Archive for the 'Kiowa' Category

Object: Cradleboard

sverrisdottirannamargret_51021_9646183_Appendix picture 3 Object: Cradleboard Null

Accession Number: E/1952/4/069

Object: An elaborately beaded Kiowa cradleboard.

Location: USA, North American Plains

Date: Unknown; ca. late 19th century, early 20th century.

Materials: Pine Wood, Leather, Beads, Cloth, Paint, Thread, Brass Tacks

Keywords: North American Tribes/Cultures’ Category; Beadwork; Material

Blog post


sverrisdottirannamargret_51021_9646181_Appendix picture 1            This cradleboard is 112 centimeters long, 34.5 centimeters wide and 23 centimeters deep. It is made with a frame of two, pointed, pine wood boards attached to one smaller board around 1/3 of the way down the two larger boards (appendix picture 1). The boards are attached to each other with a thick leather thong. Attached with the same thongs is a “canvas sack with rawhide sheet inserted at the head end to form a hood” [1] (appendix picture 2). Attached to the canvas is soft skin that is elaborately decorated and fully covered with white, dark and light blue, pink, red, yellow and green, beads (appendix picture 3 and 4). The only part not decorated with beads is the bottom of the canvas sack where the leather has been dyed ochre and cut to a fringe (appendix picture 5). The inside of the bag has been lined with dotted, red, printed fabric (appendix picture 2). Above the hood there is a leather slab decorated with blue, yellow, red and white beads. “The tips of the slats have crosses made of brass tacks” [1] (appendix picture 6).

sverrisdottirannamargret_51021_9646186_Appendix picture 6            The Kiowa tribe originates from Western Montana, as a nomadic tribe they migrated southwest towards the Rocky Mountains in the late 17th and early 18th century. They later traveled further south towards the southwestern plains in the 19th century. The plains provided to be great hunting ground for buffalo and with large feral horse herds, which encouraged Kiowa development towards an equestrian, bison hunting culture. In 1865 the Little Arkansas Treaty forced the Kiowa and Comanche, a tribe whom they had formed an alliance with after a troubled history, off their homeland in Kansas and New Mexico. Two years later, in 1867, the Medicine Lodge Treaty was signed which established a 2.8-million-acre reservation for the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache tribes in southwestern Oklahoma [2].

sverrisdottirannamargret_51021_9646185_Appendix picture 5The Kiowa cradleboard stems from a longstanding tradition and need of Kiowa women having to keep their hands free to execute everyday tasks, such as preparing hide for clothing and household articles, whilst still having their children near to take care of them [3]. Not only did cradleboards offer women an opportunity to move more freely about, it also served a purpose to both protect and socialize the tribe’s children. The Kiowa cradleboard is strongly constructed, having the top and bottom of the cradle enforced with rawhide, to better keep the shape of the cradle and to provide protection if a cradle was to strike the ground [3]. The reason for the cradleboard being carried on a woman’s back, with the child’s face facing away from the mother, yet at eyelevel, was so the child could get used to being at the same level as the older members of the tribe. This was not only done so the child could physically be closer to the older members of the tribe but also, so it could gain a sense of community and belonging [4].

A child’s importance was not only shown through the level at which it was carried but also through the very elaborate beadwork and decoration of the cradleboard. Looking at the beadwork at the cradleboard researched it is very clear that countless hours would have been spent on making the elaborate patterns and the white background. Not only would the beadwork have taken a long time, but the materials would have to have been traded, with European tradesmen as well as non-local tribes [5]. This would make the cradleboard a time consuming and expensive investment for a family to make.

A cradleboard such as this one displays a great deal of mixture between tradition and innovation. Materials both locally sourced and traded in showcase an assimilation and appreciation of newer materials and how they were adapted to fit the needs of the tribe. The patterns found on the board are part of a longstanding tradition of patterns going down in families, with each beadmaker adding her own personal touch to it. Not only are the patterns traditional but also the color and the division of the patterned plains of the cradleboard.

