Shirt made by members of the Dakota tribe
Frederick Horniman’s grandson Eric purchased this beaded jacket during a visit to the United States and gave it to the museum in 1925. It was made by members of the Dakota tribe, also known as the Santee Sioux. The Dakota people’s homelands are in the northern Plains states Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.
The shirt is made from buckskin and decorated with a fringe, bands of beadwork on the shoulders and back, and locks of human hair. Before contact with white settlers, Plains tribes made their clothing from the hides of deer or buffalo, the main food source of Plains Indians. Beadwork decoration increased with trade between the Native American tribes and Europeans. Beadwork replaced or was used alongside quillwork, a form of embroidery using the quills of porcupines. The designs and colours used on clothing all have symbolic meanings relating to warfare, the landscape or human virtues. The patterns are made of different elements representing objects. The beadwork over the shoulders contains the leaf and feather patterns. Locks of hair on shirts either represented scalps taken in battle or were offerings from relatives to honour the warrior. These shirts were worn as a badge of honour by the bravest warriors in Plains society.
By the time Eric Horniman visited America, the traditional way of life of the Dakota was disappearing. The Sioux tribes fought a series of battles known as the Sioux Wars between 1862 until 1890, attempting to stop white settlements in their territory, and were eventually moved onto reservations. Although Plains Indians continued to make war shirts to honour their beliefs, collectors bought their work believing their culture was disappearing, as part of what is known as ‘salvage ethnography’. Plains Indians continue to make shirts today as regalia for ceremonies or to celebrate accomplishments. It is unclear how authentic this shirt may be, since objects were created specifically for the tourist market by reservation Indians.