Object: Necklace

NAM-09-06-304
Choker (Necklace)

Collected among the Cheyenne, Western Oklahoma, USA
September 1883–September 1885
Materials: Glass Seed Beads, Horse Hair, Leather

Not all objects found in museum collections are in a condition suitable for traditional exhibition. This necklace, or “choker,” fragment is a useful example of a piece that would likely never be included in a public exhibition due to its fragile state; however, here we are able to highlight its importance to SNOMNH’s collections and use it as a vehicle for discussion on a variety of subjects.

This style choker was at one time worn by both women and men from a wide distribution of tribes found in the Midwest, specifically the around the Great Lakes and in Prairie (Eastern Plains) region. The technique used to create this choker is called side-stitch. This is a hand-woven, or more precisely “oblique interlacing” technique of beadwork that creates diagonal rows. This particular choker was constructed using black horse hair—a material that was later replaced by commercially available threads. The use of horse hair in its construction and the subsequent use by the donor’s family as a plaything have contributed to the current condition of this object.

In 1973, a collection of American Indian objects were donated to SNOMNH (formerly the Stovall Museum) by Mrs. John Surr, daughter of Dr. Vernon W. Stiles. Dr. Stiles worked for the Indian Traders, Hemphill and Way, at the Darlington Indian Agency, Indian Territory, between September 1883 and 7 September 1885. During his two-year employment as a salesman, Dr. Stiles had the opportunity to meet and trade with many Cheyenne and Arapahos in the local Native community. It was during this time that the choker came into Dr. Stiles’s possession.

Knowledge of where an object was acquired and who collected it can create inaccurate identification because the person who last owned an object was often not its maker. In fact, trade in objects was, and continues to be, a very common practice between Native peoples. Because this choker was collected among the Cheyenne and donated along with other items identifiable as Cheyenne material, it was labeled “Cheyenne.” As mentioned earlier, this style choker was common to a wide distribution of tribes; however, the Cheyenne were not among this group. It is possible that the choker was acquired in trade from another tribe, or perhaps, someone from another tribe married into a Cheyenne family bringing this piece or the construction technique with them. It is also quite possible that a Cheyenne beadworker learned this beadwork technique and produced it themselves, which would make the “Cheyenne” label accurate. Without any further information on who exactly made the choker it is impossible to say with certainty from which tribe this object originated.

To learn more about this style of choker, see Georg J. Barth (1993:145-158) and David Dean (2002) for details on the side-stitch technique. Also see Gaylord Torrence (1989:16) on the use of side-stitch chokers. For more information on the Cheyenne and Arapaho, see here or for more information about the Darlington Indian Agency see here.

SNOMNH invites your comments on this choker or any of the other topics addressed above. [John P. Lukavic]
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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.

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