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From infancy, most Indian boys were trained to be warriors. Their very lives revolved around the field of conquest, gaining the respect of their people and honors from the women. The importance of this can be seen illustrated on the very attire of a warrior who took great pride in announcing his achievements in various ways.
One of the most stunning “war records” was the painted buffalo robe. The pictographs or “picture writings” on these beautiful robes told everyone exactly what a brave man’s claims of distinction were in raiding and war. A robe could tell of one encounter with another tribe or be an accounting of the wearer’s whole history. The robe was decorated by the owner himself or the services of a more skilled painter were secured for the job.
Being from the Northern Plains tribe of the Blackfoot Nation this warrior’s robe tells of several war expeditions against a long haired foe, possibly Assiniboine or Crow. Our hero is clearly identified on his robe by his prominent scalp lock or topknot. The horse hoof or “horse track” motifs on the left hand side of the robe signifies horse raids and the number of horses captured, a very honorable exploit in Plains culture.
Another symbol of war is one of the most deadly weapons of war-the rifle. The beaded sheath covering the rifle is Assiniboine in origin, signifying that the sheath and perhaps the rifle too, were captured from a dead or wounded enemy, a great war coup in and of itself.
Indians of the Northern Plains were also known to wear symbols of war and achievement in their hair. Various bird feathers as well as a weasel or ermine skin are used as this warrior’s hair ornamentation and signify not only coups but also personal medicine. The notched feather marked with red testifies that the wearer had cut an enemy’s throat and taken his scalp. The ermine or white weasel was, although small, a fierce fighter and was tied in the hair as a reminder of a personal helper spirit and as a representation of swiftness and power in battle.