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Recreation Mandan Buffalo Robe

Recreation Mandan Buffalo Robe View Interactive Version ]

Painted hide robes were traditional garments for the native men and woman of the North American Great Plains and were also customary diplomatic gifts and articles of trade. Robes could contain figurative or abstract designs. Men's robes often contained representations of battles in which they had distinguished themselves. To make a painted robe, a buffalo, elk, deer, cow, or horse hide was stretched, scraped, and tanned in a solution containing the animal's brain. After being tanned, the surface to be painted was stretched further to render it smooth and flat. Natural pigments were mixed with water and a hide-glue binding agent and applied with a porous buffalo bone.

During their stay at Fort Mandan (in what is now North Dakota) in the winter of 1804-05, Lewis and Clark recorded receiving a robe from the Mandan chief Black Cat. In April 1805, Meriwether Lewis sent a shipment of Native American items and natural history specimens he had collected to President Jefferson in Washington. This shipment contained seven buffalo robes, including one painted with a battle scene that Jefferson sent to Monticello. This robe depicted a conflict in which the Mandan and their Hidatsa allies fought the Sioux and the Arikara.

Despite extensive research over many years, the present whereabouts of Jefferson's original Native American collections are unknown. This recreation of Jefferson’s buffalo robe was made in 2002 by Dennis Fox of the Mandan and Hidatsa tribes and is based on similar surviving examples and native traditions.


Artist/MakerDennis Fox
Created2002
Origin/PurchaseNorth Dakota
Object TypeNative American Artifacts
Materialsbuffalo hide
Dimensions102 x 94 in.
LocationEntrance Hall

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