Industrial And Esthetic Arts

Since the arts of primitive people reflect environmental conditions with

close fidelity, and since the Siouan Indians were distributed over a vast

territory varying in climate, hydrography, geology, fauna, and flora,

their industrial and esthetic arts can hardly be regarded as distinctive,

and were indeed shared by other tribes of all neighboring stocks.

The best developed industries were hunting and warfare, though a
l of the

tribes subsisted in part on fruits, nuts, berries, tubers, grains, and

other vegetal products, largely wild, though sometimes planted and even

cultivated in rude fashion. The southwestern tribes, and to some extent

all of the prairie denizens and probably the eastern remnant, grew maize,

beans, pumpkins, melons, squashes, sunflowers, and tobacco, though their

agriculture seems always to have been subordinated to the chase.

Aboriginally, they appear to have had no domestic animals except dogs,

which, according to Carver--one of the first white men seen by the prairie

tribes,--were kept for their flesh, which was eaten ceremonially,(23) and

for use in the chase.(24) According to Lewis and Clark (1804-1806), they

were used for burden and draft;(25) according to the naturalists

accompanying Long's expedition (1819-20), for flesh (eaten ceremonially

and on ordinary occasions), draft, burden, and the chase,(26) and

according to Prince Maximilian, for food and draft,(27) all these

functions indicating long familiarity with the canines. Catlin, too, found

dog's meat ... the most honorable food that can be presented to a

stranger; it was eaten ceremonially and on important occasions.(28)

Moreover, the terms used for the dog and his harness are ancient and even

archaic, and some of the most important ceremonials were connected with

this animal,(29) implying long-continued association. Casual references

indicate that some of the tribes lived in mutual tolerance with several

birds(30) and mammals not yet domesticated (indeed the buffalo may be said

to have been in this condition), so that the people were at the threshold

of zooculture.

The chief implements and weapons were of stone, wood, bone, horn, and

antler. According to Carver, the Nadowessie were skillful bowmen, using

also the casse-tete(31) or warclub, and a flint scalping-knife. Catlin

was impressed with the shortness of the bows used by the prairie tribes,

though among the southwestern tribes they were longer. Many of the Siouan

Indians used the lance, javelin, or spear. The domestic utensils were

scant and simple, as became wanderers and fighters, wood being the common

material, though crude pottery and basketry were manufactured, together

with bags and bottles of skins or animal intestines. Ceremonial objects

were common, the most conspicuous being the calumet, carved out of the

sacred pipestone or catlinite quarried for many generations in the midst

of the Siouan territory. Frequently the pipes were fashioned in the form

of tomahawks, when they carried a double symbolic significance, standing

alike for peace and war, and thus expressing well the dominant idea of the

Siouan mind. Tobacco and kinnikinic (a mixture of tobacco with shredded

bark, leaves, etc(32)) were smoked.

Aboriginally the Siouan apparel was scanty, commonly comprising

breechclout, moccasins, leggings, and robe, and consisted chiefly of

dressed skins, though several of the tribes made simple fabrics of bast,

rushes, and other vegetal substances. Fur robes and rush mats commonly

served for bedding, some of the tribes using rude bedsteads. The

buffalo-hunting prairie tribes depended largely for apparel, bedding, and

habitations, as well as for food, on the great beast to whose comings and

goings their movements were adjusted. Like other Indians, the Siouan

hunters and their consorts quickly availed themselves of the white man's

stuffs, as well as his metal implements, and the primitive dress was soon


The woodland habitations were chiefly tent-shape structures of saplings

covered with bark, rush mats, skins, or bushes; the prairie habitations

were mainly earth lodges for winter and buffalo-skin tipis for summer.

Among many of the tribes these domiciles, simple as they were, were

constructed in accordance with an elaborate plan controlled by ritual.

According to Morgan, the framework of the aboriginal Dakota house

consisted of 13 poles;(33) and Dorsey describes the systematic grouping of

the tipis belonging to different gentes and tribes. Sudatories were

characteristic in most of the tribes, menstrual lodges were common, and

most of the more sedentary tribes had council houses or other communal

structures. The Siouan domiciles were thus adapted with remarkable

closeness to the daily habits and environment of the tribesmen, while at

the same time they reflected the complex social organization growing out

of their prescriptorial status and militant disposition.

