Tipi with Battle Pictures

by Matt Reed, Curator of American Indian & Military Collections

While doing regular upkeep on the Indian collections housed within the Oklahoma Museum of History, I discovered something that had been forgotten for many years. Stored on one of our shelving units was a rolled canvas tipi that no one had seen for many decades. This tipi is known as the Tipi with Battle Pictures. The tradition and history embodied by this tipi can be traced ultimately to 1833 when Tohausen or Little Bluff became the sole leader of the Kiowa people.

The tipi is easily distinguished by the way it is decorated. The northern half of the tipi is decorated with sketches depicting the war honors of the best Kiowa warriors. The southern half is decorated with alternating yellow and black stripes. The center back of the tipi features a vertical series of tomahawks to mark the war honors of Heart Eater. The front, above the door, features a series of feathered lances to symbolize the war honors of Sitting on a Tree. At the very top is a depiction of two Kiowa warriors besieged but successfully defending themselves against multiple Osage warriors. To say the least, this tipi is visually remarkable. Part of this tipi design was given to Tohausen in 1845 by the Cheyenne chief Nah-ko-se-vast. The yellow stripes represented Nah-ko-se-vast’s war honors. Tohausen added the alternating black stripes to represent his own war exploits and then invited his society brothers to add the other decorations.

This overall design was subsequently put on a new tipi every year while Tohausen lived. When he passed in 1866, his name and the tipi design went to his son, Tohausen II. Perhaps because of the hard times that he lived in, Tohausen II only renewed the tipi and its design periodically. By the turn of the century the tipi had become a memory. Two of Tohausen II’s sons changed this situation. These two sons, Haungooah and Olhetoint, made plans to construct and decorate a new Tipi with Battle Pictures in 1916. As a part of this plan, two nephews with natural artistic talent were invited to help in the new tipi’s decoration. These two boys, one of them sixteen-year old Stephen Mopope and the other James Auchiah, would contribute to the sketches on the northern half. Later in their lives both of these boys would be part of the Kiowa Five, a group of Kiowa artists that initiated contemporary American Indian art. Haungooah, known in the art world as Silverhorn, contributed several sketches to the same design. Others who might have drawn their war honors include names that should be familiar to those familiar with Oklahoma history: Gotebo, Big Tree, and Sankedoty.

Ironically, this 1916 version of the Tipi with Battle Pictures also figures prominently in another Oklahoma Historical Society venture. This is the recent acquisition and conservation of the silent film ‘Daughter of Dawn’. In fact, the tipi in our collections was authenticated using photo stills from the movie. So not only does OHS have the once lost and thought destroyed ‘Daughter of Dawn’ film, but OHS has also had within its collections the once lost and thought destroyed Tipi with Battle Pictures.

Update 7-19-2012 OHS has completed a restoration and release of the film ‘Daughter of Dawn.’ The film will be released on DVD at a later date. Find out more.

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