Object of the Month

Indian Ledger Art

Detail from U.S. Cavalry and Native American Indians
by Making Medicine (Cheyenne), 17.5 x 33.3 cm.
From Book of Sketches made at Fort Marion,
St. Augustine, Fla., ca. 1875-1878.
Manuscript collection, Massachusetts Historical Society.

This colorful drawing, created by Cheyenne warrior Making Medicine (1844-1931) some time from 1875 to 1878, depicts an encounter between the U.S. Cavalry and a group of Native American warriors circa 1875. It derives from a long tradition of Native American art; similar works exist all over North America, many drawn on rocks, cave walls, animal hides, and bones. Making Medicine's image, however, belongs specifically to the unusual category of ledger art—a 19th-century practice so named for the paper volumes in which the artists made them—created by Indian prisoners of the U.S. Army.

Making Medicine's captivity stemmed from the Red River Uprising of 1874-1875, a series of battles between the U.S. Army and several Native American tribes of the southern Great Plains. The army imprisoned 72 of the Indians deemed most dangerous at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida; Making Medicine was among them. This small group of warriors produced an impressive number of striking and important drawings—more than 1,000 have been identified to date. The artists had a patron in the prison commander, Capt. Richard H. Pratt. A proponent of Native American education and assimilation, Pratt encouraged the men to draw by providing them with paper and colored pencils. Although Ft. Marion housed individuals from five tribes, the artists were all Cheyenne or Kiowa, the two nations that dominated the prison. Most of their drawings depict camp life, hunts, and battles, and some show scenes of Indian prisoners interacting with teachers and soldiers.

The booklets they produced were given as gifts to visiting officers and sold to tourists for around two dollars a volume. The ledger book in which this drawing appears belonged to Francis Parkman (1823–1893), a historian best known for his multivolume history of the French and Indian Wars. Donated to the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1956, along with the bulk of Parkman's personal papers, the book contains 28 drawings. Most are the work of Making Medicine or Bear's Heart, another Cheyenne warrior, known also by their Cheyenne names—O-kuh-ha-tuh and Nock-ko-ist.

Making Medicine, an eminent warrior, celebrated Indian life on the plains in many of his drawings, but after his release from Ft. Marion he followed Anglo-American laws and traditions for the remainder of his life. Baptized and given a Christian name in 1878, he spent several years recruiting students for Richard Pratt's Carlisle Indian School in Carlisle, Penn. In 1881, he returned to Oklahoma, where he served as an Episcopal deacon until his death in 1931.


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