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A Cayuse-Nez Percé Sketchbook

Cultural Context of the Drawings

It had been customary in aboriginal times to make much of the war prowess of leading men. They were exemplars for boys, and parents sometimes invited an outstanding warrior to talk to a group of their sons gathered to hear him. On public occasions, such a man might be invited to recount a battle experience, and he in turn capped his recital by giving away a horse or other property to some worthy person. In such a context, the delineation of war exploits on "record robes" on war shirts and on the covers and liners of tipis provides an artistic counterpart to oral statement.

In this respect, the Signal sketchbook adheres closely in subject matter to the themes of traditional hide-drawings, unlike the drawings of the Kiowa and Cheyenne captives at Fort Marion, which, addressed in part to tourist interests, provide a wider and more varied picture of tribal life. The Signal drawings in all likelihood represent the exploits of a number of different individuals, recalling times and events then still keen in memory. It is useless at this point to seek to distinguish Cayuse from Nez Percé among the principals. When first encountered, the two peoples were already so intermarried that the Cayuse, despite their distinctive language, were often deemed by outsiders no more than a branch of the more numerous tribe.

Indeed, by 1837, Marcus Whitman noted that the younger Cayuses spoke only Nez Percé and could no longer understand their native language. The degree to which the two peoples were sometimes linked in hazardous adventures can be illustrated by the five "brothers" famed among the Nez Percé's for exploits against the Sioux and Cheyenne: two were part-Cayuse (McWhorter, 1952: 589; Slickpoo, 1973: 18).

There were, of course, individuals still alive at the time these drawings were set down who could recall at first hand events from before the middle of the nineteenth century. Two decades later, when as a boy Halfmoon accompanied his parents in a mixed party of Cayuses and Nez Percé's traveling in the Blue Mountains for the fall hunt, he heard veterans of the Nez Percé War of 1877 evoke the old engagements. One of them, Wetyetmas Wyakaikt (Swan Necklace), had been drafted by his young uncle, Wahlitits (Shore Crossing), to serve as "horseholder" when with a cousin the latter sought revenge for the slaying of his father. It was this and related actions in the Salmon River settlement that had precipitated the hostilities. On his return after the war to the reservation at Lapwai, he had taken a pseudonym to protect himself against reprisals by settlers (McWhorter, 1948: 44, n. 10), and on these hunting visits to Oregon his true identity was also concealed.

It is at least arguable that the sketchbook was not entirely a private matter, but that the drawings were seen and perhaps corrected in detail by knowledgeable men who had been there. As we have suggested above, the meticulous attention given to features, face paint, hairdress, and costume points to the probable aim of identifying individuals. In this, the color and markings of their mounts serve the same end. Just as an exploit is seen as a unique experience, the evidence, perhaps, of the protective grace afforded by a tutelary Power, and is summoned up with all relevant detail, so the drawings pronounce the verity of the event by furnishing minutiae of identity.

Yet there is a general stereotypic treatment of costume that runs through the majority of these drawings: the Plateau warriors are shown bareheaded, contending against foemen in war bonnets, buffalo horn bonnets, or with feathers in their hair. In only one sequence is an Indian enemy also depicted bareheaded (pages 19-21).

The war bonnets shown are of the erect type, of the Northern Plains (pages 8-l0d) and possibly of the recumbent type of the Central Plains (page 22). Although Ross (1956:201) describes the feather war bonnet among the Nez Percés, Cayuse, and Walla Walla in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and there is other evidence that this item was being acquired by the Nez Percés through trade at the time of first White contact (Haines, 1955:37f.; Walker, 1971:62), some tribal historians would date its common use only from the return from captivity of Joseph and his people. Either the Signal artist was of the same belief, or he seized upon this convention of war dress the better to distinguish the two sides. He has also commonly posed the Plateau men on the left, with their foes on the right (an exception again is the sequence on pages 19-21; the fight against the troops, pages 15-16, is another).

