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A Cayuse-Nez Percé Sketchbook

The Shield Bearer

Pages 19-21

A succession of scenes, pages 19-21, depict the prowess of a shield bearer in an engagement between a party of Plateau Indians and a foe who, like them, wear no headdress. It may be that the latter are Northern Paiutes. If so, this is a period in their history when they had acquired firearms in numbers, by about the middle of the nineteenth century.

[Image: 21.jpg]


Page 19. Against a party of these enemies, firing from the protection of rifle pits, come four Plateau warriors. One man, clad in capote-jacket and trade-blanket leggings, strides briskly past the rifle pits, grasping his gun, in what may be a flanking movement. The other three wear identical striped breechcloths, possibly symbolizing their comradeship, like that of the three RedCoats, possibly even reflecting membership in a soldier society. Two wear their hair tied up; one wears a set of necklaces. The latter, sheltered behind a rock outcropping, with gun in hand, holds the horses, while his companion, grasping his gun, advances warily. In the foreground, the shield bearer crouches, his back to the viewer. He wears the fur bandolier sash and, barely visible below it, some sort of sash, perhaps with buttons sewn upon it.

[Image: 22.jpg] Page 20. Having set his scene, the artist here eliminates all but the essential figures. The shield bearer is shown advancing on his foes, whom he dwarfs in size. His shield is now clearly seen, with its fringe of pendant feathers and a central pendant. With a shot from his revolver, he slays the nearest foe.

Page 21 (not reproduced [in print article but included here]) is almost identical to page 20, with the dead rifleman lying within the forward rifle pie. However, the shield bearer has advanced into the now broken wall of the pit. It may graphically show the destructive power of the shield bearer, or he may have broken it down to get inside to count coup upon the fallen man, or even--since he has less hair than on the previous page--to scalp him. One man continues to fire upon the hero, but the others are no longer shown and may have decamped. Meanwhile, he dispatches another foeman.

The hair of the shield bearer is distinctive. It seems too shore to be the cropped hair of a mourner, and it is unlikely that a man in that status should have gone with a war party. It suggests rather the curly hair of a person, possibly a Black, who had been received into the tribe, or the offspring of an interracial union. No such person is known to us who would fit these scenes.

Next: The Rear Guard

Last revision: 11/4/03 by N. Helmer
Created by Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon Libraries
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