Monday, April 4, 2011

Pawnee Bill and His Connection to Iroquois Beadwork

     In the Indian Museum of North America, located at the Crazy Horse Memorial in Crazy Horse, South Dakota is a display of Iroquois fancy beadwork with the following case label:
Pawnee Bill originally commissioned Native people living in South Dakota and Nebraska to make whimsies to be sold at Niagara Falls. The whimsies are based on Iroquois patterns from the state of New York and are often thought to have been made by Iroquois people. They were, however, made by Plains people where Pawnee Bill lived from 1899-1922. Many times patterns were made on a beading machine and were attached to the final products rather than being individually beaded. 

     This information came to light about two years ago when someone who was vacationing in the area circulated a photograph of some of the whimsies on display in the museum that were being attributed to Plains Indians. I heard about it last fall and was surprised to learn that until now, no one had taken the initiative to look into this. Initially, this seemed a bit farfetched, but the fact that these items are on display in a museum caused me to pause and I decided it couldn’t hurt to write a few emails and make a few phone calls. 
(Note: Except where noted, the beaded items in the photographs are from the Indian Museum of North America that are attributed to Plains Indians. These images as well as the information on Dr. Gilliham is courtesy of the Indian Museum of North America. © The Crazy Horse Memorial Foundation. All rights reserved. Used with permission.)

     Like Buffalo Bill, Pawnee Bill was a Wild West Show promoter. He also operated a trading post for many years in Oklahoma where he sold genuine items that were made almost exclusively by Plains Indians. To quote from one of his old catalogs: “We have 120,000 Indians within 150 miles of the Trading Post, which give us the greatest opportunity of securing the remnants of the plains Indians… Pawnee Bill [is] known to every tribe that exists today…. It is our privilege and right to boast that any and every thing, made by the American Indian … [is] carried in our stock, which is today the largest, rarest and most beautiful collection of the West, that has ever been got together by a single individual.”

     Unfortunately, there is no reference to Iroquois whimsies in any of the old Pawnee Bill catalogs that I examined. When the pieces of fancy Iroquois beadwork in the Museum of North America were donated to them, the staff hired Dr. James E. Gillihan to appraise them for the donors and for insurance purposes. Gillihan, who was one half Cherokee, was a well respected art and antiques appraiser in the mid-west and in his 1989 appraisal of these pieces he wrote: 
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to examine the beautiful… whimseys that you have contributed to the Crazy Horse Museum. These period pieces are a great addition to the collection because they are both traditional work of the Native Americans and have a great history. 
They were commissioned by the famous showman Pawnee Bill, who once traveled with the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show, to be sold in gift stores in Niagara Falls, New York from 1899 until 1922. Pawnee Bill made a guide book for various craftspersons from several tribes – Crow, Dakota, Winnebago, Omaha, etc. – to use to assemble a group of styles that he worked out with shopkeepers in Niagara Falls.  The big and elaborate pieces of beads on each piece were printed on a machine and were attached, along with original beaded trim by the Indian People. Pawnee Bill would pick them up and take them to Niagara Falls and they would be sold to honeymooners and others who found the place popular. Some were never collected from their makers by Pawnee Bill and can only rarely be found in shops in “Indian Country.” I can recall a long talk with Phebe Cooked Foot, Grand-daughter or the famous Yankton Chief, Red Leaf, about the whimseys and the ones that she assembled.

Thank you for contacting Gillihan & Associates, please let me know if I can provide additional information.

Dr. James E. Gilliham
Gillihan & Associates
Member, New England Appraiser’s Association – Boston
Qualified Appraiser, Internal Revenue Service, Washington, DC
Senior member, Art Appraisers of America, LTD, Chicago
Home office: New Harmony, Indiana

