A Song for the Horse Nation - November 14, 2009–July 7, 2011 - George Gustav Heye Center, New York

November 11, 2011

American Indian Heritage & StoryCorps 2011: A Crow Warrior vs. The Nazis

JoemedJoseph Medicine Crow, about to enter the dance arena at the annual Crow Fair, holds a dance stick representing the horses he captured from German SS officers in World War II. (Photo by Glen Swanson.)


To commemorate Veterans Day, we're sharing this story from Dr. Joseph Medicine Crow, above, who grew up on the Apsáalooke (Crow) Reservation in southeastern Montana hearing the stories of his grandfather White Man Runs Him and the other aged veterans of the Indian wars.

Raiding an enemy’s horses is a tradition that survived even into 20th-century warfare, and during World War II, Dr. Crow got the chance to capture an enemy's horses in the finest tradition of a Plains Indian warrior. Now in his 90s, he tells his story of modern horse-raiding.


Joe Medicine Crow - Click to Play


"In World War II, I managed to have captured fifty head of horses. These were not ordinary horses. They belonged to SS officers, you know? During the last days of the war over there, there was a lot of confusion, so a bunch of these SS officers got on their horses and took off ... They were heading back to Germany. And here’s that old sneaky old Crow Indian now following them, watching them. So they camped for the night. I sneak in there and took all their fifty head of horses, left them on foot. So I got on one, looked around there and I even sang a Crow victory song all by myself. Crows do that when they think they’re all by themselves, they do things like that. So I sang a victory song."


Native Americans have served in the U.S. military since the American Revolution, and by percentage continue to serve more than any other ethnic group in the armed forces. For these reasons and more, Veterans Day is an especially significant holiday for many tribal communities across the country.

In 2009, Dr. Crow was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for his services. He will join fellow Native veterans at the museum on Dec. 2nd for a symposium to talk about his experience fighting for the U.S. military . The talk will be webcast live at www.AmericanIndian.si.edu/webcast. For more information, click here.


Audio and transcript re-published with permission from the museum's online exhibition, A Song for the Horse Nation, as part of the museum's partnership with StoryCorps for Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month and the StoryCorps National Day of Listening.

Comments (15)

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This is very beautiful I will be sharring THANK YOU

Its humbling to hear how individuals such as Joe Medicine Crow played such an important role in the WW2. I'm so glad those SS guys had their horses taken from them.

Its humbling to hear how individuals such as Joe Medicine Crow played such an important role in the WW2. I'm so glad those SS guys had their horses taken from them.

Such a great honor for our veterans, a day to commemorate the world war II. Cheers!

he deserves the honor that he got. i bet that part of his life was very adventurous. he experienced a very rare moment he deserves all it all.

I think this is a good article.People respect those who gave everything for their country in times of conflict. A fitting tribute. Thank you.

I find this story very intereseting because I am doing a report about Modern Day American-Indian culture and the majority of information that I have found along my gatherings has been along the lines of casinos and indian reservations, and a few mentioning the unique communal approach that the tribes have taken to "share the wealth" and as always, there are some disagreements along the way. Rather than learning about the casino war that goes on between these tribes, it is refreshing to read a bit about the actual culture and recognize them in that dimension.

You provided an impressive article I like it too much. Thanks.

This is a great story. It's nice to hear story from elders about what happened some past years ago.


I love historical articles like this. Would never have linked NAtive American warriors with WW2.


very interesting post
Thanks so much for the article. I really liked it.

Thanks for the interesting read, we don't hear much about the Indians during World War 2 this is the first article I have come across in fact.

It is very humbling how this man proudly served the same government that did so many bad things to his people.

Incredibly intersting. A wonderful tribute to Joe Medicine Crow to have a record of his amazing story - in his voice - in his words. A true national treasure. Thank you for your bravery Joe Medicine Crow - your heroic story is now part of recorded history.

