Posts made in November, 2014

The Spirit Son-in-Law

Life was uncertain in the 1800’s and it was a fight to survive. Stories of spiritual protectors were used to explain how tribal members survived when the odds were against them. Tom Shakespeare Sr. shares such a story told to him in 1923 by his mother’s maternal uncle. The old Arapaho had married into the Gros Venres, a sub tribe of the Arapaho, and had lived with them most his adult life. Whenever the Gros Ventres, in battle with whites or with other tribes were about to retreat or run from the enemy, a warrior would suddenly appear on a white horse, mounted to defend and check the enemy from a complete victory. This had happened so often that the figure came to be known as the Gros Ventres son-in-law. It was in fact a spirit guarding them from slaughter and annihilation. The Skypeople by Tom Shakespear Sr. Pgs. 36-37 According to Tom, the Gros Ventre are now located at Fort Belknap, Montana, and still retain their tribal identity as Gros Ventre or Atsina. And I’m sure the Son-in-Law still watches over them, waiting to race his white horse into battle to defend his people....

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Pieces of the Sky – Trading Beads

For 40,000 years, beads have been used as a form of commerce by nearly every culture and nation. It was no different for the Arapaho and other Native Americans. And the most valued of all the beads was the blue glass beads of the traders. Before the glass bead appeared, the ancient Native Americans traded beads made of antler, bone, copper, stone, wood, gold, silver, jade, blue-green turquoise and hand polished shell. Many of these beads continued to be used, but to the Plains Indians and most other tribes, the most valuable bead of all was the sky-blue Padre bead. In fact, in 1778 Captain James Cook said it was difficult to do trade with the Pacific Coast Indians without this particular blue bead. Captain Meriweather Lewis said that only the blue and white beads were acceptable to the tribes they dealt with. The most desired of the beads he carried were the common, cheap blue beads called “Chief Beads” also known as the large Padre Beads. Unfortunately, for Lewis and Clark, the red beads they thought the natives would like were considered nearly worthless. The sky-blue Padre Bead with its light blue shade reminded the tribes of a piece of the sky. The Arapaho, renowned for their trading skills, were so well-known for acquiring this particular bead that their name, the Blue-Sky People, is theorized by some to have come from the Padre Beads. Whatever the case, the blue Padre Bead was highly valued and is an important part of our recent Arapaho history despite its small size. This bead first came to the America’s aboard a Spanish Galleon and landed in Mexico in the 1400’s. Its name ‘padre’ came from the fact that Franciscan priests or padres gave the beads to Native Americans for their good work and to convert them to Christianity. It is also called “Peking Glass” and “Dutch Beads”. The blue Padre bead was first made in China and, during the Ching Dynasty from the 1640’s to early 1900’s, were used in Chinese court costumes. These original beads were opaque with a sky-blue or a turquoise shade. The Padre beads are wound, opaque, light blue glass beads and come in three sizes: Chief Beads (jumbo) 5/8’s to ¾ inch in diameter Crow Beads (mid-size) 3/8 inch in diameter Pony Beads (small) 3/16 inch in diameter Padre beads were made in a variety of colors but blue and white were the most sought after during the entire time they were used in trade between the 1400s and early 1900’s As I said, trading beads were highly valued and a strand of small Padre beads, eight feet long traded for a small horse and earned their...

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How Trade Beads Were Made

When glass trade beads made their appearance on the Great Plains, they were used for trade and became an important part of commerce. But not all beads were created equal and some were coveted over others. These beads came from overseas, far from the tepees of the Arapaho. Glass beads were made in Amsterdam, Bohemia, China, Czechoslovakia, England, France, India, Italy and Spain. However, the majority of glass beads were made in Italy. They had a monopoly for 600 years and a secret society of glass makers who jealousy guarded all their trade secrets. Beginning in the 1400’s in Murano, Italy, glass beads were made through a method called “winding. Making a wound bead is a very involved process. These beads were made individually by drawing a molten glob of glass out of the furnace and winding it around an iron rod. A glass of another color could be added to a wound bead after the first layer cooled or the bead could be decorated with a design such as with the Lewis & Clark bead. To create the color, coloring agents were added to the molten glass: Cobalt made blue Copper produced green Tin made a milky white Gold made red Another bead making process produced the blown glass beads. In this process, a glob of molten glass was removed from the furnace and the desired shape was made by blowing through a glass tube. A third, cheaper method was the cut bead. It was developed around 1490 by Venetians – or rediscovered since the Egyptians used this same process centuries before. For a cut bead, a master glassmaker made a cylinder of molten glass and once it was in the desired shape, attached a rod to the cylinder. An assistant then took the end of the rod and ran down a long corridor before the glass cooled. This drawn glass tube could be 120 meters (394 feet) long and it was the length of this tube and the amount of glass used that determined the size of beads. Once the tubes cooled, they were cut into meter long pieces and these pieces were cut into beads of various sizes. The cut beads were then placed in a large metal drum containing lime, carbonate, sand, carbon and water. While the metal drum turned, heat was applied to the outside, causing the rough cut edges to be smoothed. After the beads were smooth, they were cleaned and then placed in a sack of fermented brand and vigorously shaken to polish them. Czechoslovakian glass beads were also very popular, especially in later years. The Bohemian’s actually learned the art of bead making from Venetians when they worked in the Murano...