     I circulated this information to several colleagues and Peter Corey, the curator emeritus of the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka, Alaska directed me to Henry Moy, the director of the Museum of the Red River, in Idabel, Oklahoma. It turns out that Henry had a conversation with Dr. Gillihan some fifteen years earlier when Gillihan (who died in 2002) told him that he had published an article about the Pawnee Bill/Iroquois connection. Henry couldn’t remember exactly where or when it was published but thought it was in a Midwest state historical society publication. He recalled that the article mentioned boxes of kits that were shipped from the east to the Sioux, he thought at the Rosebud Reservation, and these kits included beads and paper patterns. This article would have appeared sometime before 1989 and it included an interview with Phebe Crooked Foot, the daughter of the famous Yankton chief, Red Leaf, where she discussed the whimsies she assembled for Pawnee Bill.
     The case label in the Museum of North America stated that: “Many times patterns were made on a beading machine and were attached to the final products rather than being individually beaded.” I’m not sure what this beading machine would have been – unless they are referring to a bead loom – but certainly none of the work pictured in the photographs is loom work. Perhaps the reference is to the paper patterns that may have been printed and cut to shape on a machine and beaded separately before being attached to the final piece. This reference is still unclear. 
      I contacted every state historical society in the Midwest regarding this article as well as a number of museums that Gillihan was affiliated with and a number of other sources that were recommended by the institutions I contacted. No one was familiar with the article. I even telephoned the Pawnee Bill archives but they were unacquainted with this aspect of Pawnee Bill’s enterprise.
     I contact the Reference Tozzer Library at Harvard University as they have search resources that are usually not available to the general public or on the internet. They said the Gillihan article was not indexed in ANTHROPOLIGICAL LITURATURE, the index to some 600,000 articles in scholarly journals, edited works, and symposia that they compiled from the early 1800s to date. Nor was it indexed in ANTHROPOLGICAL INDEX, the index beginning in 1957 from the Royal Anthropological Institute in London. It’s also not indexed in the database BIBLIOGRAPHY OF NATIVE NORTH AMERICANS, which covers scholarly books and articles on the subject from 1620 onward. Finally, it’s not indexed in AMERICA: HISTORY AND LIFE, the main database for US and Canadian history although since the AHL begins around 1964, the Gillihan article might have been missed if it appeared earlier.
This pincushion is from the Ten Kate collection in the
 Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, the Netherlands.
In the 1880s, Dutch ethnologist Herman Ten Kate met Ely Parker in New York. Parker was a Seneca chief and war secretary to Ulysses S. Grant during the Civil War. At the time he met Ten Kate, he was the police chief of New York City. Ten Kate obtained a letter of introduction from him to his sister Caroline Parker and her husband, Tuscarora Chief John Mountpleasant.  On his visit to Niagara Falls and the Tuscarora reservation, Ten Kate collected examples of beadwork and though they were not particularly distinguished, some of these pieces may have been made by Caroline Parker. Pieter Hovens, the curator of the North American Department at the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden, the Netherlands, where the Ten Kate collection is housed, wrote that on Ten Kate’s visit to Caroline Parker at Tuscarora, he purchased a pincushion at Niagara Falls. Ten Kate said “[h]e was told by the seller – an unidentified individual whom he deemed reliable – that it was made by a Kickapoo girl or woman and came from Kansas or Indian territory” (Hovens 2010:27-28) yet the pincushion is clearly in the style that was made by the Tuscarora. (See the pincushion above).
     Beverly Gordon wrote, in her PhD dissertation on the Iroquois whimsy, that "[i]t is important to understand that anyone, from anywhere, might have made a whimsy… A white woman might have copied one, as might an Indian from another Iroquois tribe or any other tribe. One of the prominent “Tuscarora” beadworkers mentioned by my informants was in fact a Sioux woman who had married a Tuscarora and lived in New York. She adopted the Tuscarora or Niagara Falls style and became a primary whimsy producer "(Gordon 1984:75-76).

     In 1885, the Niagara appropriations bill turned the land around the falls into a park and this likely had a diminishing effect on the sale of beadwork at the Falls. The Eleventh Census of the United States, published in 1892, included all the Iroquois nations in New York and that census indicated that only two Tuscaroras identified themselves as beadworkers by this date (Donaldson 1892). So it’s possible that social and political changes in Niagara Falls occasioned a diminishing supply of beadwork available to shops and other vendors, Pawnee Bill, as a savvy entrepreneur, may have seen this as an opportunity and hired Plains Indians to fill the gap.
     Dr. Gillihan was a Native speaker and his information came first hand from the Plains Indians he interviewed, not through an interpreter. The evidence suggests that something was going on but to what extent is still unclear. This whimsy production could have been an off-season project for the Indians in Pawnee Bills employ.  By the time the Wild West shows were in full swing, Native peoples from both the east and the west were hired to perform in them. There are numerous extant images of Eastern Indians dressed in a mix of both Eastern and Plains attire, along with outfits that were manufactured for the fraternal order known as the Improved Order of the Red Men. Performers in these shows were travelling extensively and they were familiar with the tribal attire and manufactures of other performers. It doesn’t seem too farfetched to think Pawnee Bill hired Plains Indians to produce some of these whimsies if there was a financial incentive to do so. Gillihan was a highly respected elder and there is no reason to believe that he made up any of the claims attributed to him.
     The mysterious Gillihan article remains elusive but if it’s ever uncovered, it may shed additional light on a previously unknown aspect of fancy Iroquois beadwork production.  


