow; the other half, in light green.[4] These two colors represent
the appearance of the sky at sunrise; the yellow corresponding to the
region of the dawn, and the green to the dark sky above. The four stars
symmetrically arranged are colored black for the night, yellow for the
dawn, blue for the evening, and red for the day; or in other words the
whole circle is represented. The design of the bird presents some
interesting details. The lightning-symbols represent the death-dealing
power conferred upon the owner of such a shield-design at the time of
his dream. The red marks upon the breast of the bird, representing the
national emblem of the United States, were interpreted by the owner as
symbolizing such death-dealing power in contending with soldiers. The
peculiar feature upon the tail of the bird represents an additional
experience, and was added to the shield about the year 1867, after a
successful engagement with the United States troops, in which the owner
of the shield participated. According to his account, the design on the
tail of the bird is the conventional symbol of the spider-web, but is
used here to represent an experience preceding the above engagement. As
the war-party were moving forward, they saw a strange appearance in the
sky, which took the form of this symbol. The sight of it caused the
war-party to scatter; and the interpretation placed upon this by the
owner was, that its manifestation of supernatural power, which was to be
conveyed to them, would cause their enemies to scatter in like
confusion. During the confusion into which the party fell, the stars
moved rapidly through the sky and the lightning flashed in all
directions. This is represented by the four corners of the design. At
the top of the shield is a braid of sweet-grass and a small buckskin bag
containing medicines of a supposed charm-value. Before going into
battle, some of this sweet-grass was to be burnt, and ritualistic songs
pertaining to the shield were to be sung. This having been done, the
shield was supposed to protect its owner from his enemies. Eight
feathers, arranged in pairs, are attached to the shield, and their
quills are painted to correspond to the parts of the background to which
they are attached.

[Illustration: Fig. 2. Shield-design,
 from a Drawing by a Native.]

There is one interesting feature connected with this shield-design, and
that is the fact that some of the old men disapproved of the owner
placing the spider-web design upon the tail of the bird, because it was
a mixing of supernatural manifestations. The incident connected with
this design was regarded by them as most extraordinary, and as having
been worthy of distinct and separate representation. According to the
accepted modes of interpretation, this experience should have been
represented upon a new shield.

The specimen shown in Plate VI is not a shield-cover, but was
nevertheless spoken of as a shield; and the design upon it is an old
shield-design. The specimen is a cape (made of cotton) worn around the
shoulders in such a way that the design could be seen upon the back of
the wearer. Here are represented the rainbow, the thunder-bird
(possessing in this case characteristics which indicate that it was
copied from the national emblem of the United States), the new and full
moon, and the stars. It will be observed that the stars in this case are
four-pointed, similar to the design of the spider-web, and they are
regarded by the Indians as an example of the old original method of
representing them.

[Illustration: Fig. 3. Drawing, by a Native, of a Shield-cover.]

As a great many Indians who formerly owned shields do not now possess
shield-covers, the writer secured drawings made by them of their former
shields. Such a sketch is reproduced in outline (Fig. 2). In the centre
is a design of the spider-web filled in with red. The ground of the
shield is in blue, representing the sky. Above and below are circular
areas in yellow, representing clouds or heaven. Lightning-symbols in red
connect the yellow cloud-symbols with the four corners of the spider-web
design. As a final suggestion relative to this interpretation, the
informant said, “The spider is the friend of the thunder.”

[Illustration: Fig. 4. Shield-design, from a Drawing by a Native.]

The manner in which the owner secured the shield-design represented in
Fig. 3 is as follows. Once when a war-party of which he was a member
were about to take the war-path, it was predicted by an old man that he
would be killed in the first battle. Before leaving with the party, he
went to an old medicine-man for help, and this man made him a shield
bearing the design described below. The bird represented is the
hawk,—flying from the sky, protected by the thunder from the hailstones
that fly thick and fast about him,—and symbolizes the manner in which
the owner of the shield will pass safely through the hail of lead from
the enemy. Four pairs of hawk-feathers are arranged symmetrically on the
circumference of the shield.

In the shield-design in Fig. 4, we find a large circular area in the
centre painted yellow and the surrounding portion red. Around the
circumference of the yellow portion are black spots, representing tufts
of short crow-feathers. Upon the original shield, across the top, there
was tied the skin of a weasel, represented in the drawing by a
pictograph of that animal. Four pairs of feathers are arranged
symmetrically on the circumference of this design.

The design represented by Fig. 5 is rather striking, since an image of
the spider is placed in the centre of the shield surrounded by a circle
of red, through which the numerous red lines radiate to the
circumference of the design. These red lines represent the web of the
spider. One end of a string is tied to the mouth of the spider, with an
eagle-plume at the other end, painted yellow. Around the circumference
of the design is a wavy blue line, representing water. The owner of this
design received such a shield when a young man, and stated that he never
understood why the medicine-man who made it for him placed the blue line
around it, and for that reason he could not explain its significance.

[Illustration: Fig. 5. Spider-design for a Shield, from a
 Drawing by a Native.]

The design represented in Fig. 6 was dreamed of by the owner himself,
and in this dream he was presented with a shield bearing a design
similar to the sketch. As he was almost blind, the sketch is very crude.
In it appear again the thunder-bird, the stars, the yellow clouds, the
red and blue lightning, the new moon, and the bear. It was claimed that
the curved double line at the bottom represented both the moon and the
lightning; the former by the colors, the latter by its form. Another
interesting point in this design is the representation of an
eagle-feather upon the head of the bear. This is the conventional way of
representing a supernatural bear as distinguished from a real bear.[5]
The owner of this shield-design claimed, that, while he did not now and
had not for years carried or kept about him a drawing of the design, he
felt it as a kind of magic presence hovering around him, shielding him
from harm. He stated, further, that, while he knew that other men used
the symbols represented in his shield-design as the signs of particular
powers and ideas, he himself had no such interpretation; for in the
dream he saw nothing more than a shield bearing these designs, and
received no instruction or information as to their significance. Their
protecting power to him lay in the peculiar supernatural presence which
he always felt.