Research of this cradleboard and comparisons of it to other cradleboards and the traditions around them showcase a deep respect and appreciation for children within the tribe. The importance of the children being socialized within the tribe from a young age and the time and commitment spent to build them a cradle serve as proof for this. The cradleboard also showcases a need to display talented bead workers work among the tribe’s other members and other tribes, as well as a sense of pride in a family tradition of keeping the patterns recognizable from generation to generation [2]. As seen through the Kiowa’s traditional artifacts it is also clear that they were not a people afraid of stagnation, they gladly took up new materials and incorporated them within their traditions, as is seen with how trade impacted the decoration of cradleboard, with more colors becoming available for beads and new fabric options.


Recommended readings and videos for more information:

An Evening with Vanessa Jennings: Kiowa Cradleboards, Culture, and Tradition  (discussion with contemporary Kiowa cradleboard makers at Brown University)

Gifts of Pride and Love: Kiowa and Comanche Cradles by Barbara Hail (book)

Kiowa and Comanche Baby Carriers by M. J. Schneider (scholarly article)


((Anna Sverrisdottir))-Written as part of the ANTH1253 2018 Spring Semester Class Project


[1] Greene, C. (1952). Item Card. Museum of the University of Oklahoma.

[2] Kratch, B. R. (2009). Kiowa (tribe). Retrieved February 20, 2018, from The Encycopedia of Oklahoma Histroy and Culture:

[3] Schneider, M. J. (1983). Kiowa and Comanche Baby Carriers. Plains Anthropologist, 305-314.

[4] Hail, B. A. (2000). Gifts of Pride and Love: Kiowa and Comanche Cradles. Bristol, Rhode Island: Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology.

[5] Alden, J. (1999). Contemporary American Indian Beadwork: The Exquisite Art. Millwood, NY: Dolph Publishing Inc.




Object: Moccasins

E/50/8/8 a-b
Kiowa, Oklahoma
Materials: Native tanned leather, sinew, glass beads, copper tinklers

These moccasins, created from tanned buffalo hide sewn with sinew and decorated with glass beads and metal tinklers were worn by a Kiowa man in the early 20th century. The word moccasin, derived from the Algonquin language, actually comes from the ‘V’ shape of the instep, or the front part of the shoes where the toes would rest. Moccasins come in a variety of shapes, styles, sizes and colors depending on the culture that creates them. The Kiowa, for example, are known for their two-pieced, hard sole moccasins that were decorated with hexagonal and triangular beaded shapes. The Kiowa are also known for their sewing pattern called the “lazy stitch technique.” This technique is done by pushing the needle under the top layer of skin on a hide, but not all the way through, as with many other types of stitches. The Kiowa have a unique style that is portrayed through their material culture.

The Kiowa are a Native American tribe whose roots lie in the great plains. Though the plains are known to have many grasses, the Northern plains environment still contains various flora and sharp rocks that can harm a person’s feet. Hard soled moccasins were created for protection from the environment. The Kiowa are known for their hard sole moccasins, which allowed them able to maneuver in the plains environment with ease. This was especially important during the winter months because the moccasins served as protection from the cold.

Aside from being used for protection the moccasins also held a cultural value. They were worn with traditional dance regalia and used during spiritual ceremonies. The Sun Dance was among the many ceremonials  where traditional dress was worn. Today, the Kiowa continue to ritualize dancing within their community. The Gourd Dance and the Black Leggings Society dances are performed every year by members of the tribe. Watch the video below to see a Kiowa War Dance song.

Work Cited

Native American Languages.
Native American Indian Moccasins.

Open Inquiry Archive.
What Makes These Things Kiowa?.

Prindle, Tara.
Native American Clothing: Overview of the Moccasin.

Texas Behind History.
The Kiowa.

[Alyxandra Stanco]

Photo Quiz Answer!

Thanks to everyone who took the photo quiz last week! Now, what is this object?


