Images of the Lakota

2009-03-08T19:00:00Z Images of the LakotaSARA KINCAID Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune
March 08, 2009 7:00 pm  • 

Butch Thunder Hawk is at a loss on how he'll spend the summer break.

For the first time in almost four years, the tribal arts teacher at United Tribes Technical College won't be in Cambridge, Mass., for the summer. The reason is a display that opens in April at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University.

Thunder Hawk was part of a team that put together the "Wiyohpiyata: Lakota Images of the Contested West." The exhibit centers on a ledger book of drawings found at the Little Big Horn from a warrior who died at the Battle of Rosebud. The images depict encounters with friend and foe along the Bozeman Trail.

The entryway to the exhibit will include a mural by Thunder Hawk. It uses elements of wiyohpiyata - which means the west - and depictions from the ledger.

"The direction west is a sacred direction, that has destructive forces of nature," Thunder Hawk said.

A thunderbird and storm clouds form the background. In the foreground is a warrior riding a horse, with arrows coming toward the rider.

Lakota warriors would pray to the west for power from the elements. The elements, represented by symbols, included thunder, lightning and hail, along with crescent moon and thunderbird. Warriors would paint those symbols on their horse or incorporate it into their clothing.

The Half Moon ledger showed men astride horses. The clothing, presence of breastplates and headdress gave the exhibit curators clues to the tribe of American Indian and warrior societies involved in the conflicts along the Bozeman Trail, as well as the types of people they encountered.

Although the ledger belonged to one man, it is likely the drawings were made by more than one person. Drawings either depict the artist or things the artist saw, Thunder Hawk said. Among the drawings are some of a blue roan horse with two yellow spots.

This horse served as the inspiration for the horse effigy Thunder Hawk created. Lightning bolts decorate the side of the horse to tie it into the concept of wiyohpiyata. The effigy depitcts the head, neck and hoof of the horse. Other horse effigies include legs, but those tend to break off, Thunder Hawk said.

Warriors would make horse effigies out of cottonwood to honor their horses that died in battle. The effigy was used in ceremonies and the warrior would

hold it and tell stories and

sing and dance about

his experiences.

"They would honor and memorialize a war pony killed in battle," he said. "They would use some of the actual hair from the tail and mane (of the horse)."

Thunder Hawk made a horse effigy that is on permanent display in the museum. It was the start of a creative partnership among Thunder Hawk and the museum's associate curator, Castle McLaughlin.

"Ten, eleven years ago, she called … she said the museum put a notice out for an artist to do a horse effigy for the collection," he said.

He applied and was selected as one of five finalists. Ultimately, he was selected for his authenticity. He models his effigies on those made by No Two Horns, a warrior from the Cannon Ball community on the Standing Rock Reservation.

Thunder Hawk grew up in Cannon Ball and learned about Lakota art from his grandparents, whom he lived with for a short time. He also liked to talk with the elders in his district and learn what he could from them.

He first met McLaughlin when they both worked summers at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. He worked a ranger in the summer, teaching about American Indian culture and the significance of the Badlands to American Indian people.

(Reach reporter Sara Kincaid at 250-8251 or

Copyright 2015 Bismarck Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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