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  • Tail Feather Fans

    In the late 1800s, Ponca, Omaha, and Osage, as well as straight dancers from other Southern Plains tribes, could be seen in old photos, (see examples below) carrying a feather fan made from the complete tail of a golden eagle, with the tanned body-skin and feathers, and the head, hanging below the tail. The dancer would simply wrap the “head and tail fan,” as it is commonly called, with wool or hide at the base of the tail as a hand grip. These feather fans were not only for the practical purpose of cooling oneself in hot weather, but also for spiritual purposes as the golden eagle was highly revered as a holy or sacred bird.

    Black Hawk – Iowa – 1869


    Standing On The Prairie – Iowa – 1900


    Good Chief - Pawnee - no date


    Ke-Wa-Ko (Good Fox) - Pawnee - 1902


    Dust Maker (aka Pete Mitchell) - Ponca - 1898


    Standing Bear - Otoe - 1900


    As time evolved the head and tail fan was replaced by a fan made with just the tail of the golden eagle, known by the scientific community as (Aquila chrysaetus). These tail fans would have an elongated handle usually made from a wooded dowel which was attached to the tail by a variety of methods. (see examples below)

    Three Fingers - Southern Cheyenne - 1898


    Whirlwind and family - Southern Cheyenne - 1895


    Quanah Parker – Comanche – 1890


    Big Looking Glass – Comanche – 1894


    Albert Atocni – Comanche – 1926


    The handle and the beginning base of the tail were usually beaded in the gourd-stitch net technique in size 11/0, 13/0 or 16/0 glass seed beads. The end of the handle usually will have a bunch of twisted deerskin fringe which is typical of the style in many Southern Plains tribes.





    Today, since the golden eagle is a protected species, many straight dancers will use hand painted imitation eagle tail feathers available at many craft supply stores and trading posts.

    Though an occasional straight dancer can be seen today carrying a wing feather fan, the tail feather fan has become the norm. Among the Ponca,

    “...straight dancers usually carry an eagle tail fan in the left hand.”
    (Howard, 1965, p. 64)

    This tradition of carrying the tail fan in the left hand originates in the traditional Ponca belief that what is carried in the left hand represents life and peace, such as a prayer pipe or an eagle tail fan. What was carried in the right hand represented death and war, such as a weapon or coupstick. In addition, when warriors of friendly plains tribes met, they would typically raise the open right hand in a greeting, showing that they carrier no weapon and had peaceful intentions. (Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage, 1987)

    Fenner, Earl C.
    1984. A Note on Flat Fan Construction. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, December Issue, LaPalma, CA.

    Howard, Dr. James H.
    1965. The Ponca Tribe. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 195, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.

    McGee, W. J.
    1898. Ponka Feather Symbolism. American Anthropologist, Vol. 11, No. 5.

    Past, Richard E.
    1969. A Fan Construction Technique. Pow-Wow Trails, Vol. 5, No. 3, Somerset, NJ.

    Reddick, Rex.
    2003. American Indian Flat Dance Fan Construction. Whispering Wind: American Indian Past & Present Magazine, Vol. 33, No. 4, Folsom, LA.

    Risdon, Tom, Jerry Smith and Kaysee Tsuji.
    1984. Three Flat Fans. Moccasin Tracks Magazine, December Issue, LaPalma, CA.

    Ross, John.
    1974. Flat Fan Construction. Whispering Wind: American Indian Past & Present Magazine, March Issue, Folsom, LA.

    Stewart, Tyronne H.
    1970. Modern Flat Fans. American Indian Crafts & Culture Magazine, Vol. 4, No. 4, Tulsa, OK.
    Last edited by Historian; 02-28-2009, 04:20 PM.

    "Be good, be kind, help each other."
    "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

    --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

  • #2
    i have a quick question that i have had for awhile i have been told that you only were one feather in the roach spreader but in the picture of Standing On The Prairie he is wearing two is there a special meaning behind the two feathers or is it more personal taste?