The shield-design in Fig. 7 represents a thunderstorm. At the top, the
clouds are represented in blue. Below this, falling rain is represented
by short irregular lines, and the lightning and thunder by zigzag lines
extending downward from the clouds on a background of clear sky. This
design originated in the same manner as did the preceding; that is, a
finished shield was seen in a dream.

[Illustration: Fig. 6. Shield-design, from a Drawing by the Man who
  dreamed of it.
 Fig. 7. Shield-design representing a Thunderstorm, from a Drawing by a

Plate VII is the reproduction of a model of a shield made of shrunken
bull-hide covered with buckskin. It was collected by Dr. J. R. Walker.
The design is somewhat similar to the preceding. The upper part is
painted in blue to represent the clouds, and the lower part in
bluish-green to represent the sky. In the cloud-area is the drawing of a
horse, symbolizing a dream-horse (probably the thunder-horse). The
thunder, or power, is symbolized by red zigzag lines extending downward
from the cloud-area. An eagle-feather and twelve hawk-feathers are tied
to a small buckskin bag of medicine, fastened to the shield in a manner
suggesting their attachment to the mane of the horse. The circumference
of the shield is decorated with small feathers, and four pairs of
eagle-feathers are also arranged symmetrically around the circumference.

[Illustration: Fig. 8 (50-5456). Model of a Shield
 with Pictographic Design. Diameter, 47 cm.]

A shield (Fig. 8) similar to the preceding represents a vision in which
the dreamer was apparently supported by the thunder-horse in a contest
with the mythical turtle. A small bag of medicine and a pendant
eagle-plume are attached to the shield, as in the previous case.
Feathers are again arranged in four pairs. This specimen was collected
by Dr. J. R. Walker.

In the Museum collection from the Sauk and Fox Indians, made by Dr.
William Jones, is a shield captured from the Sioux, at the time of the
outbreak of 1866, by a Fox in the employ of the United States
Government. The design was painted upon the rawhide, but is now almost
obliterated. Fig. 9 is a diagrammatic restoration. The writer saw an old
buffalo-hide shield in the possession of an Assiniboine, at Fort
Belknap, Montana. The design was painted upon buffalo-hide, and was
similar to that in Fig. 9. He collected also from the Dakota a number of
drawings representing military exploits. While twenty shields are
represented in these drawings, fourteen of them bear simple circular
designs, as shown in the adjoining figure. This suggests that the older
type of shield-decoration made use of simple circular designs. This idea
was supported by the testimony of a number of old men who ought to be
competent to speak upon the subject. Of course, there is no reason why
the image of the thunder-bird, so common upon modern shield-designs,
should not have been used in ancient times; and the writer wishes to be
understood as expressing this as an opinion based upon indirect

[Illustration:  Fig. 9 (50-3569). Design on Sioux
 Shield captured by a Fox Indian.
 Diameter, 42 cm. ]

These circular designs often represented the sun, other heavenly bodies,
or the sky, which suggests that formerly the shield as a whole may have
been considered as a symbol of the sun. The survivors of shield-using
days seemed to have no actual knowledge of any connection between the
shield-form and the sun, but usually expressed it as their opinion that
it represented the sun, and that the feathers represented the sun’s
rays. This may have been suggested by the fact that eagle-feathers were
sometimes arranged in a half-circle to represent the rays of the sun,
and that, furthermore, the rays of the sun were sometimes spoken of as

Shield-designs could originate only in dreams and visions, and were
painted by the person experiencing them, who prayed and sang over his
work to give the shield power. Usually but four shields could be made
from a single dream: to make a great number was sacrilege. Among the
Blackfoot, the shield was often accompanied by a ritual composed of
songs and prayers; and they possessed a few shields with such important
rituals that they were distinguished from the others as
“medicine-shields.” There seems to have been a similar condition among
the Dakota, for it was often said that medicine-shields were hung
outside the tepees, upon tripods, and that during the day they were
changed from time to time so as to keep them facing the sun. This
practice was observed by a number of Plains tribes. However, among the
Dakota the tripod often gave place to a single pole.


[2] Bandelier (Reports of the Peabody Museum, Vol. II, p. 109).

[3] Bandelier, op. cit., p. 108.

[4] In the drawings, colors are indicated by the following devices: red,
by horizontal shading; yellow, by vertical shading; green, by left
oblique shading; blue or purple, by right oblique shading. Black and
white have their conventional qualities. The drawings were made by Miss
R. B. Howe.

[5] For an illustration see Catlin, North American Indians (7th ed.,
1848), Plate 102.

                          GHOST-DANCE DESIGNS.

About the year 1890 a religious movement, generally known as the
“ghost-dance religion,” infected the Plains Indians. The chief feature
of this religion was the belief in a speedy return of the old time, the
buffalo, and the extermination of the white race. The different tribes
had various ideas of their duties with respect to this new faith, and,
with the exception of the Dakota, they did not manifest direct hostility
to the white race. This warlike people, however, were already greatly
dissatisfied with the treatment they received from the Government and
with the difficult conditions under which they lived. In consequence,
they received the ghost-dance religion as a herald of the good time
which, to their minds, was to be secured only by war with the white
race. While a great many of the conditions in the immediate environment
of the Dakota have been given by various writers as causes for the
outbreak, the fact that these Indians interpreted the new religion as
the manifestation of a warlike spirit was probably due to the fact that
they were at heart a warlike people. Their ideas still run toward
military things. As the essential idea of the ghost-dance religion was a
return of the old time, the ceremonies pertaining thereto made use of
the typical objects and ideas of the past. In this, of course, they were
not entirely consistent, since they did not discard the use of
fire-arms, and did not actually resurrect bows, arrows, and shields.
Yet, as a substitute for the protective power of the shield, they
introduced garments bearing protective designs. These garments are
generally known under the name of “ghost-shirts,” and at the time of the
outbreak were spoken of by white people as “bullet-proof shirts.” The
following are descriptions of these garments by eye-witnesses at the
time of their first appearance:—

