Published on November 16, 2012 by Amy
The historic period pertains to the Native Americans since their first contact with the Europeans. Tribes such as the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Cherokee are all descendants of the ancient people from the earlier time periods. So what happened to the great empires of the Mississippian Period? What become of the city at Spiro Mounds, the pottery of the Caddo and Quapaw? While theories have speculated everything from natural disasters to the depletion of land resources, modern day anthropologists place the downfall of these prehistoric civilizations on the diseases brought over from Europe. Some demographers estimate that as many as nineteen out of twenty Native Americans died of European diseases like smallpox, influenza and tuberculosis.
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Headdresses were a symbolic, as well as artistic item for the Native Americans. There are many different styles of headdress and bonnets and worn for different occasions or special events. The museum has several displays of different forms of Native American headgear and other regalia. Eagle feather headdresses represent a great tradition of the Native American, but few people understand the meaning behind them. Eagle feathers were only given for special feats or displays of bravery and often warriors only attained a few in their lifetime. Horned headdresses were used by Indians on the western Great Plains. They were generally created by making a cap of buffalo hide and then horns were added for decoration. Only warriors of a certain stature were allowed to wear these horned caps.
Quillwork is perhaps the oldest form of Native American embroidery. Porcupine quills are soaked to make them pliable, and the flattened and dyed to give them color. The quills were then arranged into patterns, usually geometric. Quillwork was the preferential method of decorating moccasins, vests and other clothing up into the mid 1800′s when glass beads became easily attainable through trade with Europeans.
Beads have been use for decoration by the Native Americans for thousands of years. Some of the first beads were made of stone, shell and bone. European explorers brought with them beads made of glass and used them to barter with and gain favor with as gifts. Introduced in the mid 1800′s, very small glass beads called “seed beads” (due to their size) were traded by the Europeans in large numbers to the local natives. Seed Beads were used to make very intricate patterns, but were very costly for the Native Americans to acquire and were often a sign of someone’s wealth or status in the tribe. Early glass beads were manufactured cheaply in large quantities and thus were inconsistent. Even in a single color, you can see them vary in different hues and shapes. If you look closely at these beads you will notice some of these inconsistencies, some lighter, some darker, and often with flaws. Often popular beads were given descriptive names like “greasy yellow”, “Cheyenne pink” or “White Heart”.
Winter counts are histories or calendars in which events are recorded by pictures or symbols, with one picture for each year or winter. These winter counts are often recorded on Buffalo hide. One such winter count on display in the museum is “Long Dog’s” winter count. Lone Dog’s winter count records 70 years of memorable events for the Lakota Sioux. When viewing the winter count in the museum, it includes a reference guide to show you what each of these symbols represents.