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by creecher119 View Post
      i have a quick question that i have had for awhile i have been told that you only were one feather in the roach spreader but in the picture of Standing On The Prairie he is wearing two is there a special meaning behind the two feathers or is it more personal taste?
      The photo of Ahblocoenazin, or "Standing On The Prairie," shows him wearing an otter fur turban, not a hair roach. While most tribes wearing a hair roach would traditionally use a single feather, the same could not be said for otter fur turbans.

      It is also important to note that different tribes had different meanings and traditions associated with who wears what type of feathers, how many feathers, when to wear them, and why.

      "Be good, be kind, help each other."
      "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

      --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

      Comment


      • #4
        I'd just like to point out that the fan held by Big Looking Glass (Pianaronit) is probably not a Comanche fan. It was a prop most likely either owned by the photographer John K. Hillers (who took the above picture) or borrowed from the Smithsonian/ Bureau of American Ethnology collections. The same fan appears in photos by Hillers of the Kiowa chief Apeahtone and the Kiowa Apache leader Apache John; the three men are also pictured together in a photo by Hillers called "Members of the 1894 delegation to Washington" - Smithsonian Nat'l Anthro Archives negative #006668.0. The men, as leaders of their respective tribes, were in DC in negotiations over the allotment process, and were photo'ed cause they were also leaders of the emerging Native American Church. Mooney published the individual portraits in one of his BAE reports - I think it was the "Calendar History of the Kiowa Indians," though it might have been the Ghost Dance book, since Apeahtone was strongly opposed to the Ghost Dance, and that was when Mooney first became aware of the peyote religion. Mooney had planned an entire monograph on the peyote religion, but never finished it, and the Hillers photos were to be used in that publication. Long story short, that's probably not a Comanche fan. The lazy stitch bands around the top part of the handle also suggest that its neither Comanche or Kiowa... especially when you compare the fan to Quanah's fan in the previous picture.
        Last edited by Str8Dancer49; 03-02-2009, 04:52 PM.
        Functionless art is simply tolerated vandalism.

        Comment


        • #5
          Ya that fan kinda looks northern plains to me (maybe Piegan)

          So now that somebody brought up the church-
          Who knows when folks started doing the macaws and scissortails for fans?
          And, when did the loose fan come in?

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by legalstraight View Post
            Ya that fan kinda looks northern plains to me (maybe Piegan)

            So now that somebody brought up the church-
            Who knows when folks started doing the macaws and scissortails for fans?
            And, when did the loose fan come in?
            I think its for the colors, but I remember seeing them in meetings as far back as 1979 when I was first started going
            Probably further back than that
            cant say
            ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ - Anigiduwagi
            Till I Die!

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by legalstraight View Post
              ...And, when did the loose fan come in?
              These photos of men holding loose feather fans should give a clue.

              Comanche man – 1900


              Walks With Effort - Ponca - 1914


              Walks With Effort - Ponca - 1914


              Guards The Land – Osage – 1923


              Magpie - Southern Cheyenne ( 3rd from the right) – 1924

              "Be good, be kind, help each other."
              "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

              --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

              Comment


              • #8
                If you look closely the fan 'Stands on the prairie' is holding the the one 'good cheif" is pictured with are also the same fan.

                Also the one 'big looking glass' is pictured with is a rough legged hawk tail and not eagle.
                PB49

                "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." Pablo Picasso

                "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, but today is a gift...that is why is it called the Present." Master Oogway - KungFu Panda


                My comments are based on what I have been taught and my experiences over the years I have been around the circle. They should in no way be taken as gospel truths and are merely my opinions or attempts at passing on what I have learned while still learning more.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Just goes to show you that even back then the pictures were staged to look good for the camera!
                  Way to go powwowbum that you saw that!
                  Listen to my heart, not just my mouth! The most powerfull thing we can do is,,,share,,, if we don't it dies with us.

                  It is the year of the bear, I am sharpening my claws and will no longer tollerate harrassment.