    “All the men and women made holy shirts and dresses they wear in
    dance. The persons dropped in dance would all lie in great dust
    the dancing make. They paint the white muslins they made holy
    dresses and shirts out of with blue across the back, and
    alongside of this is a line of yellow paint. They also paint in
    the front part of the shirts and dresses. A picture of an eagle
    is made on the back of all the shirts and dresses. On the
    shoulders and on the sleeves they tied eagle-feathers. They said
    that the bullets will not go through these shirts and dresses,
    so they all have these dresses for war. Their enemies’ weapon
    will not go through these dresses. The ghost-dancers all have to
    wear eagle-feather on head.”[6]

    “I think they wore the ghost-shirt or ghost-dress for the first
    time that day. I noticed that these were all new, and were worn
    by about seventy men and forty women. The wife of a man called
    Return-from-scout had seen in a vision that her friends all wore
    a similar robe, and on reviving from her trance she called the
    women together, and they made a great number of the sacred
    garments. They were of white cotton cloth. The women’s dress was
    cut like their ordinary dress, a loose robe with wide, flowing
    sleeves, painted blue in the neck, in the shape of a
    three-cornered handkerchief, with moon, stars, birds, etc.,
    interspersed with real feathers, painted on the waist and

    “The ghost-shirt for the men was made of the same
    material—shirts and leggings painted in red. Some of the
    leggings were painted in stripes running up and down, others
    running around. The shirt was painted blue around the neck, and
    the whole garment was fantastically sprinkled with figures of
    birds, bows and arrows, sun, moon, and stars, and everything
    they saw in nature. Down the outside of the sleeve were rows of
    feathers tied by the quill-ends and left to fly in the breeze,
    and also a row around the neck and up and down outside of the
    leggings. I noticed that a number had stuffed birds,
    squirrel-heads, etc., tied in their long hair. The faces of all
    were painted red with a black half-moon on the forehead or on
    one cheek.”[7]

[Illustration: Fig. 10 (50-3053). Front of a Ghost-dance Garment.
 Length, 126 cm. ]

As is noted by the above, designs on these garments were made by
individuals who had dreams or other unusual experiences similar to those
of the medicine-men; and it would seem from this account that the
designs and objects used in the dance were in every way similar to those
employed before the ghost-dance religion appeared. The writer made the
acquaintance of several individuals who had prepared such garments at
the time of the ghost-dance, and from them he secured reproductions with
explanations as to the significance of the designs. As some time had
elapsed since the ghost-dance religion was at the height of its
popularity, it is possible that the more special features belonging to
it were forgotten by these men, and that they worked into the reproduced
garments older and more conservative ideas. However, the writer is of
the opinion, and he took special pains to investigate as best he could,
that whatever may have been lost in this way made no important changes
in either the objective character of the designs or in the ideas
expressed by them. As a matter of fact, the ghost-dance in some of its
milder forms is still observed.

Some garments secured by the writer are decorated on both front and back
with designs chiefly pictographic. On the front of one (Fig. 10) is a
large triangular space extending downward from the shoulders (one half
of which is in red and the other half in blue), thickly dotted over with
white spots representing hailstones. The red represents the morning; and
the blue, the night. Extending across from side to side is a large
arched figure made up of red, yellow, white, and green bands,
representing the rainbow. Above this are two four-pointed stars, the red
for the morning star and the black for the stars seen in the night.
There is a large green star with eight points on the dividing-line
between day and night, concerning which I secured no satisfactory
explanation. At the apex of the triangular space are small dots of
yellow, representing the dawn; and the sun is placed on each side of the
division between day and night. The new moon is represented by a black
crescent. On the morning-side of this design is the picture of a
butterfly; while on the night-side, extending over into the morning, is
a picture of a peculiar figure, which the artist regarded as a
spirit-bird or man-bird, as he expressed it, with the medicine-hoop in
his hand. The other portion of the dress is covered over with small dots
in various colors, representing bullets. There are also pictures of
butterflies, stars, and buffalo-tracks. On one side are two parallel
wavy red lines, and on the other two in green, representing the

[Illustration: Fig. 11 (50-3053). Back of Garment
 shown in Fig. 10.]

On the other side of this garment, or the back (Fig. 11), is the
representation of a bird, which seems to be mythical rather than
realistic. The background upon which the figure rests is dotted to
represent bullets or hail, as both have the same significance. The lower
part of the garment is the most interesting. Here we have four
buffalo-tracks arranged in rectangular relation to represent buffalo,
and a circle or medicine-hoop (half of which is red and half green) with
extending lines of the same colors, representing the thunder, or its
power. The idea of this association of the hoop, or, as it is sometimes
spoken of, the mirror, is that this buffalo escapes bullets, or perhaps
is immortal. Below the sign of the buffalo is a four-pointed figure,
usually known as the spider-web design, representing the heavens; and
below this is the rainbow. Two swallows are represented connected to the
points in the spider-web design by lines, indicating that they enjoy the
protection of this power, making them difficult to hit with bullets or
other missiles.

[Illustration: Fig. 12 (50-3054). Designs on the Front of
 Ghost-dance Garment. Length, 128 cm.]

[Illustration: Fig. 13 (50-3054). Designs on the Back
 of Garment shown in Fig. 12.]

On another garment (Fig. 12), the triangular area at the top is entirely
in red, covered with white spots representing hail, and bordered with
wavy lines representing the rainbow. This represents the rainbow in the
sky. The dark crescent represents the moon. Below is a large
four-pointed star in black, representing the night, with a line
extending over each side, representing the clouds. The small disk in red
represents a bullet; and the small green crescent, the moon. Below these
is the spider-web design, representing the heavens, over the four
corners of which the lightning appears; but in this case the design is
covered with dots representing the falling of the stars. Near this
design we find the butterfly and the buffalo-tracks. The remaining space
on the whole garment is covered with patches of color, representing the
hail. On the opposite side (Fig. 13) are peculiar triangular designs,
the background of which is in red bordered by straight lines, suggesting
the rainbow; while on the red background are placed the design of the
moon and two circles in such relation as to suggest a face. This design
was spoken of as the “moon-face;” but this seems to have been an
after-interpretation, since the artist wished to represent the
medicine-hoop or mirror in the sky. [It seems likely that this is simply
an adaptation of a head-dress used in the elk ceremony.] Below this we
have a combination which appears to be the spider-web design combined
with the figure of a bird, which is said to be the dream-figure,
representing the bird seen on a tree. Below this we have the moon,
rainbow, tracks of the buffalo, stars, butterfly, and a mounted warrior
riding through the hail.