     There is a tribute to him on the Teachers of Experiential and Adventure Methodology (T.E.A.M.) website and I quote from it here in part. The full tribute can be seen here:

Tribute to Dr. James Gillihan  -  Tatanka Ska (White Buffalo)
In 1972, two years after he became the director of the Natural History Museum of the University of the University of South Dakota, Jim was adopted by Yankton Elder, Joseph Rock Boy and given the name, Tatanka Ska or White Buffalo.  Jim and Joe would go and visit the elders as part of his work.  Joe Rock Boy said, "They will never speak to you in English. So these are the last words in English you will ever hear me speak."  Jim probably spent more time with elders than anyone you will ever meet.
Recognized as a man with good intentions and a good heart, religious leaders such as Fools Crow, Lame Deer, Henry Crow Dog, Matthew King, and Joe Rock Boy taught him their language, traditions, ceremonies and ways of the Lakota/Dakota people. These men wished to share an Earth-centered way of life with all people, regardless of their race, color, sex, or religious views and taught Jim to do the same.  Jim became a native speaker and well versed in the traditional ways.
In 1973, he was appointed Cultural Preservation Director for the state of South Dakota and served as the governor's liaison to the traditional Lakota people.  That was the year of the 'standoff' at Wounded Knee.  Jim was able to help with the peaceful negotiations between the federal marshals and the embattled Indians.  Many, many lives were saved due to his efforts as a quiet, behind the scenes, peacemaker.
In 1977-78 Jim was diagnosed with cancer. A series of operations and chemotherapy followed.  His weight went from 240 pounds to 116 pounds.  In January 1978, the doctors told Jim there was nothing they could do for him and he should make his final plans. The Lakota/Dakota people remembered their friend and adopted brother with prayers and ceremonies.  Frank Fools Crow, the recognized Medicine Man, sent Charles Fast Horse and his brother Douglas to conduct a Pipe ceremony at the hospital where Jim stayed.  Charles received permission to conduct the pipe ceremony in the Jim's hospital room.  Charles said to Jim, "This is a tough one, it will take four days."  Four days later, the doctors could find no trace of any cancer in his body and it did not return.  The doctors asked Jim if those men could come back and help the other patients. Jim answered, "It will not work unless you really believe it works."
Jim returned home and the only food he could really keep down was peanut butter, but it was able to add some weight and strength to his frail body.  When Jim was a 'robust' 130 some pounds he wanted to thank Frank Fools Crow  and drove out to South Dakota.  Fools Crow said, "Jim, I need you to do something for me.  I have had Sitting Bull's Sacred Pipe under my bed for about thirty years, and have not been a very good keeper of it.  I would like you to take care of this pipe and pray for the people.  If this goes to a reservation it will never be seen again."  Jim was surprised and responded by saying, "Why would you give that to me? I am not even Lakota."  Fools Crow responded by saying, "Spirit knows who you are, and the only wrong way to pray is not to pray."  Jim accepted this responsibility with total dedication and humility.
In 1978, this highly respected man of Cherokee heritage was made the fourth Keeper of Sitting Bull's Pipe by Frank Fools Crow, Spiritual Leader and Medicine Man of the Lakota Nation.  He carried it with humble dignity in service for the People for twenty-four years.  Jim refused to accept or take any recompense for his healing work with Sitting Bull's Pipe.  Jim's purpose was to help others discover "The Red Road Philosophy" whatever their religious views, and incorporate an Earth-centered consciousness in their daily lives through introspection and regular communion with a higher being.  He did this by leading an exemplary life style and by leading ceremonies and teaching others by personal example.  One of Jim's favorite experiences was sharing Sitting Bull's Pipe with a group of Tibetan Monks on the main altar in their temple.

If you have an interest in Northeast Woodland beadwork you might find my book of interest. Titled: A Cherished Curiosity: TheSouvenir Beaded Bag in Historic Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Art by GerryBiron. Published in 2012. This is a brand new, hard cover book with dust jacket. 184 pages and profusely illustrated. 8.5 x 11 inches. ISBN 978-0-9785414-1-5.
Since the early nineteenth century, Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) beaded bags have been admired and cherished by travelers to Niagara Falls and other tourist destinations for their aesthetic beauty, detailed artistry, and the creative spirit of their makers.  A long neglected and misunderstood area of American Indian artistry, "souvenir" art as it's come to be called, played a crucial role in the subsistence of many Indian families during the nineteenth century. This lavishly illustrated history examines these bags – the most extensively produced dress accessory made by the Haudenosaunee – along with the historical development of beadworking both as an art form and as a subsistence practice for Native women.
In this book, the beadwork is considered in the context of art, fashion, and the tourist economy of the nineteenth century. Illustrated with over one hundred and fifty of the most important – and exquisite – examples of these bags, along with a unique collection of historical photographs of the bags in their original context, this book provides essential reading for collectors and researchers of this little understood area of American Indian art.

References cited

Donaldson, Thomas
1892    The Six Nations of New York – Cayugas, Mohawks (Saint Regis), Oneidas, Onondagas, Senecas, Tuscaroras. Eleventh Census of the United States. Robert P. Porter, Superintendent. Extra Census Bulletin. Indians. Washington, D.C. United States Census Printing Office.

Gordon, Beverly
1984   The Niagara Falls Whimsey: The Object as a Symbol of Cultural Interface. Ph.D. dissertation. Department of Textiles and Design, The University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Hovens, Pieter
2010   The Ten Kate Collection 1882-1888 in European Review of Native American Studies, Monograph 4. Series Editor: Christian F. Feest. National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden, The Netherlands, ZKF Publishers.  


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