Regalia of Plains Indian Leaders Coming to Cowgirl Museum

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“Hanskaska: The Shirtwearers – Plains Indian Art of Cathy A. Smith” at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame is the first public exhibition of a collection of the precise recreations of the regalia of 12 historically important Plains Indian leaders. Representing 10 Native American nations, the collection includes ceremonial headdresses, shirts, leggings, moccasins, weapons and other accoutrements.

'Hanskaska' is the Lakota word describing a society of head men or chiefs who had earned the privilege to wear a sacredly ornamented shirt.

“Hanskaska: The Shirtwearers - Plains Indian Art of Cathy A. Smith” opens Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013, and runs through Sunday, April 27, 2014, at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, 1720 Gendy Street in the Cultural District.

The exhibition is on loan from the private collection of the estate of R. Michael Kammerer, Jr. The late founder of Independent Television Network (now ITN Networks) had an avid interest in the West and collected Western and Native American art. Artist and cultural historian Cathy A. Smith of Santa Fe, N.M., who is the “adopted” daughter of a traditional Lakota medicine man and Sun Dance leader on the Cheyenne River Sioux Reservation, created the collection for Kammerer. The work was done by Smith and the artisans under her tutelage. Installed in 1999, the collection required over four years to execute, but the research and accumulation of understanding and artistic skill took Smith 25 years.

According to Smith, “Hanskaska” is the Lakota word describing a society of head men or chiefs who had earned the privilege to wear a sacredly ornamented shirt. Each of the men represented in the collection had this right.

The exhibition opens the same day that Smith will be inducted into the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame at its 38th annual Induction Luncheon in Fort Worth.

“We are proud to be the first public venue for this important historic exhibition of the work of one of our newest Honorees,” said Patricia Riley, executive director of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame. Established in 1975, the Cowgirl Museum preserves the history and highlights the impact of extraordinary Western women from the mid-1800s to the present: the artists and writers, champions and competitive performers, entertainers, ranchers (stewards of land and livestock), trailblazers, and pioneers.

Highlights of the Exhibition

The collection of the regalia of the 12 Plains Indian leaders consists of the clothing and accoutrements of each personage as determined from historical photographs, paintings and oral histories. Each of the 60 items was created in the same way that it was originally made, using the same materials and techniques of production: Big Horn Sheep, antelope, buffalo, and deer hides tanned with brains, original stock seed and pony beads, naturally dyed porcupine quills, sinew or linen thread, and original trade items such as wool stroud, brass hawk bells, buttons, silk ribbon, etc. The only concession to authenticity was the use of hand-painted turkey feathers in place of eagle, hawk, and owl.

The 10 Native American nations represented in the exhibition are the Blackfeet, Comanche, Crow, Hidatsa, Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Southern Cheyenne, Mandan, Nez Perce and Pawnee.

Chiefs and other leaders featured are:

  • Chief Joseph (1840-1904), the last great chief of the Nez Perce;
  • Crazy Horse (c. 1840-1877), Mniconjou/Oglala, one of the last four “Shirtwearers” of the Lakota nation;
  • Kicking Bear (1853-1904), a Mniconjou Lakota Sioux warrior and holy man instrumental in bringing the Ghost Dance to the Sioux;
  • Little Chief (died 1858), Council chief of the Southern Cheyenne or Suhtai;
  • Little Wolf (c. 1820-1904), sweet medicine chief of the Northern Cheyenne/Sutai and leader of the Bowstring Society;
  • Mato-Tope (Four Bears) (c. 1795-1837), the great chief of the Mandan;
  • Medicine Crow (1848-1920), the last of the legendary Crow chiefs and a visionary medicine man;
  • Mountain Chief (1848-1942), the Blackfoot’s last hereditary leader;
  • Pehriska-Ruhpa (Two Ravens) (portrait painted c. 1832-1834), chief of the Minnetaree, leader of the Dog Soldier Society and principal chief of the Hidatsa, parent tribe of the Crow;
  • Petalasharo (1823-1874), the last Grand Pawnee head chief to rule in Nebraska;
  • Quanah Parker (c. 1845-1911), son of Peta Nocona, Quahhadi Comanche chief and white captive Cynthia Ann Parker, who became chief of all the Comanches on the reservation in Oklahoma and proved to be a forceful leader bringing his people into the 20th century; and    
  • Red Cloud (1822-1909), war chief of the Oglala band of the Lakota Sioux.

“The exhibition is significant because the items in the collection are authentic recreations of documented pieces, the majority of which are no longer in existence or accessible to viewing except in rare historic photographs or paintings,” said Diana Vela, Ph.D., associate executive director, exhibits and education, Cowgirl Museum.

Smith said, “Many of the techniques used in the construction of this collection are all but lost or practiced by very few. The work in this collection has not been done in the last century, at least to this extent.”

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