[Illustration: Fig. 14 (50-3055). Front of a Ghost-dance Garment
 bearing Dragon-fly Design. Length, 125 cm.]

In Fig. 14, the triangular space at the top is similar to that on the
preceding garment, and need not be described here. The body of the dress
is covered with dragon-flies as they appear when flying over water. The
stars represent reflections in the water; and the dashes of color, the
hail. The wavy green lines extending down the full length of the garment
represent the lightning. In this case the red at the top is spoken of as
the thunder-cloud. On the opposite side (Fig. 15), the triangular area
with its tail-like extension represents the rattlesnake. In addition we
have tracks of the buffalo dragon-fly, and butterfly, all associated as
in nature. Upon the sides of this garment are the designs of the lizard,
swallow, and turtle.

[Illustration: Fig. 15 (50-3055). Back of Garment shown in Fig. 14.]

The above detailed statements concerning the designs and their import do
not convey their full significance as it was brought out in discussions
between the writer and the men who made these garments. In the first
place we find on them symbols to be described in another section of this
paper; namely, the spider-web designs and the medicine-hoop. It will be
seen that in most cases the living creatures represented are those that
seem to have power to escape the hailstones, because, as they say, no
matter how severe the hailstorm may be, no one observes their dead or
maimed upon the ground: therefore they assume that these creatures
possess some extraordinary power, or receive the attention of some
protective power. The bird represented does not seem to be the
thunder-bird, as is usually the case in Dakota art, but such species,
usually birds of prey, as soar above the destructive range of the hail.
The lizard and the turtle are spoken of as animals of great power, since
they are killed with great difficulty, from which it follows that they
also enjoy the protection of some power. This we may generalize by
saying that the Indian placed upon these garments representations of
living creatures that, according to his observation and experience, were
seldom hit by missiles, or that possessed great vitality, making it
difficult to kill them. Placed on the garments, they express a prayer, a
hope, or an actual realization, on the part of the wearer, of the
protective power by which these creatures are enabled to survive.

The triangular designs at the top of these garments were spoken of as
shields, the idea being that they were in some measure shield-designs,
and performed the same function as did those upon shields in former
times. Mr. Mooney expresses the opinion that the protective designs on
garments used in the ghost-dance religion were not aboriginal with the

    “The protective idea in connection with the ghost-shirt does not
    seem to be aboriginal. The Indian warrior habitually went into
    battle naked above the waist. His protecting ‘medicine’ was a
    feather, a tiny bag of some sacred powder, the claw of an
    animal, the head of a bird, or some other small object which
    could be readily twisted into his hair or hidden between the
    covers of his shield, without attracting attention. Its virtue
    depended entirely on the ceremony of the consecration, and not
    on size or texture. The war-paint had the same magic power of
    protection. To cover the body in battle was not in accordance
    with Indian usage, which demanded that the warrior should be as
    free and unincumbered in movement as possible. The so-called
    ‘war-shirt’ was worn chiefly in ceremonial dress-parades, and
    only rarely on the war-path.”[8]

This statement, however, suggests that Mr. Mooney based his opinion upon
objective evidence, while the opinion expressed by the writer is based
upon subjective evidence. A comparison of the interpretations of
shield-designs and ghost-dress designs seems to leave little opportunity
for any other conclusion than that the protective designs used in the
ghost-dance were essentially the same as those used in former times upon
shields and other objects. The garments may be foreign; but the idea of
protective designs is most certainly not peculiar to the ghost-dance
religion, since it was widely distributed among American tribes, and
associated with ceremonial objects that were in use at least a century
before the ghost-dance religion appeared.

If the writer had no other information at hand than that furnished by
Mr. Mooney in his comprehensive study of the ghost-dance religion, he
would be inclined to regard the whole as the manifestation of aboriginal
religious ideas in response to a single foreign conception; namely, that
of the coming of a messiah and the destruction of the present order of
the world. The way in which the ghost-dance ceremonies were performed,
the ideas expressed in the songs, the things the priests dreamed of, and
the objects used in the ceremonies, are so characteristically Indian,
that no other interpretation seems possible. However, in the present
connection we are concerned with these designs as types of the universal
primitive expression of belief in the presence of a guiding personal
agency that looks into the affairs of men.


[6] George Sword, on Ghost-dance Religion (Fourteenth Annual Report of
the Bureau of American Ethnology, p. 798).

[7] Mrs. Z. A. Parker (Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of
American Ethnology, p. 916).

[8] Mooney (Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American
Ethnology, p. 790).

                               THE HOOP.

The circle, or more properly the hoop, is a very important religious
symbol among the Dakota. One form of it appears in the great hoop-game
described by Louis Meeker,[9] and later by Dr. J. R. Walker.[10] This
hoop is usually about two feet in diameter, and notched so as to divide
the circumference into quadrants. While this hoop-game seems to be a
true gambling game, it could be and was sometimes played as part of a
ritualistic ceremony the object of which was to bring the buffalo. It is
interesting to note that this large hoop is similar to the sacred wheel
used by the Arapaho in the sun-dance. At the time of the ghost-dance
outbreak among the Dakota of Pine Ridge Reservation, Mr. Mooney saw the
hoop and the two pairs of sticks used with it carried in the ceremonies
connected with the ghost-dance religion. He states:—

