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Bridles of the Americas, Vol. 1: Indian Silver.

Bridles of the Americas, Vol. 1: Indian Silver by Ned and Jody Martin and Robert Bauver. Hawk Hill Press (2010), Hardcover, 144 pages, ISBN: 9780965-9947-67.

Horses and Bridles of the American Indians by Mike Cowdrey and Ned and Jody Martin. Hawk Hill Press (2012), Hardcover, 219 pages, ISBN: 978-09659947-7-4.

These two books are the second and third in a series, following the 106 page American Indian Horse Masks book (see WW Vol 37, #6). A future fourth volume will be dedicated to cowboy and "prison horse hair" bridles. One can only wish the authors would devote another book on Native American saddles and related tack. That would be the icing on the cake of this ambitious project.

I found it useful to read the Bridles book prior to the Silver book because of the in-depth chapter on "The Spread of the Horse in North America, 1494-1800". When Columbus reintroduced the horse (after an estimated 10,000 year absence) to the western hemisphere it sparked dramatic change and the fusion of cultures among the Native populations and newly-arrived Europeans.

The authors carefully detail the spread of the horse and the time lines to various tribes. Their colorful map and notes on over 110 tribes, from Arapaho to Yuma, is well researched and provides new insights to previously long held theories.

The influence of the Moors on the Spanish and the resulting influence on Indian horse tack is beautifully documented in studio, historical and contemporary photos, ledger drawings and illustrations. Their studio photographs set the standard for this type of material culture book. They utilize soothing lighting and varied backgrounds for each item as well as closeups and undersides of many pieces to illustrate an interesting point.

The authors draw on 25 museum collections and numerous private collections for their examples. The full page collages of close-up detailed photos are delicious--especially the keyhole bridle frontlets of the Plateau and Crow tribes. The Native goal of all this functional decoration (is): "Intended to make my horse more beautiful"--they succeed!

Four full page paintings of Apache, Flathead, Lakota and Blackfoot Indians by Plains Indian scholar, Winfield Coleman, are also rich in detail.

Minor criticisms would include: little or no mention of the important role of mules. No mention of the use of deer hooves as a decorative item on horse collars-as melodic as the metal European bells. A complete paragraph is repeated in the text on page 41. A photo of a "feathered bit decoration" in Figure 4.19 does not correspond to the text and the U.S. Military bridle in the illustration on page 40 is more likely 1874, not "1974". For such an impressive book these errors are preventable.

Overall, Bridles of the Americas is a visual feast with well researched and interesting text and captions. The 1905 black and white photo end papers with eight Crow girls seated on their fully decked out horses is worth the price alone!

In the must-read 1997 book, Guns, Germs and Steel, the author, Jared Diamond states: "On every other continent as well, certain Native societies have proved very receptive, adopted foreign ways and technology selectively and integrated them successfully into their own society. Today, the most numerous Native American tribe in the United States is the Navajo, who on European arrival were just one of several hundred tribes. But the Navajo proved especially resilient and able to deal selectively with innovation."

While not confined to the Navajo exclusively, Indian Silver, includes bridle characteristics of Mexican and Southern Plains examples. Step-by-step, the authors trace the influence of the Moors on the Spanish and resulting spread of the horse through Mexico and the role of the Comancheros on the Great Plains.

The Chapter, "Indian Uses of Metal, Especially Silver", is very interesting. This chapter traces the history of brooches, crosses, gorgets, armbands, wristbands, bracelets, earrings, and concho on belts, hair plates, and bridles. All items are documented with crisp, clear, close-up photos. Of particular interest to WW readers, the invention and introduction of German Silver is described. "German or nickel silver is a metal alloy of copper and nickel and often, but not always, zinc. It is named for it's silvery appearance but contains no elemental silver unless plated."

In this book, Winfield Coleman again illustrates full page vignettes of Comanchero, Kiowa and Navajo riders in full regalia. Indian Silver is 144 pages versus 219 page Bridle of the Americas but both books compliment one another.

Kudos to the authors for their painstaking research and attention to detail. If you have a passion for horses and their impact on Native Americans these three books needed to be in your library. Find an oversized shelf--they are big!

Reviewed by Peter J. Durkin

Associate Editor

Dripping Springs, Texas.
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Author:Durkin, Peter J.
Publication:Whispering Wind
Article Type:Book review
Date:Oct 1, 2012
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