Kiowa Miniature Shield

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This miniature shield was collected from an American Indian named White Eagle, a common enough name in Oklahoma. It is probably Kiowa, because they made many small copies of old shields at the request of Smithsonian anthropologist James Mooney. However, Plains warriors realized that a shield’s power to protect its owner lay more in the realm of mysticism than in its physical ability to deflect a bullet or an arrow.

Shields gradually got smaller during the nineteenth century, shrinking from more than 2 feet across in 1800 to around a foot in diameter by the 1880’s.As far as the Plains Indian warriors were concerned, a miniature shield, possessing all the medicines of a big one, was just as efficient and not nearly so cumbersome to carry on the trail. This shield, 9 inches in diameter, has a running bull elk as the central figure, and lightning streaks from its mouth and hooves. Overhead a green sky is filled with vermilion stars, and a feather is pendant on each side. The standard interpretation would be to assign this to the Sioux Elk Dreamer cult, whose members created charms and medicines that called upon the enormous sexual powers of the bull elk in rut to seduce women and draw them into liaisons. One became involved in this lusty fraternity by dreaming of elk; hence, the name. However, the elk’s strength and powers of endurance were noted by other tribes who placed somewhat less emphasis on its seal prowess than did the Sioux. Perhaps too many pieces are assigned to the Elk Dreamer Cult simply because the connection appears so obvious-or, should we say, too obvious?

This appealing piece dates to the last quarter of the nineteenth century.

Illustrated in Spirits in the Art, by James A. Hanson pg.21.

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