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Exhibit: Lakota Family Camp

Most of the artifacts in this exhibit were made in the early 20th century in the Lower Brule Reservation and given to the Museum by the family of Father David Clark. Clark was an Episcopalian minister to the Sioux Nation (Oceti Sakowin). For his generous ways, the people thanked him and his family by giving them traditional things from their culture.

The canvas teepee, which is the centerpiece of the exhibit, is typical of the early 20th century. By this time, the bison population had been purposefully decimated from the plains and the people were able to trade for canvas, a much lighter tepee than one from bison hide. The tepee is decorated with a double row of quill-wrapped tepee ties and other symbols of the Lakota family. They are anchored with poles, a pole which can be moved depending on the direction of the wind. According to Jerome Kills Small, the number of lodge poles determine that it is a family tepee rather than one belonging to a medicine man or a council tepee.

Around the tepee are a sampling of the parfleche containers made of bison hide and decorated mostly with colors made of natural materials. Traditionally, when the hide had been cleaned and dried, it could be shaped only after it was pounded with a rock or hammer until pliable. The surface is soft and smooth.

The containers were used to store valuables and as saddle bags.

On the floor in and around the tepee are several bison hides. Those with the hair remaining, were used for warmth. Others record events, as with the hide at the door, or for special decorative and cultural purposes, as with the hide behind the mother and child. This hide and the man’s jacket, the baby carriers, and the two parfleche pouches to the right of the door are decorated with dyed porcupine quills sewn onto the surface of the hide with sinew, (sinew is the connecting tissues on the surface of the leg muscles). The flesh of the porcupine was eaten (tastes a lot like pork), the hair was used to make headdresses for the men, and the quills were cleaned and sorted to decorate clothing and other objects. These methods of decoration are still used today.

Glass beads decorate the horse blanket, the woman’s buckskin dresses, the men’s jackets, the handmade dolls, and several other objects in this exhibit. Beads also were obtained by trading. Trading furs for beads was also a popular trade. The beads at that time were Czechoslovakian, French or Italian manufactured. The straightline designs shown in this exhibit are Lakota style.

Other items in the exhibit are: bowls, primarily of native wild cherry wood which were used for food preparation; dolls made of buckskin, which a woman’s breastplate which was worn for special events and is made of bone hairpipe and glass beads. A Lakota drum and a bison skull are in the background.

This exhibit was originally developed under the Directorship of Dr. James Gillihan. The breathtaking mural setting the stage for the diorama was painted by the late Robert Penn, noted Lakota artist. (See Robert Penn’s art work in our Gift Shop.)