Warrior Doll by James Little Wounded

We're here talking today with Lynn Thomas, the Manager of the Native American art gallery here at Prairie Edge, about a special doll we recently received from artist James Little Wounded.


[Rose] So everything about this guy is pretty awesome?

[Lynn] Pretty awesome, yes. Its one of the coolest dolls we've had in the gallery. Anything we get from Jim Little Wounded always has the most beautiful story with it…and this doll is no exception.

[Rose] He (Jim) always talks about how designs come to him and until he actually creates the piece, it will haunt him…so he has to make it.

[Lynn] Its always in his head when you ask him what he's working on next. He always says, "I got something up here" pointing to his head…and you don't know what it is until it shows up. But that's what's so awesome about Jim.

The materials the doll is made out of is brain tanned leather.

[Rose] Brain tanning is as old as the wheel. If you don't brain tan or prepare a hide it becomes hardened rawhide…and you can't wear rawhide.

[Lynn] The shirt is brain tanned (its super soft), he also has a full set of leggings that are also brain tanned as well. Each side of the leggings are decorated with strips of beadwork and the shirt features quilled strips along each sleeve and down the chest. His little moccasins are also decorated with quillwork and some beadwork.

[Rose] Quillwork predates beadwork by thousands of years…way before the Plains Indians beaded with glass beads. Quillwork was their historical medium for decorating their items…and before porcupine quills, they used bird feather quills (can you imagine a time when there were so many birds here you could use the quills from their feathers to decorate your items?).

[Lynn] Jim has also quilled the bottom of the moccasins, which has a special significance. The misconception about moccasins that have been decorated on the bottom is that they were reserved for burial purposes…that's absolutely not true. According to Jim, the decorated bottoms on this doll shows that this warrior has proven himself as an exceptional warrior and has been elected as a leader in his community, so they gifted him a set of fully quilled moccasins. This means during a meeting, they would have the warrior wear the moccasins with quills on the bottom and sit on a buffalo robe or some sort of blanket and other warriors from the camp would've carried him around as a symbol of his newly elected position…and this would also keep him from damaging the bottoms of his moccasins.

The real story of his doll has to do with the horse dance stick he is holding. Warriors valued their horses for different reasons - their intelligence, speed, athleticism, kinship, trustworthiness. When going to battle or during a buffalo hunt, the warriors and hunters who rode these horses depended on them and valued them greatly.

(Referring back to the horse dance stick in the doll's hand) This particular horse is being honored as a war horse. The red painted marks on the neck represent the wounds the horse sustained in battle.

The story of the battle is actually told on the shirt - the horse and rider are portrayed riding into battle together and the horse shows these same neck wounds.

[Rose] Did Jim ever say if you carve a horse in effigy that means the horse is dead?

[Lynn] Not necessarily, the dance stick can honor a living or deceased horse.

[Rose] So it would be more about singing and dancing the accolades of this great animal?

[Lynn] Yes, its about honoring this great animal and they don't necessarily need to have been killed in battle to be honored in this way.

[Rose] What about the hair used for the horse's mane and tail?

[Lynn] These would have been more than likely from the horse and the symbology painted on the horse would show why that horse was being honored.

The story of the warrior is also told on the shirt. On the front of his shirt, under his bone hair pipe breastplate, we see the beaded bib of his shirt and painted symbols to either side. One side shows a strip of painted axes; this represents he was a war leader. On the other side, there are people figures that represent the enemies the warrior has killed in battle.

On the back of the shirt is a strip of painted pipe symbols, these show that the warrior has carried the pipe many times - these are war pipes. Everytime he has gone to battle, he has carried the pipe to recruit others to go on the war party with him.

[Rose] Pipes were no smoked for peace. There is no such thing as a peace pipe. Pipes were smoked for truth. When you held a pipe in your hand and you smoked through that pipe, every single word that came out of your mouth was the truth. You had to own up to those words. When government officials would come to the Indians, the Indians would have them sit and smoke with them believing these people understood the responsibilities of smoking through a pipe and speaking words.

[Lynn] The rest of the war shirt shows enemies the warrior has killed in battle and the number of horses he has taken from the enemy.

[Rose] Even the feathers used for his warbonnet were earned.

[Lynn] (Pointing to the earrings and jewelry worn by the doll) These are abalone shells, which may have come from a coastal region, although abalone has also been found on the Plains since this area was once covered with water (very large abalone the size of a basketball have been dug up in this area when they were doing road construction).

This other shell is called dentalium (some people also call this a tooth mukluks) which would also have been a hot trade item.