October 28, 2011

A Song for the Horse Nation Spotlight: Horse Scenes on Tipis

20111024_01a_kjf_ps__DSC7723Lakota tipi, ca. 1890–1910. South Dakota. Muslin, paint. (20/7873) (Photo by Wayne Smith, NMAI)


The last object we'd like to spotlight from A Song for the Horse Nation is also the first object visitors will see when they enter the exhibition.

Unlike earlier versions that were constructed of hide, this Lakota tipi, circa 1890-1910, was constructed of canvas, which was rationed to tribes in the latter part of the 19th century when buffalo became scarce.

Oral traditions were frequently documented on tipis and hide robes; the main actions are usually read from left to right. Museum scholar Emil Her Many Horses, who curated A Song for the Horse Nation, says pigments like those that appear on this tipi were traditionally made using earth paints like charcoal (black) and ochre clay (red).

  5533115614_fec3011a6d_zDetail of the Lakota tipi during conservation at the museum's Cultural Resources Center (Photo by Molly Stephey)

This tipi is decorated with actual battle and horse-raiding scenes, and features the names of Lakota warriors who once rode the plains: Gray Eagle, Red Bear, West Bear and Kills Ten Enemies.

Like many of the museum's objects, this one required careful consideration for both handling and display. For example, when the tipi was set up in the gallery, the exhibition designer made sure the opening faced East, in keeping with tradition.

Angela Duckwall, an Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Conservation at the museum's Cultural Resources Center, explains:

"The sewing of the tipi would have been carried out by women and owned by the women. The painting would have been done by men and was probably done to celebrate successes in battle. Its was likely done for a special occasion as opposed to being an everyday lodge.”

The tipi was erected in the exhibition space as it was originally intended: using pine poles to construct a conical framework, pulling the cover over this framework, and staking out the edge to hold it down and make it taut, Duckwall says. "My job as conservator for this piece is to ensure that it can withstand the handling and tension that it will endure while being set up and during the exhibit, and to try to prevent any damage as much as possible."


P1040745Angela Duckwall, Mellon Fellow in Conservation, and Susan Heald, Senior Textile Conservator, attaching the band to the bottom edge of the tipi cover. (Photo by Lauren Horelick)


“The drawings look like several artists participated in the creation of these scenes. There have been some alterations to the tipi cover in its history, including a slight shortening at both center edges that have folded in some of the figures," Duckwall notes.

"This has allowed us to see that at least two of the horses were repainted after this alteration and to see how much fading has occurred to the images since the alteration,” adding, “Conservators get very excited by these discoveries." 


For the full schedule of events for the exhibition's opening THIS WEEKEND, visit http://bit.ly/ruBTZb

A Song for the Horse Nation runs through Jan. 7, 2013.


Comments (3)

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Fascinating. I can't wait to see it. It is probably even more fantastic in person.

Wow, this is incredibly beautiful. I love the dynamic nature of the painting, you can feel the horses galloping across the canvas. What a treasure!

This is amazing. I recommend kids teepee too.

October 27, 2011

A Song for the Horse Nation Spotlight: Ceremonial Objects and Honoring the Horse

11_8044Assiniboine horse stick. Made by Medicine Bear, circa 1860. NMAI 11/8044

Most successful warriors had special relationships with their favorite horses because they depended on each other to live. In order to confirm and continue this bond, a warrior would often immortalize a horse that had saved his life by creating a wood carving in the horse's image.

The famous warrior and diplomat Medicine Bear carved the likeness above in memory of his war pony, killed in battle in norther Montana in the mid-1800s; the mane and tail on this dance stick came from that pony.

Today, Medicine Bear himself is remembered by a social center named in his honor on the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation in Montana.

T141566Dance stick owned by No Two Horns (Hunkpapa Lakota), North Dakota. NMAI 14/1566

Arguably the most famous and widely copied dance stick was made by the Hunkpapa Lakota warrior No Two Horns to honor a horse that carried him to vicitory.

The details of the dance stick illustrate that his horse suffered six different wounds, as indicated by the red triangles, and the scalp replica attached to the horse's mouth may pay additional homage to the horse, or it may testify to the rider's own exploits.