This is a cradleboard from the 1930’s from the Ethnology Collection of the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.  An infant would have been placed inside, strapped in, and then the mother would have secured the cradleboard to her back. The cradleboard has a wooden frame that is smoothed and polished with two vertical pieces pointed at the top ends. The actual carrier portion is made of a buckskin cover lined on the inside with printed cloth. The outside is covered with seed beads forming geometric-floral designs outlined in reds, blues, yellow, green, and white on a blue bead background. Each cradleboard was unique, with different intricate designs and patterns reflecting the family’s love of their child. Historically, for the Kiowa, women were primarily responsible for raising children, and this type of device allowed a woman to keep track of and care for her child even when busy doing other things.

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]


Object: German Silver Stickpin

Stickpin by Murray Tonepahote
Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma
North America: Plains, Oklahoma
Date: 20th Century
Materials: German silver (aka Nickel silver)

This small German silver stickpin is only 3.25 inches long by 0.5 inches wide. It is in the shape of a tipi with a gourd rattle head on top and four slender pendants dangling below the base of the tipi. On the back, the pin portion is attached where the top of the tipi meets the bottom of the gourd rattle. This pin was made by master metalsmith Murray Tonepahote, a renowned Kiowa artist.

Figure 2    Navajo man wearing a German Silver Concho belt, photo by Don Blair in the 1950's

Figure 2 Navajo man wearing a German Silver Concho belt, photo by Don Blair in the 1950’s

German silver, also known as Nickel silver or electrum, is an alloy of copper, zinc, and nickel. Native American communities have used German silver in their jewelry and metalworking for centuries, ever since it was introduced into North America in the late 1800’s. Countless examples of German silver objects such as earrings, belts, conchos, tie slides, bracelets, and hair combs among others can be found throughout native communities today. To learn more about the production of German silver objects, take a look at a previous post from 2011.

Murray Tonepahote (1911-1968), a member of the Kiowa tribe, began his artistic training under the teachings of noted Kiowa artists Monroe Tsatoke and Harry Hokeah. An early member of the Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative, Tonepahote excelled at designing religiously inspired jewelry such as stickpins and earrings, many of which have become masterpieces of Southern Plains Indian art.

Murray Tonepahote, along with George “Dutch” Silverhorn, Julius Caesar, Bruce Caesar, and Homer Lumpmouth, has become recognized as one of the greatest Native metalsmiths in the country. The work of these extraordinary artists is now widely collected and exhibited across the United States.

Many of Tonepahote’s objects, like this stickpin, relate specifically to the Native American Church, which traditionally incorporates many Peyote rituals. The Native American Church originated in Oklahoma in the 1800’s and spread to many different Native American tribes around the country. The use of peyote, a small cactus, in rituals such as healings and births is believed to allow communion with deities and spirits.


Take a look at this video to learn more about the history of the Native American Church and the importance of Peyote rituals to many Native artists:

[Stephanie Lynn Allen]

Object: Cradle

Beaded Cradle
North America: Plains
ca 1930
Materials: hide, wood, glass beads

This object is a beaded cradle board that was made by Mrs. Ahpeatoni, a Kiowa woman from Mountain View, Oklahoma. In typical Plains cradle fashion, this is a handmade wooden frame decorated with buckskin and glass beads. Along with the Kiowa tribe, many other tribes of the Plains region created cradleboards for their infants. Many of these tribes traditionally lived nomadic lifestyles, cradleboards provided protection for the baby’s head and neck during travel and made the infants easier to carry while the mother worked during the day. The cradle could be worn as a backpack, or hung from a tree or tipi pole. According to elders, the cradles were constructed upright to help the baby see adults at eye level and helped to socialize the baby.