The foe may be any of a number of Plains peoples. Early enemies in the northern Plains were the Blackfeet and their allies, Piegan, Blood, and Gros Ventres; in 1846, Flathead and Nez Percés joined with the Blackfeet to defeat their former allies, the Crows; in 1853, the Blackfeet were once more preying on the Nez Percés. In 1872, the Crows, learning that the Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne were planning to drive them out of the buffalo country, appealed to the Nez Percés, who came to their aid; and together they ambushed the invaders. Meanwhile, to the south, in the Great Basin, Bannock, Shoshone, and later the related Northern Paiute, were frequent enemies (Anastasio, 1972; Bailey, 1947).

In all likelihood, the drawings are at least roughly accurate for the garb of the period. The aboriginal costume of men included a breechclout, fringed leggings, shirt decorated with quill work (and later beadwork) and with drawn designs, and moccasins. That dress is well illustrated by the photograph of the Nez Percé, Jason, taken in 1868 (Haines, 1955: facing page 206). In the early days of trade, European clothing was viewed as an alternative to native garb: Hudson's Bay trader Samuel Black wrote (1829), "These Indians have . . . European Cloathing of Course which (except the Blankets they are fond of) they like as a Change & Badge of Riches, but return to their own dresses." However, they soon came to combine elements of each.

Farnham thus describes the costume of a Cayuse he met returning from the buffalo country, who guided him into the Whitman mission: "He was . . . dressed in a green camlet frock coat, a black vest, striped cotton shirt, leather pants, moccasins, and a white felt hat." (1843:78) To be sure, he might have donned the finery, like a voyageur, only in anticipation of his arrival at the mission.

At least by 1871, heavy flannel trade cloth had replaced deerskin for leggings, whereupon, says Spinden (1908:217), the legging fringes were replaced by stiff aide-flaps which bore the larger part of the beadwork. The date of 1871 is provided by a photograph of Looking Glass the younger, who combines such leggings with a buckskin war shirt and an Army shako (Haines, 1955: opp. page 254). Photographs of Major Lee Moorhouse, made around the turn of the century, and now in the Special Collections, University of Oregon Library, show that in some instances a contrasting applique had replaced some of the beadwork decoration.

The Plateau styles shown in the Signal drawings fit into that record of changing fashion. The hair is worn in three or four basic manners. It may be worn combed back and falling freely down the back; this is seen in two instances when the individual is unarmed and his face bears no paint (pages 7, 8). A second style combines the "Crow" pompadour, with the brow hair en brosse, two side braids, and the back hair falling free. A third pairs the Crow pompadour with the remainder of the hair falling down the back, and there tied near the base with a colored ribbon (e.g. pages 15, 25, 26). A fourth mode is to tie the hair up on top, with the back hair tied near the end (e.g. page 16). It is a fashion, commonly worn in battle, which gave name to Wilewmutkin (Hair Tied on Top), a Cayuse chief who in the early nineteenth century greatly magnified Cayuse fortunes. Of one Nez Percé warrior in the 1877 conflict, Husis Owyeen (Wounded Head), McWhorter was told that he tied up his front hair with a strip of wolf-hide (Wolf being his tutelary Power), and this gave him his strength in battle (1952: 373). In the back hair of one rider, wearing the second style, is fastened a rosette of the tail feathers of a red-tailed hawk (page 24, last unmarked page); another combines the same style with a pendant strand of beads, perhaps dentalium shells, at the temple (page 14). The hair is sometimes dyed red (e.g. page 17).

While aboriginally face paint was applied on many occasions, on these pages it is only in war--and not always there (page 16, last figure on right)--that face paint is shown. This may take the form of a solid red applied to the lower face (pages 13, 22); solid color, light tan, extending up to the eye (page 16, leading figure); solid color on the brow, in brown or red (e.g. page 17, rear figure); or a red hairline (page 16, third figure). Also seen is a light solid triangle extending from the jaw to the eye (page 16, second figure); red diagonal cheek stripes (e.g. page 20); and such stripes combined with vertical brow stripes (page 28).

A few adornments are shown. Two men wear disc-shaped earrings, possibly of abalone shell traded up the Columbia, and another wears an earring of another form (pages 15, 22, 26).Some wear what seem to be chokers, tight-fitting about the neck (e.g. page 16, second figure). A number wear the set of necklaces or breastplate, sometimes of dentalium traded from the coast, sometimes of disc-shaped beads traded from northern California (Spinden, 1908:217; for an example, see page 24).