The eagle feather and fancy silver bridle also suggest the importance of this animal and show that it was a cherished companion. Other interesting elements to note are the carved hoof at the bottom of the stick and the rawhide ears.

15_4760Sioux wooden pipe tamper, late 19th century (NMAI 15/4760)


Among many tribes, one of the most sacred ways to pray is through a ceremony centered on the smoking of a pipe. After the ceremonial accoutrements are carefully laid out, the pipe stem is inserted into the bowl, and the whole pipe is smudged, or cleansed, in sage smoke. Tobacco is placed into the pipe bowl and tucked in with a pipe tamper like the one pictured here. The pipe is then lighted and smoked by each of the participants as they pray. This pipe tamper is appropriately decorated with a horse icon, considered a sacred animal by the Sioux. 


For the full schedule of events for the exhibition's opening THIS WEEKEND, visit http://bit.ly/ruBTZb

A Song for the Horse Nation runs through Jan. 7, 2013.



SOURCE: A Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures. ISBN-10: 1-55591-112-9 (softcover). The book is available for purchase online from the NMAI bookshop: http://www.nmai.si.edu/subpage.cfm?subpage=shop&second=books&third=SongHorse

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October 26, 2011

A Song for the Horse Nation Spotlight: Horse Masks

18_8880Siksika (Blackfoot) horse head covering, circa 1845. (NMAI 18/8880)

Picture a horse wearing the mask above and coming toward you, and it isn't hard to appreciate how powerful and utterly transformative this head covering would be. The mask, made around 1845, is decorated with clipped feathers, Chinese brass buttons and pony beads, which were among the first glass beads introduced to Native Americans through trade with Europeans.

As horses became more integral to American Indian tribes like the Navajo, Crow and Blackfeet, riders became experts in fabricating horse gear for hunting, warfare and ceremony. Along the way, they transformed utilitarian equipment into a unique art form.

New ideas in design and ornament circulated through Native trade routes from Mexico to the Pacific Northwest. Some Native groups acquired Spanish-style gear, or copied it, with modifications based on local materials and personal taste. A lively trade in bridle bits and other metal parts sprang up. But for the most part, Native craftsmen made their own: saddles, bridles, cinches, whips, and ropes. Blending a variety of influences—Spanish saddles, eastern beadwork, traditions of family and tribal identity—Native artists created a rich new visual art form.


Oglala_Lakota_Beaded_Horse_Mask_1413Lakota beaded horse mask, ca. 1904. Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota. NMAI 1413


Because masks limited a horse's range of vision, they were usually used only for parades, not for battles. The elaborately beaded horse mask above was used in 1904 by a Teton Sioux chief to lead the Fourth of July parade at Pine Ridge, the same South Dakota reservation where museum curator Emil Her Many Horses' grandmother was born.

What is so unique about this mask is that it appears to have been made with the intention of later being recycled into many different objects. The beaded section, which would be placed over the face of the horse, could be remade into a pair of women's beaded leggings, and the area over the horse's cheek could be made into a pipe bag. The upper neck section of the cover would have been made into a pair of tipi bags, also known as a "possible bag," because anything possible could be stored inside. The lower neck section could be made into a pair of moccasins.


Cheyenne_Quilled_Horse_MaskNorthern Cheyenne quilled horse mask, mid-19th century. NMAI 1/4443


A quilled horse mask like the one above would have been created by a member of a quillwork guild. If a Cheyenne woman wanted to learn quillwork, she made an offering to a member of the guild, and if her offering was accepted, she would be taught the art and allowed to work as an apprentice.

Quillwork guilds were not just instructional, they embodied a religious element as well, not unlike a sisterhood. To become a member of a quillwork guild was to assume a station of respect and power, and when the guilds died out in the late 1800s, so did the practice of quillwork in Cheyenne society.

But the art of making horse masks still thrives. The museum is pleased to showcase a contemporary horse mask (below) by Kiowa artist Vanessa Jennings that features cut glass beads, silver, red and black wool cloth, brass bells, brass spots, hide, and red dyed horse hair.