    “It is said that the medicine-man of Big Foot’s band carried
    such a hoop with him in their flight from the north, and
    displayed it in every dance held by the band until the fatal day
    of Wounded Knee. A similar hoop was carried and hung upon the
    centre tree at the dance at No Water’s camp near Pine Ridge. To
    the Indian it symbolizes the revival of the old-time games.”[11]

The last line of the above quotation implies that the hoop was a part of
the paraphernalia used in the ghost-dance ceremonies, because it
symbolized the ancient games. On another page of the same article occurs
the following:—

    “As it was the favorite game with the men in the olden times, a
    great many of the songs founded on these trance visions refer to
    it, and the wheel and sticks are made by the dreamer, and
    carried in the dance as they sing.”[12]

It should be remembered, however, that the game was formerly played to
restore the buffalo when they were temporarily absent from their range;
and, as one of the great objects of the ghost-dance religion was the
return of the buffalo as in the olden times, the reason for the use of
the hoop in the ceremonies described by Mooney is apparent. In Mooney’s
account, a number of songs pertaining to the hoop-game are given as sung
by the various tribes practising the ghost-dance religion. Among these
is a Dakota version, as follows:—

      “The holy (hoop) shall run,    “Come and see it,
      The holy (hoop) shall run,     Come and see it,
      The swift hoop shall run,      Says the father,
      The swift hoop shall run.”     Says the father.”[13]

A mythical account of the hoop-game is given by Dr. J. R. Walker, which
indicates one of the probable conceptions upon which this religious use
of the hoop rests.[14]

The hoop-symbol occurs in graphic form, sometimes upon garments. The
writer secured a shirt that was used by one of the leaders in
ghost-dances; and which seems to have been a type of the so-called
“bullet-proof shirt.” This garment is daubed with red about the neck and
on the shoulders, but in addition bears four circular designs, also in
red, with large dots at their centres (Fig. 16). One of these designs is
placed upon the right breast; another, directly opposite, upon the back
of the garment; one upon the right shoulder; and one upon the left.
These are so arranged, that, no matter from what point you see the
wearer, one of the circular designs will be visible. These designs were
recognized as symbols of the medicine-hoop, and were supposed to have
the power to protect the wearer from all harm. The idea of placing the
designs so that one of them should always be between the wearer and the
source of danger may be original with the owner of this shirt; but the
number of them (four), and their arrangement according to the four
directions, correspond to the common explanation of religious symbols.

[Illustration:  Fig. 16 (50-2964). Circular
 Design upon a Shirt.
 Diameter, 11 cm. ]

Meeker describes[15] a wheel-shaped hoop-ornament consisting of a ring
enclosing four spokes at right angles to each other. According to his
account, this is a symbol associated with the hoop-game; but similar
specimens were seen by the writer upon the heads of Dakota men, who
explained that these were symbols of the medicine-wheel or
medicine-hoop, and did not refer to the hoop-game. They were worn
because they were regarded as symbols of the power that could protect
the wearer from arrows, bullets, or other dangers.

As is suggested by the above, the game-hoop is distinguished from the
medicine-hoop as used in ceremonies. A medicine-hoop seems to have been
used by all divisions of the Dakota, and, according to the descriptions
received by the writer, to have been of several forms. In certain
ceremonies where the elk played an important part, a hoop or ring was
formed by twining together fresh twigs and leaves of the willow. In the
centre of this hoop, a small mirror was held by four cords arranged at
right angles, and representing the four directions. A drawing of an
elk-dancer by a native is shown in Fig. 17. The painted centre for the
circular designs on a shirt (Fig. 16) described above, as well as the
small wheel-shaped head-ornament, were said to represent a hoop of this

[Illustration:  Fig. 17. Sketch, by a Native,
 of an Elk-mystery Dancer carrying a
 Hoop with a Mirror in the Centre.
 Drawing collected by R. Cronau. ]

The connection of this hoop with the idea of protection is well
illustrated in the manufacture of one kind of red paint. It is produced
by burning a kind of yellow clay, found near the Black Hills, until it
takes on the red color. The paint, however, is given its protective
power by certain ceremonies performed as it is made. In the particular
ceremony observed by the writer, the yellow earth was pounded fine, and
mixed with water until it became a stiff paste. This was then made into
a flat disk about half an inch thick and from four to six inches in
diameter, after which a hole or depression was made in the centre. The
purpose of this, as explained, was to give it the form of a
medicine-hoop, the hole in the centre corresponding to the place
occupied by the mirror in the form of hoop just described. This disk was
then burned in the fire until red, after which it was pounded on a stone
until fine enough for use. The ceremony in preparing the paint consisted
of ritualistic songs and prayers, which reached their climax as the disk
of clay was formed and perforated. The burning and the subsequent
preparation were not regarded as parts of the ceremony. The idea, as
expressed, was to connect the paint with the power represented by the
hoop, so that when a warrior rubbed some of it upon his body, he came at
once under the protection of this power.

Another idea seems to be connected with the conception of the
medicine-hoop, and that is the appearance of certain mythical animals
with openings through their bodies where their hearts should be. The
conception seems to be, that an animal without a heart is immortal and
supernatural: at least, this is the way in which the mythical elk was
described. According to the belief, there is a connection between this
opening through the heart and the centre of the medicine-hoop,
represented in the elk ceremonies by the mirror; but it is the opinion
of the writer that this is an error on the part of the Indians
themselves in associating two things that were formerly distinct.[16]

It seems rather curious that the mirror should become so closely
associated with the hoop, and that the mirror should have appealed to
them as a symbol of almost equal importance. The writer is of the
opinion that the preceding cases, where the mirror and the hoop are
considered as identical symbols, are the result of a former close
association of the two in ceremonial affairs.


[9] Meeker (Bulletin of the Free Museum of Science and Art, University
of Pennsylvania, Vol. III. No. 1).

[10] Walker (The Journal of the American Folk-Lore Society,
October-December, 1905).

[11] Mooney (Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American
Ethnology, p. 1075).

[12] Mooney (Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American
Ethnology, p. 994).

[13] Mooney (Fourteenth Annual Report of the Bureau of American
Ethnology, p. 1075).

