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  • Hair Plates

    Crosses, brooches, pins, bracelets, rings, gorgets, and armbands are among the highly prized "trade silver" items in the 1600 and 1700s. By the early 1800s, Plains metalwork had developed, influenced by many factors. Native metalworkers fashioned rings, bracelets, hair plates, etc. by pounding coin silver and pieces of brass kettles. Hair plates fashioned in this manner were fairly common the Plains tribes. The early hair plate discs had a bar across a center hole, and later ones had a loop soldered to the back.

    Tee-too-sah (aka Little Bluff) - Kiowa - 1834

    With the introduction in 1868 of the first sheets of German silver, a non-ferrous alloy of copper, nickel and zinc, metalwork flourished among several tribes of the Plains, including the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Arapaho, Ute, Osage, Sauk & Fox, Omaha and Southern Cheyenne, which is reinforced by the following photos.

    Bear Eating Acorns Up A Tree - Sauk & Fox - 1869

    The Sea - Sauk & Fox - 1869

    The Milky Way – Comanche – 1872

    Big Mouth Hawk – Arapaho – 1872

    Ute men - 1874

    Omaha men - 1880

    Bert Fremont with wives - Omaha - 1885

    Running Fox (aka George Fox) - Omaha - 1885?

    Ute - 1890

    Although some sets of hairplates were made from brass or elk shoulder-blade, the most common hair plate discs, historically as well as today, are usually made of German silver or trade-silver, mounted on a leather strap or sewn to a wool broadcloth base.

    As quoted in the article titled "Plains Indian Metalworking with Emphasis on Hair Plates", in 1820 an account of the Long expedition describes one Osage man as,

    "…'following the custom of the nation of shaving the head, so as to leave only the back part and above, which is, as usual, ornamented with silver plates, brooches, and feathers'…" (Feder, 1962, p. 57)

    In reference to hair plates, "WhoMe" posted the following on at 11-10-2004, 10:10 AM,

    "Awl-hon-gya is a modern term for money in the Kiowa language. Before the Louisiana Purchase, Spain was still in power in the southern plains of what is now Texas. The Kiowa fought the Spanish, later the Mexicans and even later the Texans. In their raids, they collected coins from the Spanish, Mexicans and Texans. Because money was not originally a part of Indian culture, at first, it did not have monetary value. However, it did have aesthetic value. When pounded out, was used as hair ornaments by the Kiowa and other tribes.

    The larger coins were pounded out into disks and were then imprinted with tribal designs - a technique that is still in use today by the Kiowa and other tribes. This artform is the signature of Southern Plains metalwork. These imprinted coins were mounted on leather and tied to the scalp lock of Kiowa warriors. They extended down the length of the wearer's back, to their heels.

    Today, these 'Awl-hon-gya hairplates' are no longer tied to the scalp but are fastened to the neck of Kiowa traditional dancers. Silver coins are no longer used. Metalwork artisans now use German and nickel silver to make this style of 'dragger'."

    German silver hairplates – Kiowa - 1850

    In early times the set of silver hair plates were attached to the scalplock at the back of the head, whereas today the hair plates are fastened around the dancers neck so as to hang down the middle of the back, similar to an otter trailer. The silver hair plate discs range in size from an average of four inches across and graduating in size to a small one inch disc. The larger discs being at the top of the set with the smaller discs coming to the back of the heels, rarely touching the ground. Often a piece of horse tail is placed at the end of the set of hair plates. The popularity of hair plates are such today, that it is common to see Ponca Hethuska straight dancers and Osage Inlonshka straight dancers wearing a set of hair plates instead of the traditional otter trailer.

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

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

    Catlin, George
    1841. Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs and Traditions of North American Indians. 2 Volumes, Tosswill & Myers, London, England. (Reprinted as Letters and Notes on the North American Indian. Ross and Haynes, Inc., Minneapolis, MN, 1965)

    Denig, Edwin T.
    1961. Five Indian Tribes of the Upper Missouri. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK.

    Duncan, Jim.
    1997. Hethushka Zani: An Ethnohistory of the War Dance Complex. MA thesis. Department of Anthropology, Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, OK.

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

    Ellison, Rosemary.
    1976. Contemporary Southern Plains Indian Metalwork. Oklahoma Indian Arts and Crafts Cooperative, Anadarko, OK.

    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.
    1961. Plains Indian Metalworking, Part Two. American Indian Tradition Newsletter, Volume 8.
    1962. Plains Indian Metalworking with Emphasis on Hair Plates. American Indian Tradition Newsletter, Volume 8, No. 3.

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

    Howard, Dr. James H.
    1955. The Pan-Indian Culture in Oklahoma. The Scientific Monthly, Vol. 81, No. 5.
    1965. The Ponca Tribe. Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 195, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C.
    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.

    Lowie, Robert H.
    1916. Plains Indian Age Societies: Historical and Comparative Study. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, Part 13, New York, NY.

    Lowie, Robert H., Ed. Clark Wissler.
    1916. Societies of the Plains Indians. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 9, New York, NY.

    Mails, Thomas E.
    1972. The Mystic Warriors of the Plains. Garden City, New York: Doubleday.
    1985. Plains Indians: Dog Soldiers, Bear Men and Buffalo Women. Bonanza Books, New York.

    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.

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

    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. Kansa Organizations. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, New York, NY.
    1915-c. Ponca Societies and Dances. Anthropological Papers, American Museum of Natural History, Vol. 11, New York, NY.

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

    Stewart, Tyronne H.
    1968. Dressing a Straight Dancer. The Singing Wire Newsletter, February Issue.
    Last edited by Historian; 04-15-2009, 02:23 PM.

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

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

  • #2

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

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


    • #3

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

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


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