              20111024_01a_kjf_ps__DSC7709Kiowa horse mask and martingale, 2010. Oklahoma. Made by Vanessa Jennings (Kiowa, b. 1952). Courtesy of Randall and Teresa Willis 

These masks are just a few of the many objects in the museum's new exhibition, "A Song for the Horse Nation," curated by Emil Her Many Horses and opening to the public this Saturday.

For the full schedule of events for the exhibition's opening THIS WEEKEND, visit http://bit.ly/ruBTZb

A Song for the Horse Nation runs through Jan. 7, 2013.



SOURCE: A Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures. ISBN-10: 1-55591-112-9 (softcover). The book is available for purchase online from the NMAI bookshop: http://www.nmai.si.edu/subpage.cfm?subpage=shop&second=books&third=SongHorse

Comments (9)

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Horse Masks look so awesome, if you didn't share this topic I would've missed some of the best masks in the world. Thanks for sharing! Really appreciated it!.

My husband just completed a sculpture with a horse wearing a mask similar to the top blackfoot mask. He is going to sculpt a whole series of horse's wearing masks. We love them. I am reading the book American Indian horse masks and it so interesting.

The art work is sweet. I would love to see this used during the time period that it was made.

Awesome masks. 2nd is great:)

Incredible art,and wonderful history. Thank you.

So much artistic mask.I like them so much.

so much attractive work,very creative ,thanks for sharing

there are some cool horse masks they are awsome let me make them for my horse

i am making one now

October 25, 2011

A Song for the Horse Nation Spotlight: Warrior Dress

When horses arrived in the Western Hemisphere in the 1500s, they transformed how many American Indian tribes traveled, hunted and waged war. Communities no longer had to spend days securing sustenance on foot or organizing hunting parties to track prey. Tribes could travel farther, expanding their access to natural resources, and a lone hunter could kill a buffalo almost at will.

Because of horses, which some tribes collectively referred to as the Horse Nation, Native Americans had something they had never had before: unencumbered time to develop their arts, spirtiuality, and philosophy. Most tribes embraced this new "big dog," and it fit easily within their cultures. The impact of horses can be seen even in the dress of Plains tribes like the Cheyenne:


08_8034Cheyenne shirt, circa 1865. (NMAI, 8/8034)

Shirts such as these were made and worn by esteemed Plains warriors, spiritual leaders and diplomats. Many of the locks on this shirt are horsehair, and the shirt's owner is probably the lance-bearing warrior on the yellow horse (below, left). The black zigzag line running from the yellow horse's head and down its front leg symbolizes lightning; it would have been painted on the actual horse to provide it with power in battle.

Dresses like the one below, on the other hand, were reserved for a close family member -- possibly the wife or sister -- of the warrior depicted on the fabric. The paintings on this dress, which appear to illustrate vignettes of intertribal warfare between Plains communities, recall the distinctions of one individual and indicate that he suffered five wounds.

17_6078Muslin dress with painted decoration, circa 1875. NMAI 17/6078


The museum's new exhibition, A Song for the Horse Nation, which opens Oct. 29, 2011, explores the many ways that horses have influenced American Indian culture even to this day. Contemporary traditions include the annual fair at the Crow Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana, which draws more than 2,000 horses each year and features elaborate parades and “giveaways” in which members of the tribe give away horses to relatives and friends as a gesture of generosity and honor.

A Song for the Horse Nation runs through Jan. 7, 2013. 

For the full schedule of events for the exhibition's opening THIS WEEKEND, visit http://bit.ly/ruBTZb


SOURCE: A Song for the Horse Nation: Horses in Native American Cultures. ISBN-10: 1-55591-112-9 (softcover). The book is available for purchase online from the NMAI bookshop: http://www.nmai.si.edu/subpage.cfm?subpage=shop&second=books&third=SongHorse

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Very good post.Thanks for sharing this great article! I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic.Excellent post and wonderful blog, I really like this type of interesting articles keep it up.

woowwww. Good pic.

thank you for sharing this really good article

Great content article, Keep going! Best regards

The warrior Dresses are just looking awesome!! There is a true story behind every picture!