[14] Walker (The Journal of the American Folk-Lore Society,
October-December, 1905).

[15] Meeker, op. cit., p. 35.

[16] In the Report of the Peabody Museum (Vol. III, p. 286) is a
description by Miss Fletcher of some ceremonies in which the hoop and
the mirror played a part. “The neophyte held one, having a circular
mirror, fastened by four cords, from which he cast a reflection of the
sun from time to time upon the ground, or held up the hoop, and flashed
the mirror.” The explanation given by this author of the significance of
the mirror in these ceremonies differs from that secured by the writer;
but Miss Fletcher’s account seems to refer to a form of ceremony
pertaining to the elk rites not mentioned in his notes.

                             THE WHIRLWIND.

[Illustration: Fig. 18 (50-2095). Engraved Metal Cross.
 Collected by R. Cronau. Length, 23 cm.]

[Illustration: Fig. 19 (50-2898). Engraved Bone Object.
 Collected by R. Cronau. Length, 24 cm.]

In another place the writer has described the conception of the power of
the whirlwind among some of the Dakota, but wishes at this time to refer
to it again because of its relation to their system of protective
designs.[17] As stated in the former publication, there seems to be in
the minds of some of the Dakota an association between the phenomenon of
the whirlwind and those mental states generally known as “confusion of
mind.” Some of them believed and still believe that the power in the
whirlwind can be invoked to confuse the mind of an enemy. In common with
many other American tribes, the Dakota believe the whirlwind to be
associated with the fluttering wings of a moth, but they also associate
this with the cocoon of the same moth; and in symbolic representation
the design representing the power of the whirlwind is of an elongated
diamond-shape, and refers to the cocoon. The protection or aid of the
whirlwind was secured by prayers, and these prayers were symbolized by
the cocoon worn upon the person, by its image in stuffed buckskin, or by
its graphic representation, sketched or painted. The power of the
whirlwind was supposed to have been associated with the power of the
spider-web. As an illustration of this, we find engraved upon a
German-silver cross (Fig. 18) the spider, and near it three
representations of the whirlwind cocoon. Between the spider and these
three designs is a zigzag line, implying the mystic power connection of
the same. Again, on a forked bone object (Fig. 19), the use of which is
unknown, occur a number of incised designs, among which is again what
seems to be the spider-web, the tracks of a quadruped (probably the
buffalo), and four designs representing the whirlwind cocoon,
accompanied in each case by another design which cannot be determined,
but which resembles the footprints of a person. It is interesting to
note that the German-silver cross also bears the tracks of the buffalo,
or some ruminant animal, in association with the spider. In the absence
of direct information, the writer hesitates to offer any interpretation
of the design upon these specimens, although he feels that they could be
interpreted with reasonable certainty.

The design of the whirlwind resembles a feather-design, and no doubt the
two are often confused. The difference seems to be, that, when
representing the whirlwind, half of the design is filled with parallel
or crossing lines; while, when representing feathers, half of the design
is filled in with color (see Fig. 19). The feather-design is more fixed
in form than that of the whirlwind. Fig. 20 is a representation of the
latter, from the handle of a club, where it appears in a series with the
spider, lizard, elk, and turtle. Another form of the same design is
repeated in a series on a wooden popgun (Fig. 21).

[Illustration:  Fig. 20 (50-4380). Whirlwind Design, from the Handle of a
  Club. Length, 5 cm.
 Fig. 21 (50-4244). Whirlwind Design, from a Popgun. Length of design, 7.5
   cm. ]


[17] Wissler (The Journal of the American Folk-Lore Society,
October-December, 1905).

                              THE THUNDER.

The thunder is a very important deity among all the Indians of the
Plains, and is usually associated with military exploits. While the
Dakota generally regard the thunder as a bird, usually symbolized by the
eagle, yet they sometimes speak of it as a horse, a man, or a dog. The
horse always appealed to them as a creature of mysterious origin, and in
many cases was assumed to have been given by the thunder. In any event
there is an association in their minds between the power of a war-horse
and the thunder. The thunder is often represented by a zigzag or wavy
line, usually in red; but this symbol really represents the power of the
phenomenon in the abstract, because the Indian does have the conception
of a force in nature. Consequently this graphic symbol is also a general
sign for the presence of mysterious supernatural power. The whistles
made from the leg and wing bones of eagles, and used among the Plains
tribes, are generally employed by the Dakota to symbolize the cry of the
eagle as a representative of the thunder-bird. In battle, or sometimes
in stress of great trial, they are sounded to call up the power of the
thunder to rescue the unfortunate one. As a rule, a zigzag line is
scratched down the sides of these whistles. In this connection it is
interesting to note the following:—

    “Before daylight I set off with five Indians. . . . This caused
    a halt, as we were surrounded and began to suspect that the
    enemy had planned to cut us off. The Indians put on their
    war-caps, uttering some few words which I could not hear
    distinctly, and then began to whistle with a small bone
    instrument which they hung around their necks for that

This account (1807) by an acute observer is interesting, because our
present knowledge enables us to understand the muttered prayers and the
use of the whistle.

[Illustration:  Fig. 22 (50-3023). Whistle, of Bone.
 Length, 19 cm. ]

The whistle shown in Fig. 22 is interesting because of the objects that
accompany it. The whistle is from the wing-bone of an eagle, and near
the top is a small bag containing the medicine of the owner. The
feathers of the yellow-winged woodpecker are attached thereto, because
this bird is considered as an associate of the thunder-bird, or at least
it holds some relation to the thunder, since the Dakota have observed,
that, when a storm is approaching, this bird gives a peculiar shrill
call not unlike the sound of the whistle spoken of above. This they
interpret as speaking to the thunder. Consequently, the feathers of this
bird, when attached to the whistle, are supposed to put the individual
also in a position to speak to the thunder. This bird has a large dark
spot on the throat, which is said to represent the moon and to be
further evidence of the sacred character of the bird. Thus we have a
combined charm representing the woodpecker and the eagle,—two birds
closely associated with the thunder.

