David T. Vernon Collection at Grand Teton National Park: Part II

Grand Teton National Park, National Park Service

Laurance S. Rockefeller purchased the David T. Vernon collection in 1972 and transferred ownership to Grand Teton National Park four years later. For more than 40 years, the Colter Bay Indian Arts Museum in the park, displayed and housed a large part of the collection. Currently, the collection is undergoing conservation work at the Western Archaeological Conservation Center (WACC) in Tucson, AZ. Work includes examination, photography, construction of custom mounts, stabilization and repair. More than 60 objects have returned to exhibits at the Colter Bay and Craig Thomas visitor centers. One day, a new museum will house a rotating selection of these incredible items. We invite you to explore the spectacular American Indian craftwork of the David T. Vernon Collection.

Child's Play

Making such an elaborate and accurate item in a small size may seem impractical; however, it was meant to teach young girls both proper construction techniques of a cradleboard and parenting skills. In this way, playthings were also a favorite teaching method for children.

This U-shape cradle board is cut from wood and covered with native tanned buckskin, fringed horizontally on the back and laced vertically in front with long buckskin thongs. The top section is partly beaded in arched rows with orange diagonal angler pattern separated in turquoise blue. The opening is trimmed with red and green trade cloth, laced with buckskin thong, and holds a buckskin doll. Six buckskin thongs attached to each side are decorated with green, clear, amber, and cobalt blue basket beads.

Toys such as miniature toy gun and scabbard were made in graduated sizes for young boys. They could be adjusted to a larger size as the child grew. Learning how to hunt was a critical skill for each boy to learn.

Small miniature cradleboards were made for little girls as playthings. In the 1880–1900s, tourism emerged as an industry on Indian reservations. This miniature cradleboard might have been made specifically for the tourist trade.

This classic beaded cradleboard cover represents Sioux and Cheyenne style and technique. Rows of lane stitch (several beads on one stitch) interlock so the eye can follow each row of beading all the way across the hood. Both tribes used box and hourglass patterns.

The small size of this pouch could indicate that this was a little girl’s pouch that would have been tied to a belt. A slightly larger beaded pouch might be used as a container for ration cards or face paint.

The frames of Shoshone cradleboards in the Great Basin were an inverted U-shape. A flat-board was cut into a trapezoid wider at the top than the bottom and covered with native tanned buckskin. Several styles of cradleboards were developed using the U-shape design on the Columbia River Plateau and Northern Plains. Shoshone cradleboards were partially beaded; the Northern Plains cradleboard was fully beaded.

Tools of Daily Life

Since prehistoric time tobacco has been smoked in stone pipe bowls attached to long wooden stems. In historic times, pipes were smoked for pleasure as well as in ceremonies. Women also smoked a smaller pipe.

Blackfeet women used an applique technique in their bead-work. This bag features a small, stepped, diagonal pattern that was often created with multiple colors. When not in use, the pipe bowl is removed from the stem and stored in a bag along with tobacco and tamper.

Pipe bags are typically rectangular in shape and made of soft native tanned buckskin, usually deerskin. The upper half to two-thirds of the bag is usually undecorated, while the lower half is fully beaded and fringed. The green color comes from a pigment dye, likely commercially produced.

This roach is made from horse hair attached with thread to the base. Outside is deer tail dyed red and attached with thread to the horsehair and base. Historically, this type of head dress was worn for the War Dance. Similar dance roaches are still being made and worn by contemporary American Indians for social dancing at Pow-Wows throughout North America.

Brass tacks are studded on much of this tapered leather scabbard with leather fringe at the top. There is a triangular shape cutout at the center for a belt strap. Wrapped metal wire attaches leather fringe to the leather scabbard along the top. Commercial leather scabbards and belts with brass tacks were an early trade item among the Northern Plains, Columbia River Plateau, and Eastern Great Basin Indian tribes beginning in the fur trade era.

Flint and steel along with other objects were used to start fires. Trading post blacksmiths made steel by heating a carpenter’s steel file and bending it into a desired shape. Women used flint chips to strike sparks from the steel for lighting tinder.

European traders introduced metal knives to many of the various Plains tribes. Before European trading, knives were made from flint, obsidian, and bison bones. An important tool used in everyday life, knife scabbards were decorated with porcupine quills and glass beads.

This item demonstrates a zigzag technique, probably the original method used in quillwork. Zigzag remains the simplest and most natural form of quillwork.

Ladles were made of wood, sometimes carved from a tree knot. Ladle handles were elaborately carved with animals such as hawk, beaver, and sometimes a human figure in a seated posture. Ladles occasionally would be used by several people during a feast.

The spreading bowl and re-curved handle of this ladle were achieved by boiling a horn in water until it was pliable enough to bend into a shape. Wooden and horn ladles were used to serve meat and vegetable stew during meals.

This hairbrush is constructed of the skin of a porcupine tail that has been stretched over a smooth stick. Porcupine guard hair provided a good stout bristle with which to brush hair. The porcupine’s tail has no quills on it. The beaded band covers the seam.