Of the traditional men's shirt, or war shirt, with its heavy fringes, there is no evidence in the drawings, either on the Plateau figures or their foes. Instead, there are a wide range of trade shirts or jackets. Shirts are in solid colors or plaid (e.g. page 16); while one is in blue polka-dots (page 22). The waist is often girdled by what appears to be a cartridge belt (again, page 16); if so, its appearance on the hostile lancer on page 8 is anomalous, since he does not carry a firearm. Perhaps it is employed here to represent the heavy beaded belt visible in some of the Moorhouse portraits. Because the artist represents a bare torso by applying a light brown to the body and arms, while leaving hands and face plain, he sometimes gives the impression that a shirt is being worn (see, e.g. page 9); but he normally draws in the lower border when a shirt is depicted (page 23).

In cold weather, a hooded capote-jacket may be worn, probably over the shirt. Such jackets, probably made from Hudson's Bay blankets--thus the black stripes on them (page 12)--bear a fringing ornamentation around the face and at the shoulder, and a long pendant from the hood. The lower edge reaches just below the knee. The capote-jacket differs from the far fuller capote itself (pages 17, 18, 25).

Most figures shown wear breechcloths of trade cloth, again in solid colors, checks, or plaids, end often fringed. In one instance (page 19) the wearing of identical breechcloths by three warriors is suggestive of membership in a soldier's society, such as existed among at least some segments of Nez Percé's (Walker, 1971:107); or of a less formal comradeship.

Men often go into battle barelegged (thus page 19); but they are often depicted in leggings. Only in one instance are these unmistakably the old fringed leather leggings (page 8, facing page 11), although it is possible that other brown leggings (page 7) are also leather. In many other instances they are surely of trade flannel, with decorated flaps, and with pendant ties falling behind (e.g. page 26). Often the leggings are white, with banded decoration ranging up to the knee (page 17). Sometimes they are of blanketing (page 12).

Moccasins are not always separately indicated, but have been assumed. In some instances (e.g. page 14) colors schematically show their decoration, probably with beadwork.

In cold weather, men may don a blanket over a capote-jacket (page 12); when riding, it may be wrapped about the waist (page 13).

Insignia or ritual adornments sometimes are shown. Indeed, the red-tailed hawk feathers in the hair of the rider of page 24 may be of this character. So also may be the red fox fur pendant from his left shoulder. Prominent in a number of pictures (e.g. pages 17, 19, 25) is the long decorative sash which Philip Guyer, of Cayuse-Nez Percé descent, terms tuqe.pilpt. Formerly, says he, the bandolier sash was of fur, though later made of trade cloth. It served as a padded quiver strap. Those shown appear to be of fur.

In depicting horse trappings, the Signal artist has followed old conventions: as in the Brooks robe, he shows Spanish bridles and no saddles. All riders are represented as going bareback. Although the small, pad saddle might have been concealed beneath the rider, there is neither cinch nor stirrup in evidence. Only the position of the foot of the front rider of page 22, concealed beneath a blanket or fur sash, and that of the rider on the following page, are suggestive of the use of a stirrup. The tail of a horse may be decorated with a tie (e.g. page 23), and a pendant adorn the headstall (same page); but none of the animals is decorated with paint, although according to Otis Halfmoon this was common practice for war steeds.

Three exceptions appear to the generality of bridles. The Plateau rider of page 7 simply guides his mount with a line around his neck. Perhaps he had lassoed his steed and mounted it in haste to escape from his assailant. On page 23, the man at the left is holding what Ewers (1955:75) terms the war bridle; he is engaged in fashioning a halter to control the horse. Finally, the horse raider of pages 27-28 uses his war bridle first as a lasso, then (facing page 28) fastens it as the traditional bridle, wrapped around the lower jaw of his mount, while he rides.

Next: Artwork "The Duel"

Last revision: 8/12/03 by N. Helmer
Created by Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
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