The ceremony of offering a filled pipe to the thunder was frequently
observed by the Dakota. One man stated that once, when the camp was
threatened by an approaching storm, he filled a large pipe, went to the
top of a hill, and, facing the storm, made an offering to the thunder by
extending the stem upward, and praying, with the result that the storm
divided, and passed around the camp without serious damage to his
people. In the decoration of pipe-stems, a bunch of horsehair is
attached (usually colored red), and this is often spoken of as an emblem
of the thunder-horse. This horsehair is to signify the presence of the
power of the thunder, as manifest in the horse, in all ceremonies
connected with the pipe. It is worth while noting that in this case we
have an illustration of a peculiarity of religious lore,—the indirect
symbolizing of a power by one of a series of objects in which that power
is manifest.

The United States emblem of the eagle with outstretched claws, holding
arrows and the lightning, is regarded by the Dakota as an appeal on our
part to the thunder-bird; and statements to the contrary are usually
interpreted as white men’s lies to deceive the Indians and to guard the
power. There is little doubt that the Dakota manner of drawing the
thunder-bird has been modified by the United States emblem, and that
their own idea of his power has been influenced accordingly.


[18] New Light on the Early History of the Greater Northwest, p. 436.

                              THE SPIDER.

The association between the spider, the spider-web, and the thunder, is
very close—so close, that it is difficult to understand the conception
of the power of the spider without considering the power of the thunder.
The spider is often spoken of as the “spider-man.” It is also associated
with the mythical elk. It was supposed to have great power. The observed
fact that a spider manufactures a web, and that this web is not
destroyed by bullets or arrows (since they pass through it, leaving only
a hole), is cited by some individuals as the basis for the conception
that the spider has power to protect people from harm. On the other
hand, the spider is spoken of as a friend of the thunder; and it is a
general belief that the thunder will never harm the spider-web, or, what
amounts to the same, that the spider-web itself is a protection against
thunder. As previously stated, the spider-web is represented by a
peculiar four-cornered design. This design is sometimes said to
represent the heavens, in which case the four points represent the four
directions, the home of the winds, the four thunders, etc.; the
supernatural character of the design being indicated by
lightning-symbols extending from the four corners.

[Illustration: Fig. 23 (50-3095). Design of a Spider-web.]

In a preceding paper,[19] the spider-web design was discussed in its
relation to decorative art, where it was noted that among some divisions
of the Dakota is a belief in a double woman,[20] to whom, among other
things, certain ceremonial uses of this design are attributed. According
to information secured by the writer, this character was also associated
with the elk ceremonies, where she was often represented by two women
tied together by a cord (about two feet in length), from the middle of
which hung a doll or a ball. Women often receive power by dreaming of
this character. Some such women are supposed to perform a kind of
ceremony, somewhat secret, in which a child is taken out to a lonely
place, where a swing or hammock-like structure is made in the form of
the spider-web design, supported by the four corners, and the child is
placed upon it. This is to bring good fortune to the child. A design of
the spider-web might then be placed upon the robe of the child as a
symbol of its having experienced the ceremony (Fig. 23).

The men, however, use this design for military protection, in which
connection it is not thought of as being associated in any way with the
mythical double woman. It is, however, closely associated with the
medicine-bow. This was a very sacred military object with the Dakota, of
which only four duplicates could be had. It consisted of a bow of plain
wood, of the usual length, to the end of which was attached a
spear-head. Fastened to the bow was a stick somewhat longer, sharpened
at one end, and decorated with feathers and other symbolic objects. The
purpose of the stick was to support the bow, since all such sacred
objects would lose their power if allowed to touch the ground. The bow
was not used as a weapon, but was carried as a standard, because of its
supposed magical power over the enemy. The figure of the dragon-fly was
usually painted upon the bow and its support, as well as dots
representing insects that fly swiftly, and zigzag lines representing
thunder. Feathers of the eagle, the magpie, the hawk, and, in fact, of
all birds swift of wing, were likewise attached to it. The association
between these insects and birds was the same as that previously noted;
that is, since they were swift in motion, and difficult to strike, they
represented the qualities desired by the bearers of the bow. These bows
have long since passed out of existence, but survive in models made for
commercial purposes.

The account of the origin of the medicine-bow is as follows:—

    “A man dreamed of the thunder, and afterwards called in four men
    to assist him in making the medicine-bow. They went through the
    preliminaries (the sweat-house, etc.), after which a special
    tent was erected. The ground inside of this tent, where the
    dreamer and his four companions sat, was covered with
    sage-grass. A young man was called in to act as their assistant.
    He was sent out to cut elm sticks. He went out slowly, and after
    a time came back with the sticks. Then he was sent out to get
    together the feathers of swift flying birds, pieces of
    buffalo-hide, paints, etc. He went around the camp, and begged
    these of the people.

    “Then the four men set to work making the sticks under the
    direction of the dreamer. The dreamer gave a bow to one of the
    men, and a piece of buffalo-hide in which to wrap the sticks,
    also a wooden bowl from which to eat.

    “After a time, the faces of the men were painted red. When the
    sticks were finished, four men came in wrapped in buffalo-robes,
    each carrying a drum. Now the four men who had prepared the
    sticks were ready to receive the bow, and the drummers began to
    drum and sing. Then the man who dreamed about the bow carried it
    outside of the lodge, pointing it toward the west. He was
    followed by the whole company, and, after singing a song, they
    took a step forward and pointed the bow to the north; another
    step again, then pointed to the east; and then a step forward,
    pointing to the south. Then they ran toward the west, then
    toward the east, then toward the north, and then toward the
    south. [The significance of this is, that the thunder resides in
    the four directions of the heavens, and also goes in all
    directions, so that the carrying of the sticks toward the
    various points of the compass puts them in touch with the
    thunder.] Then they went back to the sweat-house, and the
    ceremony was complete.

