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Old 03-07-2009, 11:56 AM   #1
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Feather Bustle

In the earliest versions of the Hethuska dance ceremony, some dancers among the Omaha-Ponca were entitled to wear a feathered bustle called the Kaxe’ or “Crow.” These were worn in place of the otter trailer. A description of the early form of this component can be seen in the work titled Hae-thu-ska Society of the Omaha Tribe, which appeared in Volume 5 of the Journal of American Folk-lore published in 1892, and it states,

“The Leader and other men distinguished for their skill and success in war, wore an ornament called Ka-hae, or ‘Crow’. This was made of two sticks like arrow shafts, painted green, and feathered like the stems of the fellowship pipes, with feathers of the buzzard; tufts of crow plumage and long pendants reaching nearly to the ground, made of crow’s feathers completed this ornament, which was worn at the back fastened to the belt, the two shafts rising to the man’s shoulder blades. The men wearing the Ka-hae; painted the front of their bodies and their arms and legs with daubs of black; their faces and backs were completely covered with black paint, but on their backs, white spots were put on the black color.”
“Comparatively few men attained sufficient eminence as warriors to wear the Ka-hae and paint themselves in this manner. The blackened face and dappled limbs and front were emblematic of the thunder clouds and their destructive power as they advance over the heavens, even as the warrior approaches his victim dealing his death-darts. The blackened back with it’s white spots indicated the dead body of the enemy, which the birds were busy pecking, leaving their droppings as they tore away the fast-decaying flesh. The crow was worn, as it was said to be the first to find a corpse, and later was joined by other birds of prey. The tuft of grass worn by all the members of the Hae-thu-ska bore a twofold signification: it represented the tail of the Me-ka-thu, or wolf, the animal closely allied to the warrior, and it also symbolized the scalp of the vanquished enemy.”
“There are two classes of warlike deeds, which are distinguished in according honors:
“1st. Nu ah-tah’-the-sha. Literally the words mean, in the direction of men, signifying that the warrior has gone forth seeking men to fight; one whose warfare has been aggressive, and away from home.”
“2nd. Wa-oo ah-tah’-the-sha, or Tee ah-tah’-the-sha. Literally the words mean, in the direction of woman, or in the direction of the tent or home; defensive warfare, as when the camp or village has been attacked and valorously defended. Only men of the first class, those whose aggressive warfare has become noted, and confirmed through the ceremonies of the Tent of War, are eligible to the office of Leader, or permitted to wear the Ka-hae and paint in black as already described.”

(Fletcher, 1892, pp. 138-139)

By 1911, Alice Fletcher and Francis LaFlesche described the feather bustle or “the Crow” in the following way,

“A man who had attained more than once to honors of the first three grades became entitled to wear a peculiar and elaborate ornament called ‘the Crow.’ This was worn at the back, fastened by a belt around the waist; it was made with two long pendants of dressed skin painted red or green, which fell over the legs to the heels. On the skin were fastened rows of eagle feathers arranged to hang freely so as to flutter with the movements of the wearer. An entire eagle skin, with head, beak and tail formed the middle ornament; from this rose two arrow shafts tipped with hair dyed red. On the right hip was the tail of a wolf; on the left the entire skin of a crow.”...“The ‘Crow’ decoration is said to symbolize a battlefield after the conflict is over. The fluttering feathers on the pendants represented the dropping of feathers from the birds fighting over the dead bodies. Sometimes the wearer of ‘the Crow’ added to the realism by painting white spots on his back to represent the droppings of the birds as they hovered over the bodies of the slain. The two arrow shafts had a double significance; they represented the stark bodies and also the fatal arrows standing in a lifeless enemy. The eagle was associated with war and with the destructive powers of the Thunder and attendant storms. The wolf and the crow were not only connected with carnage but they had a mythical relation to the office of ‘soldiers,’ (wa-noN’-she) the designation given to certain men on the annual tribal hunt, who acted as marshals and kept the people and the hunters in order during the surround of the herd. These men were chosen from those who had the right to wear ‘the Crow’ and this regalia was generally worn at that time. It was worn also at certain ceremonial dances.”
(Fletcher & LaFlesche, 1911, pp. 441-442)

Two Omaha men wearing feather bustles (aka "crow belt"). - 1907


Today there can be seen the modern evolution of these early feather bustles worn by men of all ages throughout many Plains culture Pow-Wows across the country, in both modern and traditional forms. Northern Traditional, Crow Hop Dance, Sneak Up Dance, Chicken Dance, Southern Fancy Feather, are said to have their origins from the Omaha feather bustle.