                  Born in Winnipeg raised in the Pikwakanagan, Deutschland was never home! Army brat that had no choice in a parents duties to home and country. I Too Serve our flag and work for the uniform.
                  Stand behind our troops or stand IN FRONT of them.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Historian View Post

                    Walks With Effort - Ponca - 1914


                    Walks With Effort - Ponca - 1914

                    I have seen this picture before but never the side shot,
                    Man that looks like Mescal and silver beads bandalero, with a perfume bundle on his shoulder loose feather fan. Nice tie also...

                    Could this be an early Gourd Dancer or even could be a NAC member???
                    ᎠᏂᎩᏚᏩᎩ - Anigiduwagi
                    Till I Die!

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Okay any one notice how the perfume bundle moved to the other shoulder here? As well the bandolier too!
                      Listen to my heart, not just my mouth! The most powerfull thing we can do is,,,share,,, if we don't it dies with us.

                      It is the year of the bear, I am sharpening my claws and will no longer tollerate harrassment.

                      Born in Winnipeg raised in the Pikwakanagan, Deutschland was never home! Army brat that had no choice in a parents duties to home and country. I Too Serve our flag and work for the uniform.
                      Stand behind our troops or stand IN FRONT of them.

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Tibiki Kinew View Post
                        Okay any one notice how the perfume bundle moved to the other shoulder here? As well the bandolier too!
                        Look at the bottom right of the profile picture. You'll notice that the numbers are backwards (42204?). That tells me, I think, that maybe the negative was upside-down when the print was made. I'm no photography major, but I assume that back in 1914 they were using some form of negative. I'm impressed with the crispness and clarity of this 100 year old picture.
                        "It doesn't really matter, they don't know any better anyway."

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Str8Dancer49 View Post
                          I'd just like to point out that the fan held by Big Looking Glass (Pianaronit) is probably not a Comanche fan. It was a prop most likely either owned by the photographer John K. Hillers (who took the above picture) or borrowed from the Smithsonian/ Bureau of American Ethnology collections. The same fan appears in photos by Hillers of the Kiowa chief Apeahtone and the Kiowa Apache leader Apache John; .

                          Str8,

                          Many studios of that time period used props that are seen in different photographs of different tribal members. This often fools uneducated researchers into drawing false conclusions about individuals and tribes. But you certainly weren't fooled. Good eye
                          Powwows will continue to evolve in many directions. It is inevitable.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            The negatives of those days were in fact glass plates! Good eye hobbs!
                            I have a 2 prints from before 1900, sold in NY at a gallery and framed, they are just the faces in colour with full feathers the way they were worn at that time, one is a Lakota and the other an Algonquin. I picked them up at a yard sale about 20 years ago, the frames were done in shelac and they are crackling all over, but I don't want to change the history of the items and just clean them once in a while. There is the logo of the gallery on the back paper of the frame and it has never been cut open. They have been on my walls in a place of honour ever since.
                            I have one glass positive in my collection and the wee frame is in wood with a bezel inside in copper sheeting. Over the top is leather that is stencilled and dyed.
                            Listen to my heart, not just my mouth! The most powerfull thing we can do is,,,share,,, if we don't it dies with us.

                            It is the year of the bear, I am sharpening my claws and will no longer tollerate harrassment.

                            Born in Winnipeg raised in the Pikwakanagan, Deutschland was never home! Army brat that had no choice in a parents duties to home and country. I Too Serve our flag and work for the uniform.
                            Stand behind our troops or stand IN FRONT of them.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              From the collections of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.

                              Tail fan (Kiowa)
                              [Peabody Number: 11-44-10/83069]


                              Loose feather fan (Kiowa)
                              [Peabody Number: 985-27-10/59492]

                              "Be good, be kind, help each other."
                              "Respect the ground, respect the drum, respect each other."

                              --Abe Conklin, Ponca/Osage (1926-1995)

                              Comment

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