A Lakota War Book from the Little Bighorn: The Pictographic

A Lakota War Book from the Little Bighorn: The Pictographic "Autobiography of Half Moon"

by Castle McLaughlin




Houghton Library and Harvard’s Peabody Museum Press collaborated on the publication of this fourth volume in the Houghton Library Studies series, an innovative cultural analysis of the extraordinary composite document known as “The Pictographic Autobiography of Half Moon, an Unkpapa Sioux Chief.” At its core is a nineteenth-century ledger book of drawings by Lakota Sioux warriors found in 1876 in a funerary tipi on the Little Bighorn battlefield after Custer’s defeat. Journalist Phocion Howard later added an illustrated introduction and had it bound into the beautiful manuscript that is reproduced in complete color facsimile here.

Howard attributed all seventy-seven Native drawings to a “chief” named Half Moon, but anthropologist Castle McLaughlin demonstrates that these dramatic scenes, mostly of war exploits, were drawn by at least six different warrior-artists. Their vivid first-person depictions make up a rare Native American record of historic events that likely occurred between 1866 and 1868 during Red Cloud’s War along the Bozeman Trail.

McLaughlin probes the complex life history of this unique artifact of cross-cultural engagement, uncovering its origins, ownership, and cultural and historic significance, and compares it with other early ledger books. Examining how allied Lakota and Cheyenne warriors valued these graphic records of warfare as both objects and images, she introduces the concept of “war books”—documents that were captured and altered by Native warrior-artists to appropriate the strategic power of Euroamerican literacy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780981885865
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 12/23/2013
Series: Houghton Library Publications , #4
Pages: 368
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 9.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Castle McLaughlin is Associate Curator of North American Ethnography at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.

Table of Contents

List of Figures vi

Preface vii

Foreword Chief Joseph Brings Plenty viii

Acknowledgments xi

A Lakota War Book from the Little Bighorn

Introduction 3

Part 1 Provenance and History

The Ledger and the Little Bighorn 9

A Life History of the Ledger 24

Creating the "Autobiography of Half Moon" 33

Part 2 Ledger Art and War Books

Ledger Art and Ledger Studies 39

War Books 49

The Houghton Ledger as Object 69

Part 3 The Drawings

The Artists and Their Stories 73

Artist A: The Lakota Sahiyela 75

Artist B: The Blue Roan Warrior 86

Artist C: The Bonnet Man 99

Artist D: The Heyoka 100

Artist E: Thunder Hawk 104

Artist F: The Decoy 108

Miscellaneous Drawings 110

Summary of Diagnostic Content in the Drawings 112

Conclusion 120

The Pictorial Autobiography of Half Moon: An Uncpapa Sioux Chief A Facsimile 125

Appendix A Indian Combat Casualties of the Little Bighorn 317

Appendix B English Annotations on Palimpsest Pages 323

Appendix C War Books in Other Collections 324

Appendix D Drawings Grouped by Artist 328

Glossary of Lakota Terms Used in the Text 332

References Cited 334

Index 347

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