Parfleche refers to painted rawhide. It comes from the French language, meaning "hard flesh". Painting is on the flesh side of a hide, since the pigment does not adhere readily to the slick epidermal or hair side. Painting was done with a porous bone, such as the top of a buffalo hump bone where the bone core was removed. Pigment came from the earth where red and yellow are found in layers, such as in the South Dakota Badlands. Yellow could be baked to become red in color. Blue and green are the other colors used, which are forms of copper. Outlining was done with black or dark brown. The colors were mixed with a small amount of hide glue and applied when the hide was still damp. Later trade colors such as vermilion were used, which is an orange-red. However, unknown to Native Americans, this color could be toxic.
Pictured above is a plain, meat parfleche which came from the Brundl Collection in Germany. It was a utilitarian piece which was pounded with glancing blows to soften it, as seen by the scratch lines. This process also removed the hair or wool from this thick bull hide. Most likely this parfleche was filled with buffalo jerky to be traded for objects from other tribes, such as corn or beans from the Hidatsa. There would be no need to ornament a container which only served as a means to transport meat.
The small painted parfleche envelope shown below to the left has colors that bled, indicating it was painted when the hide was still wet.
The picture shown below to the right is of a round parfleche with a drawstring top of smoked hide.
Below is an unusual tall, elliptical bag for housing tipi stakes. It is the only one of its kind seen in any museum. It is made to stand upright in order to retrieve the stakes. Its carrying handle is from a recycled, buffalo parfleche.
Below are large matching parfleche trunks made of buffalo rawhide. The front of one trunk has doubled hide to help retain its shape.
The parfleche below do not appear to be Lakota. To the left is a Crow meat parfleche.
Cylinder rawhide cases often contain medicine items. Those shown below both have ceremonial items inside. This flat envelope parfleche has extremely long fringe of smoked elk. It has medicine items inside and came from Chief Tall or Long Mandan.