plains indian museum

Plains Indian Museum

Toys are a great example of how historians learn about people's everyday lives. Hunter Old Elk, the curatorial assistant of the Plains Indian Museum, said a great example in the collection is a toy horse and doll.

Plains Indian Museum

There are times when a curator of a museum may decide not to keep an object that came in with a larger collection. That's because of the damage or quality of the object.


Rebecca West, the curator of the Plains Indian Museum, came across this dilemma when she found a spoon that had a lot of damage to its decorative quill work.

Paul Dyck Buffalo Culture Collection; NA.202.1229

One day while working in the Plains Indian Museum collections, Hunter Old Elk, the curatorial assistant, found a very heavy box.

Lauren Good Day is Arikara Hidatsa Blackfeet and Plains Cree. Rebecca West, the curator of the Plains Indian Museum, said this diverse cultural heritage informs her as an artist. Good Day usually does beadwork, parfleche or painting. So West said this pipe bag is unusual.

Plains Indian Museum

The Plains Indian Museum not only collects older artwork but also contemporary artwork. The museum has a piece of pottery by Rose Pecos SunRhodes. 

“[It’s] a large female figure with a big skirt and she has outstretched arms,” Rebecca West, the Plains Indian Museum curator, described the piece. “And there's all these little figures that are children that are surrounding her skirts. And this is a traditional storyteller figure that you will see a lot in the Southwest.”

Plains Indian Museum

Winter counts are recordings of the Lakota tribal history. The Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West has one winter count that is known as the lone dog winter count. That’s because Lone Dog was the last known keep of this tribal history. It’s a calendar representation of important events between 1800 and 1871.

Plains Indian Museum

The Plains Indian Museum has a collection of pressed plants that were used for medicinal uses.

The book includes the tall fringed blue bell. Hunter Old Elk, the Plains Indian Museum curatorial assistant, said it’s a mountain flower. 

Plains Indian Museum

The color red is symbolic for many different cultures and movements. It has become associated with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW) movement, which hopes to increase awareness of the violence experienced by Indigenous women.

Plains Indian Museum

The Plains Indian Museum doesn't only collect art from the past. Rebecca West, the curator of the museum, said their job is also to collect contemporary art like those of John Isaiah Pepion, of the Blackfeet nation in northern Montana.

Plains Indian Museum

Museums don’t only collect unique objects. Sometimes everyday objects are just as valuable. This is true for the Plains Indian Museum. For Hunter Old Elk, the museum’s curatorial assistant, those are some of her favorite objects in the collection.

Plains Indian Museum

Beads were one of the main products traded between Native Americans and Europeans. For museum curators and historians, the presence of beads on objects helps place an approximate time frame of when it was created.

Plains Indian Museum Collection NA.202.94

Museums carry objects that unfortunately are not meant to last forever. Rebecca West, the curator of the Plains Indian Museum, said a Lakota sun bonnet in the Plains Indian Museum Collection represents how curators handle these pieces. 


Plains Indian Museum

The Salish tribes in western Montana, Idaho and Washington made cradle boards to celebrate newborns. It’s a utilitarian object because it is used as a baby carrier, but they were made for the celebration of the baby. As such, many cradle boards were decorated. 

Plains Indian Museum

The curator and curatorial assistant of the Plains Indian Museum once noticed an odd odor in one of the museum’s storage areas. This isn’t something that is welcome in museum collections since it usually means something is getting ruined. 

As they were trying to find where the stench was coming from, they noticed a bulky rawhide parfleche envelope. The smell wasn't originating from it. Turns out the smell was from a parfleche that wasn't tanned correctly but they wanted to make sure there wasn't perishable content inside.

Plains Indian Museum

The Nez Perce Tribe historically was a nomadic tribe that roamed the Plains. The tribe is known for their use of color in beadwork using both geometric and floral designs. 


Plains Indian Museum

The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara Nation, also known as the Three Affiliated Tribes of the Great Plains were known for being horticultural societies.

Plains Indian Museum

The Dakota people are well-known for their use of florals in their embroidery. Around the 1870s, they depicted abstract natural world scenes like stars and flowers.  


Courtesy of the Plains Indian Museum.

Museums are collections of objects that tell a story about something. At the Plains Indian Museum, the objects tell the story of the Plains Indian people. But sometimes the materials the objects are made out of are hard to conserve.

Courtesy of the Plains Indian Museum.

During the Reservation Era, roughly from the 1870s to the 1920s, Native Americans were required to move onto allotments of land. Rebecca West, the curator of the Plains Indian Museum, said it was a time when the United States government followed a policy of extermination and assimilation. 


Hunter Old Elk

For the past 15 years, the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West welcomes high school students from the St. Labre Indian School located in Montana. In two days, the students pick objects from the museum’s archive and learn the process of creating an exhibit. Wyoming Public Radio’s Kamila Kudelska spoke with St. Labre teachers, Philippe Franquelinand Cecilia Thex on the exposure a program like this gives high school students.

Simplot Collection, Gift of J.R. Simplot; NA.203.838

Often the uniqueness of a piece stands out more than something that follows the trend. For Hunter Old Elk, the curatorial assistant of the Plains Indian Museum, this rings true for a particular beaded bag in the museum’s collection.

The Paul Dyck Plains Indian Buffalo Culture Collection, acquired through the generosity of the Dyck family and additional gifts of the Nielson Family and the Estate of Margaret S. Coe

At the turn of the century, ethnologists and anthropologists were trying to collect objects from different Plains Indian cultures, since they believed the cultures would not survive. The “laundry list,” as it was referred to, attempted to collect everything special and unique from the disappearing cultures. This usually included fancier items like beaded clothing, since they were considered to be more aesthetically pleasing.

 

 

Native American women used whatever materials they had to create objects. Hunter Old Elk, the curatorial assistant of the Plains Indian Museum, came across a very square, beaded box. The squareness surprised her and as she observed the object more, she realized the structure was made out of a commodity cheese box.

When a museum receives a mass donation of artifacts, it’s up to the museum staff to document every single object. And this is what happened when the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West received the Paul Dyke Buffalo Cultural Collection

Bethany Yellowtail

March is Women’s History Month. Hunter Old Elk, the curatorial assistant of the Plains Indian Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, recently took a moment at Northwest College to highlight Women Warriors or Indigenous women of the 21st century. Old Elk who herself is of the Crow Nation and Yakama Nation spoke to Wyoming Public Radio’s Kamila Kudelska about how two Crow women have inspired her to promote contemporary native voices. The first: Bethany Yellowtail.