However, the ability of a dancer to wear a feather bustle during a Formal Dance Ceremony varies with each organization, or it may vary depending on the wishes of any particular Headman of an organization. For example, I've not seen feather bustles worn during any of the Osage Inlonshka's, but I have seen one or two worn by selected individuals during dances of the Ponca Hethuska at times. While feather bustles are common at Pow-Wows, feather bustles are not usually a part of a Formal Dance ceremony, unless it would be under exceptional conditions.

Anacona, George.
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Ashworth, Kenneth Albert.
1986. The Contemporary Oklahoma Pow-wow. Ph.D. dissertation. Department of Anthropology, University of Oklahoma.

Axtmann, Ann.
1999. Dance: Celebration and Resistance, Native American Indian Intertribal Powwow Performance. Ph.D. dissertation. New York University, NY.

Bailey, Garrick, and Daniel Swan.
2004. Art of the Osage. St. Louis Art Museum, University of Washington Press, Seattle, WA.

Belle, Nicholas I.
2004. Dancing Toward Pan-Indianism: The Development of the Grass Dance and Northern Traditional Dance in Native American Culture. MA thesis. Dept. of Anthropology, Florida State University, FL.

Black Bear, Ben, Sr., and Ronnie D. Theisz.
1976. Songs and Dances of the Lakota. North Plains Press, Aberdeen, SD.

Browner, Tara.
2002. Heartbeat of the People: Music and Dance of the Northern Pow-Wow. University of Illinois Press, Chicago, IL.

Burton, Bryan.
1993. Moving Within the Circle: Contemporary Native American Music and Dance. World Music Press, Danbury, CT.

Callahan, Alice A.
1990. The Osage Ceremonial Dance, I’n-Lon-Schka. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.

Ellis, Clyde
2003. A Dancing People: Powwow Culture on the Southern Plains. University of Kansas Press, Lawrence, KS.

Feder, Norman.
1957-a. Costume of the Oklahoma Straight Dancer. The American Indian Hobbyist Newsletter, Vol. 4, No. 1.
1957-b. Costume of the Oklahoma Straight Dancer. The American Indian Hobbyist Newsletter, Vol. 4, No. 2.
1980. Some Notes on the Osage War Dance. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, November Issue, LaPalma, CA.

Fletcher, Alice C.
1892. Hae-thu-ska Society of the Omaha Tribe. Journal of American Folk-lore, Vol. 5, No. 17, American Folk-Lore Society, Boston, MA.

Fletcher, Alice C. and Francis LaFlesche.
1911. The Omaha Tribe. Bureau of American Ethnology, 27th Annual Report 1905-06, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

Hail, Barbara N.
1980. Hau, Kola!: The Plains Indian Collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology. Brown University, Bristol, RI.

Heth, Charlotte, ed.
1992. Native American Dance: Ceremonies and Social Traditions. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.

Howard, Dr. James H.
1951. Notes on the Dakota Grass Dance. Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, Vol.7: pp 82-85.
1955. The Pan-Indian Culture in Oklahoma. The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 81, No. 5.
1960. The Northern Style Grass Dance Costume. American Indian Hobbyist Magazine, Vol.7, No.1: pp 18-27.
1965. The Ponca Tribe. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 195, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
1972. Fire Cloud's Omaha or Grass Dance Costume, Parts One and Two. American Indian Crafts and Culture Magazine, Vol.6, No.2 and Vol. 6, No.3: pp 2-8.
1976. Ceremonial Dress of the Delaware Man. Special Issue, The Bulletin of the Archeological Society of New Jersey, No. 33, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ.
1983. Pan-Indianism in Native American Music and Dance. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 28, No. 1.

Howard, Dr. James H. and Gertrude P. Kurath.
1959. Ponca Dances, Ceremonies and Music. Ethnomusicology, Vol. 7.

Kavanagh, Thomas W.
1992. Southern Plains Dance Tradition and Dynamics: Native American Dance Ceremonies and Social Traditions. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution with Starwood, Washington D.C.

LaFave, Edward J.
1998. Straight Dance Clothing: How to Dress a Straight Dancer. Whispering Wind: American Indian Past & Present Magazine, Vol. 29, No. 4, Folsom, LA.

Meadows, William.
1999. Kiowa, Apache and Comanche Military Societies. University of Texas Press, Austin, TX.

Murie, James R.
1914. Pawnee Indian Societies. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, No. 7, New York, NY.

Powers, William K.
1962. The Sioux Omaha Dance. American Indian Tradition Newsletter, Vol. 8, No. 3.
1965. Grass Dance Costume, by William K. Powers, Pow-Wow Trails Newsletter, Somerset, NJ. (reprinted by Lakota Books in 1994)
1970. Contemporary Oglala Music and Dance: Pan-Indianism versus Pan-Tetonism. The Modern Sioux: Social Systems and Reservation Culture, edited by Ethel Nurge, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE.
1990. War Dance: Plains Indian Musical Performance. University of Arizona Press, Tucson, AZ.
1994. Pow-wow, Native America in the Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. edited by Mary B. Davis, Garland Publishing, New York.