Late-nineteenth-century Sioux and other Northern Plains tribes beaded clothing, awl cases, and knife sheaths to hold their valuable, and sharp, metal knives.

At birth, a Plains Indian child’s umbilical cord is kept and dried after it falls off. The mother would sew a small bag, sometimes uniquely shaped like a lizard or turtle, and place the umbilical cord in it. This amulet was attached to the baby’s cradleboard as its first toy, and later worn around the child’s neck. As the child grew older, it would be attached to a piece of their best clothing.

A person’s umbilical cord was kept for a lifetime as a charm to ensure longevity, representing a link between the child’s existence before birth, and life after birth. This case was constructed of native buckskin, and decorated with glass beads. The metal tinklers are attached at each end with orange dyed horsehair.

European knives were among the earliest and most desirable items of trade. Women were quick to fashion and bead scabbards in tribal geometric or floral patterns. The women used knives in food preparation, tailoring of clothing, and making domestic wares. Beaded scabbards were tied with buckskin thongs to their belts.

European knives were among the earliest and most desirable items of trade. Women were quick to fashion and bead scabbards in tribal geometric or floral patterns. The women used knives in food preparation, tailoring of clothing, and making domestic wares. Beaded scabbards were tied with buckskin thongs to their belts.

This container was constructed to hold the very aromatic castor oil of a beaver. It was created from a hollowed out birch log from Northern Montana/Idaho, and assembled with wooden plug, a leather strap handle, and decorative brass tacks. Beaver castor oil was used to bait traps.

The awl is one of the most important tools used by American Indian women. Earlier awls were made from bone. After the arrival of traders and merchants, metal awls were made from large needles with wooden handles for puncturing holes in native tanned buckskin for sewing.

Several tribes of the Northern Plains and Great Lakes played a winter game called snow snake with an arrow like this. Constructed of a rod, end of a bison horn, and feathers, these arrows were made to slide along a frozen crust or in a rut in the snow.

This knife is stamped with the manufacturer’s name: “J. Russell Co. GREEN RIVER WORKS, Professional.” With a curved blade and cord wrapped handle, the blade is sheathed in a decorative buckskin scabbard.

Pieces of birch bark were shaped into cones and used as moose calls to attract animals during the hunt.

The dice game was a popular pastime historically, but is rarely played today. The game involves gambling either by two individuals or by two sets of players.

Beautiful Storage

Ceremonial paint was not always kept in a beaded bag. It was an individual’s choice to keep the red paint in a small piece of native, tanned buckskin with a leather tie such as this paint pouch.

Cornhusk bags are a valued possession among the Columbia River Plateau people. Larger bags are used for storing different types of edible roots. The bags were traded and given as gifts to Northern Plains and Great Basin peoples. Since the later nineteenth century through present times, cornhusk bags are brought out when dressing up for parades and Pow-Wows.

This twined cornhusk bag is woven with Taxos or Indian hemp. The warp is wrapped with narrow strips of cornhusk and yarn in false embroidery.

The Pueblos of the Southwest are best known for their pottery, formed from clay and featuring linear, geometric, and animated design into their utilitarian pots. The Yuma, Mohave, and Maricopa developed a distinctive style using linear designs in creating and forming pottery.

Elliptical cases are another distinctive type of rawhide container that were used almost exclusively by the Sioux. Sioux and Arapaho were allies who shared some designs. This case was constructed by folding the rawhide in half and lacing a buckskin thong along the side and bottom. Soft pieces of native, tanned buckskin or canvas were sewn to the top. The drawstring is made from buckskin.

These bags are described as containers for collecting berries, for storage of foods such as coffee and sugar, or for clothing. They have even been classified as lunch bags.

Paint bags were used to store soil pigments (white clay, yellow and red ochre) to be used as paint. Paints were applied on the body during battle, religious ceremony, and social occasions by both men and women.

This particular type of bag was made by the French/Cree (Metis) tribe and traded to other Northern Plains and Great Lakes tribes. Pouches like these were originally made from an animal’s scrotum.

The common form of a painted rawhide container is known by the French word parfleche. The folded and rectangular container made from buffalo or other large animal hide was used by the Plains Indian people for storage and packing of dried meat, food, blankets, clothing, and other items.

This bag is beaded on canvas in applique technique with an equestrian motif. The eyes are beaded with transparent pink (aurosa) beads. The top horse motif is in transparent green and the bottom is beaded in Bodmer blue on a white background. It is an unfinished flat bag. Panels beaded on one side were made into bags that are still carried by women during social and religious gatherings.

This distinctive “bottleneck” basket is highly prized and specific to central California. Red quail topknot feathers and short wool tassels accent the edge of the basket. This type of special basket may have been made as a gift, payment for healing, or to hold valuable articles.

Credits: Story

Grand Teton National Park Staff
Grand Teton Association
Grand Teton National Park Foundation
Western Archeological and Conservation Center
Harpers Ferry Center
David Swift

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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