Sunday, April 5, 2009
I would like to show today, on this very nice Spring day, a watercolor of a member of the Cheyenne Mahohewa Warrior Society. Cheyennes are my most favorite caballeros of the Great Plains, right behind them are their cousins the Blackfeet, then Crow, Kiowa-Comanche, Lakota etc. Mahohewas or Red Shields or Red Shield owners were a military society found amongst the two divisions of the Cheyenne tribe. They were famous for their buffalo(bison) horns headdresses and red-painted shields with the bison tail attached. They were also know as Buffalo-bull warriors - and this name speaks for itself, as buffalo bull was considered the bravest and most dangerous of all the animals on the Great Plains.
If I were to paint this one again I would have added a headmask for his horse - I have been doing some reading and nothing struck me as so important in my studies on the Plains warriors and their ways as the recent book on the horse masks by Mike Cowdrey and Ned & Jody Martin - http://www.hawkhillpress.com/indian_horse_masks.htm I should also mention Bill Holm and his book 'Sun Dogs and Eagle Down,' wonderful reconstructions of the tribal people of North America where I saw horse mask in the painting titled 'Parade' dedicated to the reconstrction of the Nez Perce man and woman on horseback.
I did this watercolor long time ago (1990s), upon reading several books: the Rev. Thomas Mails' books 'Mystic Warrior of the Plains' and 'Dog Soldiers, Bear Men, Buffalo Women' and 'Fighting Cheyennes' by Bird Grinnell. I was very impressed with Rev. Mails work, although this impression as far as his scholarship has worn off a bit, but I am still a great admirer of his art, especially the ink drawings and many of the paintings. Unfortunately don Thomas passed on in 2001 and probably can be found now with his heroes in the Everlasting Hunting Grounds.
Bird Grinnell or more properly George Bird Grinnell (1849-1938) was an early American anthropologist who started studying the Plains Indian cultures when the 'Indian wars' of the Great Plains were still raging on, the conflicts between the aboriginal peoples and the Old Uncle Sam's Army. During his distinguished career Grinnell wrote many books and I think his most important ones are the ones dedicated to the Cheyennes, although he also studied the Pawnee and Blackfeet. I was very very curious how he acquired his first-hand information from the Cheyenne informants, and for many years I was unaware that he actually had used the most important (in my opinion) man in the history of the survival and preservation of the old Cheyenne ways - George Bent, a metis (his father was William Bent, a famous Indian trader, and his mother was Owl Woman, a Cheyenne woman of a very important family) , one-time Confederate soldier and Cheyenne warrior.
It was George Bent who while living in Oklahoma, supplied all the informants, Bent did all the translations and who sent his own notes from his own examinations and interviews with old 'hostiles' and their wives, the traditionalists etc. Many of these old-timers were about to depart from this world, as the early 20th century was the hardest for the Indian tribes of the Great Plains, and Bent sensing the urgency of his mission to collect as much information as possible was often perplexed when Grinnell would not show proper respect to the old warriors and their wifes, nor did Grinnell seemed to share the same feeling that the world of traditional Cheyennes was slipping away because the traditionalists, often more than 90 years old were withering away. Bent was not a saint himself, but this is another story, already told by George E. Hyde (another assistant to Bird Grinnell) using Bent's letters and recently by Haalas and Masich (2004).
But Birdy Grinnell 'forgot' about George Bent and gave him no credit for all his field work. Nevertheless, thanks to the cooperation of these two individuals we can read and learn about the Old Cheyenne ways. Obviously there were other early scholars who studied the Cheyennes, amongst them George Dorsey and James Mooney, but first two Georges cleared the way, so to speak.