Sebbelov, Gerda.
1911. The Osage War Dance. The Museum Journal, Vol. 2, No. 3.

Smith, Jerry.
1982. Straight Dance Clothes: Getting Them On. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, April Issue, LaPalma, CA.

Skinner, Alanson B.
1915-a. Societies of the Iowa, Kansa and Ponca Indians. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, Part 9, New York, NY.
1915-b. Ponca Societies and Dances. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, New York, NY.

Stewart, Tyronne H.
1968. Dressing a Straight Dancer. The Singing Wire Newsletter, February Issue.
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Old 03-08-2009, 06:35 PM   #2
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That was a good read. I really appreciate all of your research you dig up and share with us. :)
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Old 03-09-2009, 08:41 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by anishtradish View Post
That was a good read. I really appreciate all of your research you dig up and share with us. :)
Thanks for the feedback.

While I'm the first one to admit I don't know everything, I'm willing to share what little I do know. Especially, if what I share will help others in some small way.
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Old 03-09-2009, 11:44 AM   #4
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But by only citing FLetcher and La Flesche you give the impression that the Crow belt was "invented" by the Omaha, which they did not. The bustle/belt phenomena goes back before the Siouan Hethuska complex began, probably from the proto-Siouan era when the Siouan groups were in their proto-homeland in southeast Wisconsin, there they picked up traditions of the neighboring Great Lakes groups, where they may have seen their early belts.

Is that a Straight Dance bibliography? Someof those materials don't really even speak about straight dancing, if it is on the history of the Crow belt/bustle, then there's a lot of stuff missing.

I can only think of one other person on this board who has probably read all of those besides me, I'd recommend people start with Ellis, and avoid Browner. Her research is flawed and incomplete, she makes too many leaps of faith based on very little actual evidence. Her book got hammered by ndns and non-ndns. And Axtmann only worked with east coast folks, so her idea of powwow history is distorted.

Maybe the place to start if Wissler's summary, but it is incomplete, it shouldn't be taken as the "truth" but a starting point that needs to be revised and worked with, not accepted without review.

Just my $4.00
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Old 03-09-2009, 11:51 AM   #5
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...Some of those materials don't really even speak about straight dancing, if it is on the history of the Crow belt/bustle, then there's a lot of stuff missing...
Feel free to contribute something.
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Old 03-09-2009, 12:07 PM   #6
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Feel free to contribute something.
I think the first things that everyone should understand when looking at the historic source materials on powwows (and their ancestral forms) is the utter incompleteness of the picture. Msot work was done by anthropologists in the early 1900s during a time when native culture was under attack from the US govt and most aspects of native culture were deemed illegal. Anthropologists did not visit every tribe, or every group, or every reservation, so the historic record is slanted towards those groups we have info on. The Pawnee are a great example:

An anthropologist worked with the Pawnee, and his main consultant was a Pawnee man named James Murie. Murie told him about how the Pawnee were the originators of the Iruska and how everyone copied it from them. But that was the Pawnee-centric view, linguistic evidence clearly shows that Iruska (even if Murie translates it) is not even a word in the Pawnee language, it is a direct borrowing from the Deighan Siouan forms of Hethuska/Inlonska and/or Chiwere Siouan forms Iroska. So we have to ask, did the Pawnee create a ceremony, gave it a name that isn't from their language, and then it spread to all their Siouan neighbors (Ponca. Omaha, Kansa, Iowa, Osage, Yankton Dakota, etc.) or was this simply a Siouan thing that the Pawnee borrowed, and when they borrowed it they borrowed the name and made up a translation for it.

The history of the powwow and its various parts is a very complex subject, but there are some decent sources out there to start at.The tribal overviews in the Smithsonian's Handbook of North American Indians, Plains Volume 13 is the place to start for tribal contexts for dance.