Most of the Siouan men, women, and children were fine swimmers, though

they did not compare well with neighboring tribes as makers and managers

of water craft. The Dakota women made coracles of buffalo hides, in which

they transported themselves and their householdry, but the use of these

and other craft seems to have been regarded as little better than a

feminine weakness. Other tribes were better boatmen; for the Siouan Indian

generally preferred land travel to journeying by water, and avoided the

burden of vehicles by which his ever-varying movements in pursuit of game

or in waylaying and evading enemies would have been limited and


There are many indications and some suggestive evidences that the chief

arts and certain institutions and beliefs, as well as the geographic

distribution, of the principal Siouan tribes were determined by a single

conspicuous feature in their environment--the buffalo. As Riggs, Hale, and

Dorsey have demonstrated, the original home of the Siouan stock lay on the

eastern slope of the Appalachian mountains, stretching down over the

Piedmont and Coastplain provinces to the shores of the Atlantic between

the Potomac and the Savannah. As shown by Allen, the buffalo, prior to

the year 1800, spread eastward across the Appalachians(34) and into the

priscan territory of the Siouan tribes. As suggested by Shaler, the

presence of this ponderous and peaceful animal materially affected the

vocations of the Indians, tending to discourage agriculture and encourage

the chase; and it can hardly be doubted that the bison was the bridge that

carried the ancestors of the western tribes from the crest of the

Alleghenies to the Coteau des Prairies and enabled them to disperse so

widely over the plains beyond. Certainly the toothsome flesh and useful

skins must have attracted the valiant huntsmen among the Appalachians;

certainly the feral herds must have become constantly larger and more

numerous westward, thus tempting the pursuers down the waterways toward

the great river; certainly the vast herds beyond the Mississippi gave

stronger incentives and richer rewards than the hunters of big game found

elsewhere; and certainly when the prairie tribes were discovered, the men

and animals lived in constant interaction, and many of the hunters acted

and thought only as they were moved by their easy prey. As the Spanish

horse spread northward over the Llano Estacado and overflowed across the

mountains from the plains of the Cayuse, the Dakota and other tribes found

a new means of conquest over the herds, and entered on a career so facile

that they increased and multiplied despite strife and imported disease.

The horse was acquired by the prairie tribes toward the end of the last

century. Carver (1766-1768) describes the methods of hunting among the

Naudowessie without referring to the horse,(35) though he gives their

name for the animal in his vocabulary,(36) and describes their mode of

warfare with Indians that inhabit still farther to the westward a country

which extends to the South Sea, having great plenty of horses.(37)

Lewis and Clark (1804-1806) mention that the Sioux of the Teton tribe ...

frequently make excursions to steal horses from the Mandan,(38) and make

other references indicating that the horse was in fairly common use among

some of the Siouan tribes, though the animal was confined principally to

the nations inhabiting the great plains of the Columbia,(39) and dogs

were still used for burden and draft.(40) Grinnell learned from an aged

Indian that horses came into the hands of the neighboring Piegan

(Algonquian) about 1804-1806.(41) Long's naturalists found the horse, ass,

and mule in use among the Kansa and other tribes,(42) and described the

mode of capture of wild horses by the Osage;(43) yet when, two-thirds of a

century after Carver, Catlin (1832-1839) and Prince Maximilian (1833-34)

visited the Siouan territory, they found the horse established and in

common use in the chase and in war.(44) It is significant that the Dakota

word for horse (suk-tan'-ka or sun-ka'-wa-kan) is composed of the word for

dog (sun'-ka), with an affix indicating greatness, sacredness, or mystery,

so that the horse is literally great mysterious dog, or ancient sacred

dog, and that several terms for harness and other appurtenances

correspond with those used for the gear of the dog when used as a draft

animal.(45) This terminology corroborates the direct evidence that the dog

was domesticated by the Siouan aborigines long before the advent of the


Among the Siouan tribes, as among other Indians, amusements absorbed a

considerable part of the time and energy of the old and young of both

sexes. Among the young, the gambols, races, and other sports were chiefly

or wholly diversional, and commonly mimicked the avocations of the adults.

