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Browse: Cáuigú Cradleboards, Legacies of Love and Resilience

"[Paukeigope] loved those children, and prayed for them [to thrive] in a world she would never see.”[1]

                                                   —Vanessa Paukeigope Jennings, artist and descendant of Paukeigope  

Native North American mothers have used cradleboards for many generations, and Cáuigú (Kiowa)* cradleboard making is an intimate, personal gesture of family pride and love. This red wool cradleboard—while attributed primarily to Paukeigope (1881–1949)—was likely hand-crafted collaboratively, according to Cáuigú tradition, with matriarchs from Paukeigope’s immediate kinship network. The process often spanned the full nine-month gestation period, and included harvesting and carving timber for the lattice, which was often bodark (also known as Osage orange). The cradleboard was then decorated to reflect the child’s genealogies. The beadwork designs incorporate contemporary materials such as milled wool, glass cut seed beads from the Czech Republic, and pounded brass sequins, all of which reflect Paukeigope’s status and wealth within the rapidly expanding trade economy of the era. The materials also highlight the precolonial tradition of showcasing traded goods, particularly through adornment. Paukeigope’s beadwork tells a story that references botanical, medicinal, and worldview narratives. Importantly, the cradleboard was not intended as a museum piece.

Paukeigope came from an elite warrior clan of Cáuigú Society, which is directly reflected in the visual narratives and in the complexity of her beadwork. Her mother, Keintaddle (1849–1938), was a renowned beadworker. Paukeigope was born during a time of tremendous change for the Cáuigú. The Medicine Lodge Treaty—signed in 1867 by the Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache Nations, and the U.S. government—marked a loss of Cáuigú freedom and sparked a new era of colonialism in what is presently known as Oklahoma. 

Cradleboards as Indigenous Technologies

Western research often fails to acknowledge the intergenerational lifeways and science behind these ancestral objects. The design of a Cáuigú cradleboard targets the infant’s vestibular system, which is responsible for spatial awareness, balance, and other motor functions. The centuries-old technology is built for versatility and adaptation. A cradleboard could be utilized as a stationary infant swing or mobile carrier, among other uses. The postnatal care benefits of the cradleboard are comparable to swaddling practices used around the world. 

Over the last century, the knowledge and practice of cradleboard use has fluctuated amongst Indigenous communities which created and sustained the devices, due to historical and contemporary colonialism. Only a handful of Cáuigú makers still create cradleboards today, including Paukeigope’s descendant and namesake Vanessa Paukeigope Jennings (Cáuigú / Akimel O’odham). Cáuigú cradleboards are widely collected, prized for their intricate beadwork, and the Gilcrease has several examples, made largely between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Gilcrease Museum collection also includes a number of works by Paukeigope’s son, Stephen Mopope (1898-1974). Little is known about the history of ownership of Paukeigope’s cradleboard before it was collected by Thomas Gilcrease. 

By Jordan Poorman Cocker (Kiowa/ Tongan), Henry Luce Foundation Curatorial Scholar for Indigenous Painting Collection Research, 2020

* Note: Here, I refer to Kiowa as Cáuigú (Khoiye-goo), the correct identity currently used by the Kiowa Tribe. 


[1] Jordan Poorman Cocker, interview with Vanessa Paukeigope Jennings, May 8, 2020.  


Chisholm, James S. “Swaddling, Cradleboards, and the Development of Children.” Early Human Development 2, no. 3 (October 1978): 255–75.

Glancy, Diane. Fort Marion Prisoners and the Trauma of Native Education. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014. [ISBN-13: 9780803249677]

Horsman, Reginald. Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981. [ISBN-10: 067494805X  ISBN-13: 9780674948051]

Palmer, Gus, Jr. Telling Stories the Kiowa Way. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2003.

Thomas, Nicholas. Entangled Objects: Exchange, Material Culture, and Colonialism in the Pacific. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991. ISBN-10: 0674257316  ISBN-13: 9780674257313] 

Tone-Pah-Hote, Jenny. Crafting an Indigenous Nation: Kiowa Expressive Culture in the Progressive Era. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019. [ISBN: 978146964366]

Whitaker, Kathleen. “Gifts of Pride and Love: The Cultural Significance of Kiowa and Comanche Lattice Cradles.” American Anthropologist 103, no. 3 (2001): 803–8.


Red Wool Cradleboard

The framework is composed of four wooden supports, two long connected by two short cross pieces. The tops of the long wooden pieces are pointed and decorated with German silver buttons and remnants of silk ribbons. The pieces are attached to each other by way of semi-tanned hide laces that pass through holes in the wood. The cover substrate is rigid around the head and across the foot. The central cover sections lack a rigid substrate and are fabric only. These rigid sections are formed of rawhide with a thick stiff steel wire along the top edges. The interior of the cover is lined with cotton fabric. The exterior of the foot is covered with semi-tanned hide decorated with twisted semi-tanned hide fringe. Additionally there are two pink glass pony beads at the foot strung on semi-tanned hide laces. The remainder of the exterior is covered in red wool baize with two strips of semi-tanned hide inset lengthwise that laces to close the cover around the baby. The wool has decorative beadwork, both glass and brass, sewn with cotton thread with small areas of lazy stitch. There are cotton strings of larger brown and blue tubular glass beads hanging on the exterior. The strings of brown also contain some faceted brown beads. These two swags of beads that flank the head portion of the cover include two white metal medals: on the PL side one religious with St. Joseph holding baby Jesus on one side and Mary with the crucified Christ in a pieta on the obverse and a second medal from a store in Commerce, Texas is on the PR side. The cover is attached to the wooden support with semi-tanned laces that pass through holes in the wood. There is an additional decorative fabric element that is separate from the cover and attached to the wooden uprights above the top of the cover. This Is red baize backed with cotton and attached with semi-tanned hide laces. It is decorated with brass faceted beads in the form of crosses, glass seed beads in various colors and German silver buttons.

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Beaded cradleboard with geometric designs on hide

This lattice-style cradle is made from a hide cover wrapped around rawhide supports at the head and foot and a rawhide backing, all laced to a board frame. This sturdy construction protected the baby, with a rawhide hood around its face and strong boards and rawhide at its back. The cradle could be carried on a mother's back or leaned against a tree or post with the boards on either side providing stability. Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, Lakota, and Cheyenne women began using this style of cradle in the 1860s.

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Mother and Child

Mother and Child depicts a Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 woman carrying her child in a cradleboard. The mother’s scalp is decorated with yellow paint, and her cheeks and the child’s are adorned with red ocher. Her black wool blanket has a beaded blanket strip at the hemline, and her buckskin dress has been painted green and yellow and adorned with beadwork details. Her yellow-painted leggings have cut fringes along the tops.

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Lullaby depicts a Kiowa (Cáuigù)1 mother holding her child up toward the sky as she looks upward, her lips parted in song. The mother’s cheeks are adorned with red ocher paint. She is wearing a yellow painted Cáuigù buckskin dress with beadwork at the sleeve line and skirt tail, and her belt has a worked silver drop trailing from beneath her fingertip-length fringed sleeves. Her beaded leggings are made from braintanned hide, whitened by the tanning process. The child is swaddled in a Cáuigù cradleboard, designed and created by the family’s matriarchs. Intricate beadwork has been sewn along both right and left panels, and the beaded cradle casement was constructed from hide. The cradle is fastened to a wooden lattice, with twisted hide fringes sewn to the footer.

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Red cradleboard with glass geometric and floral beadwork and metal tacks on wood

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Beaded cradleboard with geometric and floral designs with hide fringe and cotton lining

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Folder 21

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