Object: Bear Claw Necklace

NAM-09-18-051
Bear claw necklace
United States, Plains
Osage
19th Century
Materials: Plains Grizzly claws, glass beads, otter fur, leather

This bear claw necklace, from the Osage tribe, is currently on display at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. The necklace is made of 30 Plains Grizzly Bear claws and three beaded medallions in blue, yellow, green and pink. There are amber colored cut glass beads strung between the bear claws. The base of the necklace is made from otter pelt.

Plains Grizzly claws are long and yellowish, unlike the short and dark colored claws of Black Bears. All of the claws from the front paws were typically used, although the claws from the rear paws were used on rare occasions. Sadly, the once fierce and powerful Plains Grizzly, otherwise called Ursus horribilis Ord, is now extinct due to human population expansion and other causes. In traditional Native cultures and mythology, the bear was a sacred animal and a seeker of the unknown and mystical. Additionally, bears possessed admirable attributes such as strength, power, and courage, which the wearers wished to display in their own lives. Otter fur is always used for this type of necklace. Like the bear, the otter was also believed to be a seeker of the unknown and to possess great power.

Traditionally, only chiefs and elders wore bear claw necklaces. These necklaces were a mark of distinction among most Plains tribes. This particular necklace has been rumored to have been worn by Chief Bacon Rind (Chief Wah-shi-ha), and two other warriors before him. Bear claw necklaces also held ceremonial importance in times of war. It was believed that the necklace would aid in overcoming difficulties and help to obtain victory. [Erin Duncan]

Examples of how bear claw necklaces were worn can be found at the following links:

Chief Shon-Ton-Ca-Be (Black Dog) in 1876

Nah-Kea-Pu-At-See (One Who Reaches the Sky) in 1877

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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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