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Trade Beads & Their Names

Trade beads were by no means created equal. The most coveted were the sky blue Padre beads, glass beads originally made in China and then, in later years, in Italy. However, other beads were commonly used by the Arapaho and the other tribes for trade and decoration. These beads all had names attached to them that were given to them for their history or because of their color. The Mountain Men called them: Ponies (an 8 foot string of these medium-sized Padre beads could be traded for a pony) Crow Feathers Yellow-Jackets White-hearts Green-hearts Russian-Blues Padres (named after the Spanish Fathers, or Padres, who first brought them to the Native Americans) Skunks French-cross Yellow-hearts Cranberries The primary beads used by Arapaho women for decoration were the seed, Pony, and Crow beads.  Made of drawn glass, seed beads were under 2.0 mm Pony or pound beads were “wound” and between 2 and 4 mm Crow bead were also “wound” and were 4 to 10 mm in diameter The larger Crow & Pony beads were carried by Lewis and Clark and since they were too large for fine needlework, Crow and Pony beads were hung from or attached to clothing and horse gear. There is no evidence of seed beads being at the Mountain Man Rendezvous between 1825-1840 and prior to their appearance on the Plains, quills from porcupine were commonly used for fine needlework. (Quillwork is a relatively new art form that ollfowed the introduction of horses when Plains Indians were able to spend more time in one place.) The most coveted beads were: Hudson Bay Sky-blue Padre Bead from China Dutch Chevron Beads (called American Flag beads) Hudson Bay Russian Blues Hudson Bay Whitehearts Glass Beads from Murano & Venice, Italy Venetian Glass four, six & seven layer Chevron Beads In 1700 trade, the favorite beads were, beside the “piece of the sky” blue Padre beads, the Czechoslovakian glass and Millefiores. In 1800 trade, the list had changed: Christmas Beads Red Feather Beads Crow Beads Yellow Jackets Chevron Beads  ...

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Deer Woman

Deer Woman is a creature, half woman and half deer, of Native American legends. She is known to be an attractive young woman but has the hooves of a deer. Some say that her entire lower half is that of a white tail deer and when startled, you will see a flash of her tail. On our reservation, the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, I heard a story of a recent sighting. The girls that saw her told their cousins that she had long black eyelashes, beautiful brown eyes, a stunning face but when they saw that she had the hooves like a deer, they left the area screaming. They knew that seeing the Deer Woman was not a good thing. Legend has it, that Deer Woman will lure young men away from their home and has been known to trample them to death beneath her hooves. These stories have persisted for years and, interestingly, I found an account of a Deer Woman sighting in Alfred Kroeber’s book, The Arapaho published in the early 1900′s. Kroeber called the story an example of an “acute and violent delusion”. The story is from page 20. (It is paraphrased just a tad until the eye witness account!) Among the Oklahoma Arapaho a man named Big-Belly imagined himself to be a deer and afterwards was given the name Deer (Bih’ih in the Arapaho language). He had several attacks of this delusion and an eyewitness told Kroeber the following account. “Deer (Bih’ih) went hunting. Accidentally he came to a pretty woman. She was completely dressed in deer-skin. Straightway he wanted to court her, when he saw the woman. She motioned to him to approach. ‘Well, I will have you for [my] sweetheart ‘ Deer said to her. ‘And yourself do so’ (please yourself), she said to him. Then he went to her. He was just going to touch her — to his surprise, she gave the cry of a deer, suddenly jumped, and ran off, looking backwards. Then he saw her to be a deer. Then Deer was ashamed at being deceived from desire to make love. Then he went back because he was ashamed. Some time afterwards, Deer became like a deer. In the middle of the camp-circle Deer was chased like a deer; like a deer he cried, like a deer he leaped, like a deer he fled on the open prairie; all pursued him. When they caught him, his eyes looked different. Deer had his mouth open; all held him. At last he ceased being a deer. For this he is named Deer.” Excerpt from The Arapaho by Alfred Kroeber It is fascinating that the story continues to be with us...

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