    “The man who owns one of these bows must not wear iron on his
    person, he must never give his food to any one else after eating
    from it himself, and he must never allow the bow, or any part of
    it, to touch the ground.”[21]

[Illustration:  Fig. 24. Sketch of a Robe for the
 Medicine-bow Owner. Drawn by a Native. ]

The owner of a medicine-bow should have a buffalo-robe with special
decorations, consisting of a spider-web design of the character
previously described, from the corners of which extend wavy lines
representing the thunder. Sometimes the picture of a thunder-bird was
drawn above the spider-web design, or a few tail-feathers of the eagle
were attached to the robe. The spider-web design on the robe of an owner
of a medicine-bow was to symbolize the thunder, for, as stated by the
informants, the spider is a friend of the medicine-bow. None of these
robes are now in existence; but sketches were made for the writer, one
of which is reproduced in Fig. 24.

The body-painting for the medicine-bow was rather elaborate. In the
first place, the whole body was smeared over with a brownish-red paint,
representing the earth in a buffalo-wallow. There were two ways of
decorating the face. In one, a curved line was drawn, extending from the
corners of the mouth around over the forehead, the ends of the lines
being forked to represent lightning. Wavy lines, also with forked ends,
were drawn down the arms and the legs. These lines were in black or
blue. Blue bands were painted around the ankles, arms, wrists, and
shoulders, representing the power of the lightning. These bands were
often covered with wristlets and anklets of rabbit-fur, because the
rabbit was in some way associated with the medicine-bow. In the other
painting, a crescent, representing the moon, was placed upon the
forehead and a line drawn from ear to ear across the bridge of the nose.
In this form, the body-painting was the same as in the preceding, except
that one of the lines upon the leg was straight instead of wavy, and it
was said to signify the desire for ability to think straight or to
possess presence of mind, in contrast to the state of mind supposed to
be produced by the power of the whirlwind.

[Illustration:  Fig. 25 (50-2093). Design on a Metal Belt-ornament. Width,
  2 cm.
 Fig. 26 (50-3124). Design of Spider-web on a Straight Pipe. Length, 25
   cm. ]

The spider-web design has been mentioned in connection with shield and
other designs, and a retrospect indicates a peculiar graphic resemblance
in it to the older type of star-designs shown in Plate VI. The writer
uses the term “older” on the authority of two Indians. Some incised
designs on metal ornaments worn by a woman, of the form shown in Fig.
25, seem to be a combination of the older star-design and that of the
spider-web. Another design (Fig. 26) scratched on the bowl of a straight
pipe of red stone was also said to represent the spider-web. There is
another design used by the Dakota in ceremonies relating to the buffalo;
but it is rectangular in form with projecting corners, and is considered
a distinct symbol.


[19] Wissler (Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, Vol.
XVII, p. 248).

[20] Dorsey (Eleventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, p. 480).

[21] Narrated by an Ogalala man.


The first point that appears in the consideration of these designs and
their interpretations is the animistic basis upon which they rest. The
Indian has observed nature, and singled out those qualities and
situations that are not only wonderful from his point of view, but
greatly to be desired as means to his own ends. He then proceeds on the
assumption that these originate in and are due to some hidden agency,
from which it follows, that, if he can put himself in the place of one
of the favored living creatures, he will in turn be the object upon
which this hidden agency will act. If he can be the bird that rides the
storm in safety, he will in turn ride successfully the analogous storms
of his own sphere, and, like the child that in its own mind is the
policeman when it thrusts a club into its waistband, he feels that he is
the bird calling to the thunder when he sounds the bone whistle, and
mutters his song-prayer. That this is true only of the great Indian or
the devotee, speaking in relative terms, and that the mass of
Indian-kind follow in blind imitation of the more sensitive few, may be
true; but the phenomena, for all that, are none the less ethnic.

One characteristic of the foregoing protective designs is, that they are
usually animal motives to the almost entire exclusion of plant and
inanimate forms. While it is true that the phenomena of the heavens hold
a prominent place in this art, such phenomena are often interpreted as
results of the activity of animal-like beings, and consequently are so
expressed in art. The conditions leading to such a result are doubtless
many and intricate; but the tendency to ignore plant-forms in protective
conceptions may be due to the inactive character of the more inanimate
world. Inert things are not easily conceived of as guardians or
protectors. On the other hand, the Indian may not see the logical
necessity of carrying his view to the utmost bounds of the universe.
Pots and kettles may have an animistic presence within themselves; but
perhaps this does not appeal to the Indian, because the living creatures
are so much nearer to him and the analogy between their lives and his is
not difficult to perceive. The mystery in the animal forms that come and
go, in the storm, and in the heavenly bodies, reaches the mind unaided;
but the plant and mineral wonders require a more microscopic eye. That
there was a time when the animals were as the people is the striking
thought in many Indian myths, and this indicates a belief in the
fundamental life-identity of all moving creatures.

There is, however, one interesting suggestion in the interpretation of
protective powers. In all of these conceptions we find less appeal for
the direct destruction of enemies than for a shielding protection to
enable the man himself to be the destructive agent. His prayers are,
that he may be swift and impossible to hit in order that he may strike
down the victim.

Again, there are in every part of the preceding paper examples of the
close association between powers, or at least power-symbols, that are
from many points of view incongruous; as the mirror and the hoop, the
spider, the thunder, and the elk. There is in these a tendency to
coalesce into conceptions of larger wholes in which the power becomes
more general, tending toward the definite abstraction of a power-unit,
or identity of forces in nature. These larger conceptions, that are
really much more complex than indicated in this brief paper, seem to
represent a growth, or at least an accumulation of ideas, on the part of
a people who have not felt the need of systematically unifying them, or
expressing them as an objective unit.

[Illustration:  ANTHROP. PAP. A. M. N. H.            VOL. I, PLATE V.

[Illustration:  SHIELD-DESIGN ON A CAPE.

[Illustration:  ANTHROP. PAP. A. M. N. H.            VOL. I, PLATE VII.

                           TRANSCRIBER NOTES

Misspelled words and printer errors have been corrected.

Punctuation has been maintained.

Some illustrations were moved to facilitate page layout.

[The end of _Some Protective Designs of the Dakota_, by Clark Wissler.]

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