This Southern plains shield which measures 22 inches across is Comanche and made of peccary hide.
The Comanches made shields padded with all sorts of materials such as leather, book pages, or, in this example, grass. Perhaps they developed this practice from contact with Mexicans who sometimes wore padded or quilted armor or wrapped folded serapes around their abdomens to help stop arrows. The shield, which is over an inch thick but fairly light, is decorated with a half -circle outline in red that may be a rising sun.
19 inches in diameter. Thick hide disc painted ochre, black and white.
This shield has been repainted several times during its long life. The uppermost coat may represent a diving eagle or other bird of prey, head down and wings folded, splitting the sky and spreading blood with its destructive beak. This is quite an old shield, certainly dating back to the beginning of the 19th century.
This Northern Plains shield, measuring 19 inches in diameter, is of unique construction. While the shield proper is a thin, sheet-iron disk, the back is rawhide, and the two pieces are fastened together with four copper rivets. The rawhide backing added to the strength of the shield and also provided a foundation to which arm loops and a carrying strap were attached.
The face of the shield is thin buckskin, perhaps antelope. The rainbow across the top evokes a prayer to change the enemies’ missiles and render them harmless. The feathers probably refer to the shield’s figurative representation of the sun by symbolizing its rays. The Sand hill crane head attached to the center is likely a personal protector of the owner.
The crane, a bird that is heard long before it can be seen, often flies at night, traveling with unerring confidence to its destination. The tinkling dog bell reinforces this interpretation since it would represent the actual voice of the majestic bird’s spirit. Although for Indians on the Missouri the use of iron for shields was suggested as long ago as the beginning of the nineteenth century, this is the first such shield I have seen. Sioux winter counts refer to warriors using iron shields or wearing iron helmets. One of the great Pawnee stories tells of a seemingly invincible Cheyenne who would draw the Pawnees’ fire, then chase them down one by one and slay them. When he was finally killed by a boy’s lucky arrow shot into his eye socket, the Pawnees were amazed to find that under his scalp shirt the Cheyenne wore iron plate armor, arranged like overlapping fish scales, riveted to a leather jerkin.
All is fair in war, and every man’s personal medicine could use an edge.
This shield, from Jemez, Pueblo, is 18 inches across. Painted yellow overall on its face, the shield is completely red on the back. There is a typical horizontal band of stars across the front. The green “V” above it may represent the first rays of dawn. To the left is a clump of parrot feathers, and to the right are buckskin thongs with small hawk bells attached to them. This shield dates from 1850-1875.
This shield depicts a violent storm in the center with lightning bolts shooting from it to the lower left and lower right.
They strike the earth, while rain pours straight down between them. The funnel-shaped cloud roaring out toward the top probably represents violent winds, their force and direction indicated by the arrows crossing the yellow horizon.
A hank of horsehair hangs from near the center, and two cougars are painted on the white area to either side of the storm design. The “weather pattern” on this shield bears a remarkable resemblance to the Kiowa shield 70.
The back of this Santo Domingo shield is incised with three abstract geometric designs as well as a small mountain lion figure done in white paint.
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.
This shield, 23 inches in diameter, is a splendid Sioux shield dating from about 1860. The central feature is a horned thunderbird separating the star-studded night sky below from the day sky above. A rainbow arches across the top of the shield’s edge. The symbolism of the thunderbird evokes the strikes of lightning so important to shattering the enemy. The two skies and the rainbow draw upon the power of the thunderbird to change the bright day into a dark storm and to turn a sky full of hail and lightning into peaceful calm. In other words, the painting calls upon bullets and arrows to be rendered harmless by altering them into the opposite of their present form. The central pendant is a personal medicine of eagle feathers and horse hair that asks those animals to help the shield bearer with their special abilities.
From the front, only the shield cover of buckskin is visible. Although normally the cover (or covers) can be removed to reveal a shield with different power symbols and decorations, this cover is securely tied to the shield. It would be nice to know what the shield itself looks like.
This shield is 18 Inches in diameter. We often think of shields as bearing heraldic symbols of brave and ferocious animals, such as grizzly bears and buffalo bulls, although as often as not the magical paintings portray the sky and the weather. This shield is a depiction of a sky scape with sun, moon, and stars. To the left, rain pours from the center disk, while to the right, a lightning bolt reaches out and forks to the rim of the shield, which represents the horizon of the earth. A personal medicine charm hangs in the center. This piece actually is a cover that cannot be removed to unveil the shield itself.