The girls played at the building and care of houses and were absorbed in

dolls, while the boys played at archery, foot racing, and mimic hunting,

which soon grew into the actual chase of small birds and animals. Some of

the sports of the elders were unorganized diversions, leaping, racing,

wrestling, and other spontaneous expressions of exuberance. Certain

diversions were controlled by more persistent motive, as when the idle

warrior occupied his leisure in meaningless ornamentation of his garment

or tipi, or spent hours of leisure in esthetic modification of his weapon

or ceremonial badge, and to this purposeless activity, which engendered

design with its own progress, the incipient graphic art of the tribes was

largely due. The more important and characteristic sports were organized

and interwoven with social organization and belief so as commonly to take

the form of elaborate ceremonial, in which dancing, feasting, fasting,

symbolic painting, song, and sacrifice played important parts, and these

organized sports were largely fiducial. To many of the early observers the

observances were nothing more than meaningless mummeries; to some they

were sacrilegious, to others sortilegious; to the more careful students,

like Carver, whose notes are of especial value by reason of the author's

clear insight into the Indian character, they were invocations,

expiations, propitiations, expressing profound and overpowering devotion.

Carver says of the Naudowessie, They usually dance either before or

after every meal; and by this cheerfulness, probably, render the Great

Spirit, to whom they consider themselves as indebted for every good, a

more acceptable sacrifice than a formal and unanimated thanksgiving;(46)

and he proceeds to describe the informal dances as well as the more formal

ceremonials preparatory to joining in the chase or setting out on the

warpath. The ceremonial observances of the Siouan tribes were not

different in kind from those of neighboring contemporaries, yet some of

them were developed in remarkable degree--for example, the bloody rites by

which youths were raised to the rank of warriors in some of the prairie

tribes were without parallel in severity among the aborigines of America,

or even among the known primitive peoples of the world. So the sports of

the Siouan Indians were both diversional and divinatory, and the latter

were highly organized in a manner reflecting the environment of the

tribes, their culture-status, their belief, and especially their

disposition toward bloodshed; for their most characteristic ceremonials

were connected, genetically if not immediately, with warfare and the


Among many of the Siouan tribes, games of chance were played habitually

and with great avidity, both men and women becoming so absorbed as to

forget avocations and food, mothers even neglecting their children; for,

as among other primitive peoples, the charm of hazard was greater than

among the enlightened. The games were not specially distinctive, and were

less widely differentiated than in certain other Indian stocks. The sport

or game of chungke stood high in favor among the young men in many of the

tribes, and was played as a game partly of chance, partly of skill; but

dice games (played with plum stones among the southwestern prairie tribes)

were generally preferred, especially by the women, children, and older

men. The games were partly, sometimes wholly, diversional, but generally

they were in large part divinatory, and thus reflected the hazardous

occupations and low culture-status of the people. One of the evils

resulting from the advent of the whites was the introduction of new games

of chance which tended further to pervert the simple Siouan mind; but in

time the evil brought its own remedy, for association with white gamblers

taught the ingenuous sortilegers that there is nothing divine or sacred

about the gaming table or the conduct of its votaries.

The primitive Siouan music was limited to the chant and rather simple

vocal melody, accompanied by rattle, drum, and flute, the drum among the

northwestern tribes being a skin bottle or bag of water. The music of the

Omaha and some other tribes has been most appreciatively studied by Miss

Fletcher, and her memoir ranks among the Indian classics.(47) In general

the Siouan music was typical for the aboriginal stocks of the northern

interior. Its dominant feature was rhythm, by which the dance was

controlled, though melody was inchoate, while harmony was not yet


The germ of painting was revealed in the calendars and the seed of

sculpture in the carvings of the Sionan Indians. The pictographic

paintings comprised not only recognizable but even vigorous

representations of men and animals, depicted in form and color though

without perspective, while the calumet of catlinite was sometimes chiseled

into striking verisimilitude of human and animal forms in miniature. To

the collector these representations suggest fairly developed art, though

to the Indian they were mainly, if not wholly, symbolic; for everything

indicates that the primitive artisan had not yet broken the shackles of

fetichistic symbolism, and had little conception of artistic portrayal for

its own sake.