Kiowa cradleboards are often made using a V-shaped frame made of two long pieces of wood. Men made the wooden frames for the cradles, and female family members made the buckskin pouch and beaded the exterior as a gift for the expecting mother. Kiowa cradles are often beaded in both floral and geometric motifs in many bright colors. This particular cradle’s beadwork is sewn with a “lazy stitch” style. The history of the term “lazy stitch” is explained here. Despite the age of this cradle, the vivid colors of the beadwork are still visible and attest to the rich and lavish artistry. Beaded cradles are still made today by contemporary artists and they continue to be a symbol of pride and traditional culture.

Below is a short video showing a Northern Paiute version of a cradleboard and how the infants would be traditionally wrapped into a cradleboard.

[Alana Cox]

Object: Tie slide

Tie Slide
North America: Plains
mid-20th Century
Materials: German silver (aka Nickel silver)

This German silver tie slide was made by the prolific Oklahoma artist and metal worker George “Dutch” Silverhorn. Dutch Silverhorn was a member of the Kiowa tribe and learned metalworking from his father. Many members of the Silverhorn family are acclaimed artists and crafts people, including the ledger artist Silverhorn, Kiowa Five painter Stephen Mopope, and beadworker Katherine Dickerson. Continuing his family’s artistic tradition, Dutch was also a painter and a carver, producing mainly objects related to the Native American Church.

Historic image of Native American wearing German silver conchos

German silver, also sometimes called nickel silver, is an alloy or combination of copper, nickel and zinc. Nickel silver first became popular as a base metal for silver plated cutlery and is still used today in zippers, keys, costume jewellery, musical instruments, and coins. German silver jewelry and metalworking has also been an extremely popular art form in Native American communities for centuries. The earliest examples of Native American metalwork were made by pounding coins and European style cookware flat, then cutting and forming the metal into jewelry. In the late 1800s the first sheets of German silver began to reach the plains tribes. These sheets were quickly put to use for jewelry making. Countless examples of German silver conchos, belt buckles, tie slides, earrings and more can be found in museums and throughout the native community today.

Here is a video (part 4 of 15) that shows some of the tools and techniques used to make this type of German silver jewelry.

[Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Object: Kiowa Fan

Kiowa: Peyote Fan
20th Century
United States: Plains
Materials: Feathers, beads, and buckskin

A peyote fan is an essential object for a peyote meeting. This Kiowa fan incorporates some of the main materials that are used in peyote fans.

The peyote religion is a sacred, yet often misunderstood, spiritual practice of some Plains Indian tribes. Peyote is the major sacrament of the Native American Church. The church has faced its share of scrutiny from the U.S. government and Christian followers. The spiritual use of peyote has its beginnings among indigenous groups in Mexico and the Southwestern part of the United States.

The plains groups learned about peyote in the late 19th century. The Comanche chief Quanah Parker brought it to his people after he was reportedly treated with it in Mexico. He later established the Native American Church, a combination of Christian concepts and traditional indigenous beliefs. Members of the Native American Church believe that peyote is a gift from God. They have a variety of art, objects, and symbolism that is incorporated with their ceremonies and beliefs.

Fans are very important for several reasons. First, the number of feathers in a fan can represent family members. Secondly, the fans are specifically made for individuals. This fan is 22” and is made with hawk feathers. Some peyote fans are made with eagle feathers, macaw, scissortail and even roadrunner feathers. This fan may have been used while cedaring or blessing a person. In effect, the fan brushes away evil spirits. This all takes place during the ceremony.

This Kiowa fan has a buckskin handle and the feathers are partially beaded with the colored glass beads. This bead pattern is consistent to Kiowa and other Plains styles. Beadwork patterns vary from regions and tribes. This fan was likely made before the 1940’s, since it was cataloged in the museum collection in 1952. During that time period, the peyote cult was highly controversial and illegal in the United States. Native Americans were also facing other obstacles in that time period. Since the turn of the 20th century, the Kiowa tribe has resided in Oklahoma due to the Indian Removal Acts. In 1993 the Religious Freedom Act was reinstated. Now, the Native American Church and tribal followers legally consume peyote for religious purposes. Today, there are an estimated 250,000 to 400,00 members of the church.

[Alana Cox]

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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