Second impt thing is to remember that what is called something today may not be the same thing as something with the same name in the past. For example, the modern powwow grass dance is NOT the same as the peji mignaka wacipi or Lakota grass flattening dance. Just because they have "grass" in them does not make them the same. And there are lots of things like that to keep in mind.
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Old 03-09-2009, 01:20 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Iowa_Boy View Post
I think the first things that everyone should understand when looking at the historic source materials on powwows (and their ancestral forms) is the utter incompleteness of the picture. Msot work was done by anthropologists in the early 1900s during a time when native culture was under attack from the US govt and most aspects of native culture were deemed illegal. Anthropologists did not visit every tribe, or every group, or every reservation, so the historic record is slanted towards those groups we have info on. The Pawnee are a great example:

An anthropologist worked with the Pawnee, and his main consultant was a Pawnee man named James Murie. Murie told him about how the Pawnee were the originators of the Iruska and how everyone copied it from them. But that was the Pawnee-centric view, linguistic evidence clearly shows that Iruska (even if Murie translates it) is not even a word in the Pawnee language, it is a direct borrowing from the Deighan Siouan forms of Hethuska/Inlonska and/or Chiwere Siouan forms Iroska. So we have to ask, did the Pawnee create a ceremony, gave it a name that isn't from their language, and then it spread to all their Siouan neighbors (Ponca. Omaha, Kansa, Iowa, Osage, Yankton Dakota, etc.) or was this simply a Siouan thing that the Pawnee borrowed, and when they borrowed it they borrowed the name and made up a translation for it.

The history of the powwow and its various parts is a very complex subject, but there are some decent sources out there to start at.The tribal overviews in the Smithsonian's Handbook of North American Indians, Plains Volume 13 is the place to start for tribal contexts for dance.

Second impt thing is to remember that what is called something today may not be the same thing as something with the same name in the past. For example, the modern powwow grass dance is NOT the same as the peji mignaka wacipi or Lakota grass flattening dance. Just because they have "grass" in them does not make them the same. And there are lots of things like that to keep in mind.

I think it was great that you pointed out how if you weren't visited, you have little to no documentation. About the only thing people have to go on is the direction their Spirit leads them..i.e. where they are called. Even looking at some of our documented vocabulary...originating from the Ohio River Valley area before our great migration...it leaves you to wonder just how "evolved" it all is. The guys around the drum and I have this discussion all the time.
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Old 03-24-2009, 05:17 AM   #8
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On a related note (to the bustle) Kiowa Oh ha mah still have the bustle directly represented there. The times I have been out there they posted the bustle in the arena. I have been told stories that it was worn until fairly recently as the keeper has gotten older as well as the bustle itself. Now I don't know if any of that is true or bs since I am not a member of that society and have only visited so don't take this as anything more than salt. I seem to remember that folks don't wear feathers out of respect/ recognition to the bustle until a certain point at the dance. Maybe a member can clarify my misunderstanding? I seem to remember Mac teling an old story about the Poncas coming to visit him. Funny story but it really isn't mine to go into.

As for the other stuff, keep in mind every single source has limitations... especially us talking about old ways. I don't care who wrote the book or who they interviewed, there is always something lost in translation and there is no account for memory, ego and straight up lies or purposeful omissions. Bottom line is books or people are only another side of the story. The best thing is not to relly entirely on any one person, book or whatever.
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Old 01-26-2010, 02:59 PM   #9
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Old 03-01-2010, 04:46 PM   #10
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The Ponca, Pawnee, Kaw (Kansa) and other tribes who straight dance at one time wore this bustle.

What would people today say if one of the ceremonial leaders wore an actual "crow bustle" today at their ceremonial helushka/Iruskas?
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Old 03-04-2010, 11:59 AM   #11
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Who Me, I guess that depends on the society and how it came to be 'ok'. I think it speaks volumes that they don't already.
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Old 03-06-2010, 03:39 PM   #12
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Who Me, I guess that depends on the society and how it came to be 'ok'. I think it speaks volumes that they don't already.
Fat,

Prior to the reservation era, Helushka/Irushka bustle wearers had to earn the right to wear them by engaging in combat with their enemies. Being a leader among other warriors was displayed through this ceremonial status symbol. Once tribes were confined to reservations and warfare was discouraged, there was less opportunites to gain war honors.
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Old 03-08-2010, 04:39 PM   #13
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Fat,

Prior to the reservation era, Helushka/Irushka bustle wearers had to earn the right to wear them by engaging in combat with their enemies. Being a leader among other warriors was displayed through this ceremonial status symbol. Once tribes were confined to reservations and warfare was discouraged, there was less opportunites to gain war honors.
Very true. I have heard this be the center of conversations about other symbols of these groups as well. Mostly why it is or is not ok to use or wear whatever. Modern days = different needs. On a side note I have heard that these specific bustles had related 'responsibilities' or taboos so since a lot of that has been lost or put away, so has the related bustle.

I have also been told that in modern days, it is not entirely a bad thing to wear a bustle at these types of dances. Some places it's ok to wear what you have, many folks out here in Oklahoma don't have more than one full set of dance clothes be that grass, traditional, straight or whatever. I guess this really depends on where you dance but it is important to note the difference between modern traditional bustles and these crow bustles.
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Old 11-29-2011, 03:09 PM   #14
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