Subject: wic'âša 'shirt wearer' warrior
Culture: Lakota Sioux
Setting: Plains Wars, 1862-1890
Context (Event Photos, Primary Sources, Secondary Sources, Field Notes)
* Cords & Gerster eds. 1991 p456 (Richard White, "The winning of the West: The expansion of the western Sioux" p456-467)
"The image of the fierce mounted warrior astride his fleet pony -- silhouetted against an austere western landscape, surveying the inexorable advance of white civilization's 'manifest destiny' -- is surely the most enduring stereotype of the American Indian, thanks especially to nineteenth-century pulp fiction and the twentieth-century media. The 'winning of the West,' however, involves a set of historical complexities that fit the strictures of the stereotype scarcely at all. The process whereby the Plains Indians came to be dispossessed of their lands and cultures during and by virtue of the Plains Wars ... needs to be more methodically scrutinized and reassessed. Violent episodes between Indians and whites -- often bred by cultural misunderstandings -- were both a symptom and a foreshadowing of the false beliefs that continued to haunt white-Indian relations. Most needed as a historical corrective ... is a proper understanding of intertribal relations, especially the rise of the western Sioux to imperial supremacy. Although we have been inclined to view Indian resistance to whites' 'winning of the West' as a short story with a simple plot -- the Indian stoically suffering tragic retreat, the inevitable consequence of white territorial ambition -- the true story is rather more complex. Close scrutiny of the historical facts yields a different picture, for the western Sioux had already 'won the West' by intertribal warfare before the period of white advancement. In fact, traders, and then settlers, followed the Sioux, who had largely subdued other Indian tribes militarily prior to the whites' arrival. The 'winning of the West' was in great measure, then, a conflict between the two remaining major expanding powers in the area -- the Sioux and the white Americans."
Costume (Headdress, Shirt)
* Hofsinde 1965 p45-46
"In the village as well as on a scouting trip, a Sioux man usually wore only a breechclout, though on cool days he might add a pair of leggings. His soft-tanned buffalo robe was always at his hand so that he could wrap it around himself should visitors call, or if he was summoned to a council meeting.
"His war bonnet was looked upon as sacred medicine, and so was his war shirt. This shirt, trimmed with human hair or with white ermine skins, was worn only on the war trail, at dances, or in council, and then only by braves who had proved themselves in battle. Each lock of hair on the shirt represented a coup won by taking an enemy horse or a prisoner, by being wounded, or by other deeds. These shirts were erroneously called scalp shirts by early white men, for the hair used was not taken from scalps. In most cases, it came from the owner's own braids or from the hair of his wife or other female relatives."
Projectile Weapons (Rifle, Archery)
* Dorsey 1995 p6 (quoting George Crook, 1876)
"Of the difficulties with which we have had to contend, it may be well to remark that when the Sioux Indian was armed with a bow and arrow he was more formidable, fighting as he does most of the time on horseback [CONTRA Fehrenbach 1974 p126], than when he got the old fashioned muzzle-loading rifle. But when he came into possession of the breech-loader and metallic cartridge, which allows him to load and fire from his horse with perfect ease, he became at once ten thousand times more formidable. 'With the improved arms, I have seen our friendly Indians, riding at full speed, shoot and kill a wolf, also on the run, while it is a rare thing that our troops can hit an Indian on horseback, though the soldier may be on his feet at the time. The Sioux is a cavalry soldier from the time he has intelligence enough to ride a horse or fire a gun."
* Hofsinde 1965 p47
"Nearly every Sioux tribe used bows and arrows, even after muzzle-loading guns became available. In close battle an Indian could release a number of arrows in the time it took to reload a single-shot gun. The early guns were single-shot Springfields, and it was not until after the Sioux obtained repeaters, like the Winchester '66 carbine and the Sharps .50-caliber carbine, that the bow was, to a great extent, discarded."
* Hofsinde 1965 p54
"The lance was a common Sioux weapon .... It was made like a large arrow, with the stone point set in place like an arrowhead. Contrary to some motion pictures, the Sioux did not throw the lance. It was a thrusting weapon, useful both in war and in the buffalo hunt. The lance, straight or crooked at one end, was also a part of the regalia that belonged to the war societies of the Plains Indians."
Clubs (Skullcracker, Tomahawk, Ball-Head)
* Vestiges of a proud nation 1986 p75 (Royal B Hassrick, "The culture of the Sioux" p71-18)
"Shamans made shields from fire-hardened buffalo hide with covers of soft deerskin painted with mystical figures and designs. It was the magical power of the design, rather than the thickness of the hide, which protected the owner from harm."
* Hofsinde 1965 p46
"The Sioux carried a rawhide shield into battle. It could ward off an arrow, but the designs and symbols painted on its face were considered even more protective. It was another kind of medicine. Nevertheless, a shield bearer was more apt to be shot at in battle as warriors always wanted to capture an enemy shield, which was an important coup."
* Dubin 2003 p82 (quoting Mitchell Zephier, Lower Brulé Lakota)
"One of the shield's primary purposes was for defense in battle, but they also had a spiritual aspect. Received in visions, the shield designs were really supernatural power or protection given to that individual."
* Dubin 2003 p82 f131 (quoting Mitchell Zephier, Lower Brulé Lakota)
"Warriors would ride into battle carrying lances or dance sticks ... things that were not really weapons since in Plains Indian warfare it was considered more honorable to strike an enemy and count coup rather than kill."