Browse: Fort Reno Ledger Drawings, 1879 and 1887

In the collection of the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art are two ledger books of drawings produced by Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors who were employed as U.S. Army Scouts at Fort Reno, Indian Territory. One of the books was produced in 1879—before the formal organization of the Indian Scout unit—and the second in 1887. The books’ drawings document a crucial period in the complex history of Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho people as they transitioned from the freedom of living as Great Plains buffalo hunters to the confinement and unfamiliar surroundings of the reservation. In the books, the men recount their war records through drawings of encounters with Pawnee, Crow, Shoshone and other enemies and scenes of domestic life and courtship, and new experiences engendered by their military service.[1]

There are few records in the Gilcrease Museum Archives concerning the provenance of the two ledger books and how they came into Thomas Gilcrease’s collection. An inscription in the 1879 book states that the book was created with an “intent to illustrate the Cheyenne method of recording history.” It is signed by H.M. Creel, 7th U.S. Cavalry/detached/service with Cheyenne Indians, Fort Reno, Indian Territory in September-October, 1879. While leading the Cheyenne Scouts in 1879, he worked to develop a Cheyenne dictionary and grammar. In the book are 118 drawings (measuring 12 ½ by 7 ½ inches) drawn in ink and colored pencil and varying greatly in level of completion and details. None of the artist’s names are written in the book, and, like other Plains ledger books, the ledger book represents a communal production with several men recording their and other experiences.[2] 

Consisting of 139 drawings (with dimensions of 12 ½ by 7 ½ inches) in ink, graphite and colored pencil, and watercolors, the subjects of the 1887 ledger book re primarily warfare and courtship. The drawings are more detailed and finely executed than those of the 1879 book, and the war images include exciting details of actions against Pawnee, Crow, Shoshone, and other enemies identified by their clothing, regalia, and hair styles. The Cheyenne or Arapaho warriors are identified by their shield designs, clothing, accouterments, weapons, and regalia. Some of the drawings show Crow enemies wearing capotes—long hooded coats made from woolen blankets—indicating that the fight took place in cold weather.[3] 

With the inclusion of individual names, the 1887 ledger book presents tremendous potential for research… In 1891, Standing Bull and Red Wolf, whose names appear on the drawings, were part of a Cheyenne and Arapaho delegation who visited Wovoka to learn more about the Ghost Dance. Washee—also named in the book—traveled with an Arapaho delegation to visit Wovoka and investigate the Ghost Dance in 1889 and 1892.[4] 

Other names, both artist and subjects, inscribed on the drawings in the 1887 book include Red Wolf, Bird Chief, Big Horn, Tall Red Bird, Yellow Eyes, Heap of Birds, and Elk Woman among others. Additional research potentially could expand the interpretation of the drawings through determining tribal identities and as much as can be learned about the lives of these Cheyenne and Arapaho men and women. Resources for this research include ethnographies, census and muster rolls, allotment records, agency and tribal files, oral histories, and family remembrances. The vibrant and detailed drawings in both the 1879 and 1887 Fort Reno ledger books stand alone as exquisite examples of late nineteenth century Plain Indian artistry. As testaments of conflict, struggle, cultural changes, and personal experiences, the drawings also provide significant insights for later generations about Cheyenne and Arapaho people at a crucial time in their histories—the end of the buffalo-hunting era and the transition to settle reservation life.[5]

Excerpt from Chapter: Hansen, Emma I. "Preserving History in the Southern Plains: Cheyenne and Arapaho Ledger Drawings from Fort Reno," in Plains Indian Art. Tulsa: Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum, 2017.

See all of the Fort Reno Ledger Drawings.

______________________________________________________________________

[1] Emma I. Hansen, “Preserving History in the Southern Plains: Cheyenne and Arapaho Ledger Drawings From Fort Reno,” (Tulsa: Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum, 2017): 33.

[2] Emma I. Hansen, “Preserving History in the Southern Plains: Cheyenne and Arapaho Ledger Drawings From Fort Reno,” (Tulsa: Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum, 2017): 45.

[3] Emma I. Hansen, “Preserving History in the Southern Plains: Cheyenne and Arapaho Ledger Drawings From Fort Reno,” (Tulsa: Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum, 2017): 49.

[4] Emma I. Hansen, “Preserving History in the Southern Plains: Cheyenne and Arapaho Ledger Drawings From Fort Reno,” (Tulsa: Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum, 2017): 50.

[5] Emma I. Hansen, “Preserving History in the Southern Plains: Cheyenne and Arapaho Ledger Drawings From Fort Reno,” (Tulsa: Helmerich Center for American Research at Gilcrease Museum, 2017): 53.