In a battle around 1840, a Lakota Sioux killed a Crow warrior and captured his lance with its beaded case as war trophies. This spear has an upper hole, originally for tying a medicine ermine, but now has the Crow owner's scalp. According to German documentation, the Lakota victor attributed his success to Thunder Beings, with their power to cause thunder, lightning, hail, wind, tornadoes and rain. It was believed Thunder could be appeased with medicines (wotawe) on the spear to aid a warrior. The lower hole holds a cluster of flicker feathers, a bird that warns when there is danger.
Soon after the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804-5, anthropology clubs in Germany wished to learn about the indigenous peoples of North America. During the 1830-40 era, explorers were sent to the Plains to return with the best examples of Indian workmanship for castle owners. Some items were donated to state museums. This Crow lance and its cover was displayed in a German museum. Heinz Brundl, a noted German collector, knew a worker there and was able to purchase for his private museum this spear and beaded case. Part of his vast collection is shown in the book, Mythos Wild West--The Brundl Collection.
The lance has a narrow ash shaft with a rusty, pitted metal blade fashioned from an old barrel hoop. The blade was bound, then coated with hide glue. Unlike today this lance was originally was carried within the lance case.
The lance cover is an example of perfection in beading. There are six colors of beads in various sizes, from small 16 to the edging in large 10. The Venetian beads were traded to the Crow who used sizes available in whatever amounts they could afford. The colors include a variegated Crow blue, periwinkle blue, Sioux green, rose white-heart, white, Sioux blue and corn yellow. The designs represented spear points to indicate this cover serves as a medicine object for success when using the lance. The two beaded buckskin tabs on the side of the rawhide case have added red trade cloth. On exhibit in the Linden Museum, it was displayed with the lance lying on the tabs, causing sun-exposed areas to fade from red to bleached-white.
Buffalo rawhide used for the spear case is incised. This is an early method to decorate rawhide by removing brownish epidermis of the skin to expose a white, corium layer. There are shallow grooves on the removed areas, showing a small gouge used to remove the upper skin layer. The design reveals five arrowheads, as lightning, in a line toward the beaded cover. A later technique was to paint designs on rawhide.
This Crow spear was kept in its beaded case because it was a medicine object, dedicated to the Thunder. It was contained to keep its power intact until used in battle. The shaft is short as a challenge for a warrior to get close to the enemy as proof of bravery. When the spear and cover were captured by the Lakota, it was believed the spirit of the defeated Crow imbued the victor with great power.
Larry Belitz, Plains Indian Material Culture Consultant
(This article was printed in Whispering Winds, an Indian hobbyist magazine)