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A Little Research Helps a Lot.

Recently Al Grant donated this painting on buckskin, advising it was owned by Marmora’s famous Pearce family. We felt we had been given a fascinating item that needed preservation, so Wayne VanVolkenburg stretched the skin on a willow branch aided with some advice from the High Springs Saddlery just west of Marmora.

While the item offers little connection to Marmora, it offers a great opportunity to demonstrate the power of research in mystery solving. We handed the mystery to Elinor White of Marmora and this is her reply:

“As an amateur who has read up on North American Native Peoples since my early teens, I give you my best guess. In my estimation, the painting is a "romanticized" rendering of Red Cloud (Mahpiya Luta) - named for a flaming meteor at his birth), Oglala Lakota (often called Sioux). Born 1822, died December 10, 1909.

Red Cloud was a significant person in the history of the United States as the only leader to defeat the US Army in battle until Custer's defeat. The battle was called "Red Cloud's War" over the Bozeman Trail across his territory leading to the Montana gold mines. He never went to battle after that, negotiating instead for which he was awarded a medal from President, Ulysses S. Grant. He went to Washington on four separate occasions where he negotiated (and often refused to sign) treaties to keep territories. Red Cloud was often in delegations with Spotted Tail, Lone Horn, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull. Red Cloud was photographed first by Mathew Brady in Washington DC and by Edward S. Curtis. There are 128 known photos of Red Cloud, the most of any Native Leader. He has descendants still living in South Dakota

There are several issues with the painting that caused me to say the rendering was "romanticized".

  • the painting had to be done from a photograph or printed picture. in your painting, Red Cloud looks to be in his mid to late 50's. The buckskin background is too flexible and "new" to be over 140 years old if it was painted from life.

  • the blue buckskin jacket was probably painted blue to show against the same colour buckskin background. The Lakota sometimes decorated/painted blue and/or yellow designs - but nothing solid blue as the painting. They decorated extensively with bead.

  • the fringe tips are incorrect. Clothing worn during Red Cloud's time had either human or horse hair tips hanging down about 6 inches from the ends of the buckskin fringes.

  • Symbolism of the feather:

  • the feather in his hair with the painted cross and the blue vertical stripe was not done. The eagle feather was sacred and would not have been defaced.

  • Red Cloud converted and was baptized into the Catholic faith in 1884 when he was approximately 62 years old.

  • the tip in the painting shows a red fluff at the top. Lakota dyed hair red and fastened it to the tip of the feather to denote man's scalp lock as a war honour. In all the photos I was able to look up for Red Cloud, he never had a red hair tip on his eagle feather.

Other symbolism:

  • the white downy eagle feather hanging down is symbolic of mysterious forces. The continuous movement of the fine filaments of the feather suggests communication with higher powers, ideas which prevailed amongst the Lakota.

  • the breast plate is typical of Lakota as is the red "trade" cloth neck piece.

  • the Oglola Lakota wrapped their hair braids in Otter fur - which could be the fur shown down the lapel of the painting.

  • no idea on the blue lanyard”

Elinor White “Thank you, Elinor”