The People of the Buffalo, Volume 1, the Plains Indians of North America, Military Art, Warfare, and Change: Essays in Honor of John C. Ewers

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The People of the Buffalo, Volume 1, The Plains Indians of North America, Military Art, Warfare, and Change: Essays in Honor of John C. Ewers. Coordinated and edited by COLIN F. TAYLOR and HUGH A. DEMPSEY, Tatanka Press, Wyk auf Föhr, Germany, 2003. 183 pp., 127 figures (drawings, photographs and color plates), appendix, index. $42.00 (Paper, ISBN 3-89510-101-X).

The contributions for this festschrift come from well-established scholars of Plains Indian material culture. The volume begins with two short pieces by the editors about John Ewers and his research. This is followed by a previously unpublished overview of Plains Indian military art by John Ewers. His discussion of warbonnets, shirts, shields, weapons, and painted robes is a thorough survey of the topic, emphasizing the symbolic messages imbedded in such items. The remaining 13 articles are divided into three sections: Warfare: History, Tactics, and Pictography; Symbolism; and Memories and Change.

The first group, concerning warfare, begins with Kingsley Bray's discussion of the Omaha rendezvous. This is the probably the most interesting piece for archaeologists, as it brings together archaeological and historic data to argue for direct relationships between Cahokia, the Oneota culture, and Arikara and Dakota trade rendezvous. Its premise is that control of the trade centers was a major factor in warfare and migrations in the Great Plains. Archaeologists will also find useful material in Ray DeMallie and Douglas Parks's overview of Plains Indian warfare. Based on translations of manuscripts by Truteau, Sword, and Roaming Scout, it synthesizes the motives, tactics, and ritual of historic Plains warfare, asserting that the Indian Wars of the mid-nineteenth century began as tribal conflicts before non-Indians entered the region. In a somewhat similar vein, Åke Hultkrantz and Christer Lindberg review the transition from pedestrian to equestrian warfare between the Blackfeet and Shoshone nations. The remaining paper in the warfare section concerns the provenance of the so-called Lewis and Clark Mandan exploit robe. Castle McLaughlin's methodical discussion of the questionable provenance of the robe provides a cautionary tale about accepting conventional wisdom regarding well-known objects. Finally, David Fridtjof Halaas and Andrew Masich update their Cheyenne Dog Soldier Ledger Book research by detailing the stories of several retaliatory raids that followed the Sand Creek Massacre. They demonstrate how the ledger drawings can be read as narratives of these specific fights.

The section concerning symbolism will be of more interest to scholars of material culture and art. Winfield Coleman contributes a discussion of the role of the Cheyenne berdache (dual-gendered person) in creating art imbued with highly specific symbolic meaning. Coleman argues that items and activities that combined genders were the special purview of these shaman-artists. One wishes for a bit more caution in these assertions, but the article demonstrates the need to recognize the special roles of dual-gendered individuals in Plains Indian cultures.

Imre Nagy presents new material on the symbolism of Cheyenne shields based on his readings of the notoriously cryptic James Mooney notes. He relates a Cheyenne account of the origins of the Low Forehead shield design and develops a meticulous structural analysis of the shield and its many variants. Paul Raczka follows with an overview of the history and ritual significance of the Blackfoot "cross belt" or bandoleer, but largely neglects their symbolism. …