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Cowskin Bow Case-Quivers.

In the 19th century Plains Indian men of all tribes commonly carried their bows and arrows in hide containers, one for the bow and another for the arrows, both attached to a shoulder strap. Bow case-quiver sets were commonly worn on the owner's back, with the openings to his left. Whether afoot or on horseback, the set could be slid to the wearer's front for easy access to the arrows.

There are some fairly consistent characteristics of these pieces.

The cowskin used for bowcase-quiver sets is usually not finished to the consistency of buckskin. For example, it is a fairly stout material and tends to hold its shape when folded into a quiver.

The seams of the sets are usually sewn right side out with stout sinew in a flat stitch. Figure 12 is a fine Sioux set probably collected in the 1860s or 1870s, showing a detail of the stitching. In most cases the cowskin would have been too stiff to allow it to be sewn inside out and then turned.

There is usually cowskin fringe at the openings of the bowcase and quiver and often also at each hanging end of the shoulder strap. In many of the examples the cowskin fringe does not hang smoothly but appears as a jumbled mass. It is clear from Fire Thunder's quiver in Figure 3 that the fringe looked tangled while he was using it, and that the appearance is not just a result of age.

Cowskin bowcase-quiver sets are most often utilitarian items made for hard use. There are exceptions, such as the beadwork decoration on Powder Face's set in Figure 2. Figure 13 (right) is a Soule image of the Kiowa-Apache leader Pacer, from the late 1860s. Pacer's quiver is decorated much like the one carried by Powder Face, with wool cloth and lanes of beadwork. In addition, the cowskin fringe on his quiver seems to be softer than the fringe on many other sets.

The shoulder straps are often made of two strips of hide joined by a seam at the center. Since most cow hides would be large enough to allow for a one-piece strap, this was likely done as an a matter of taste, so that the hair would be running the same direction on both sides of the strap.

In a few examples there is a pennant hanging from the opening of the quiver. Examples with a painted hide pennant and a cow tail pennant were noted above. Figure 14 is a fine set again from the NMNH attributed as Arapaho but it could easily be Cheyenne. There is beadwork at each end of the bowcase, the quiver, and the shoulder strap. In addition, there is a cowskin pennant hanging from the quiver opening, and it is beaded on the flesh side. Figure 15 is a detail of some of the beadwork. Other than the quiver pennant, the beaded panels were sewn on buffalo or deer skin which was then sewn onto the proper location. This is all very elaborate for a cowskin bowcase-quiver and closely mimics the decoration usually placed on the prized sets made from mountain lion skin.

The height of popularity of these cowskin bowcase-quiver sets seems to have been in the 1860-1870 period. However there are examples made after that period, probably as a continuation of the old warrior-hunter style and, by the late 19th century, reflecting the scarcity of lion and otter skins.

Caption: Figure 1 is an 1859 photo by Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) showing a Shoshone man wearing a bow case-quiver on his back. While this seems to be a plain hide set, he is wearing it in typical horseback fashion. This photo also illustrates the orientation of almost all existing 19th century bow case-quivers--when worn on the owner's back, the openings are to the owner's left. The narrow bow case rests on top of the wider quiver, and both are attached to the shoulder strap. It can be difficult sometimes to determine the proper orientation of the parts of a bow case-quiver set shown in museum photographs. The parts are often tangled and photographed from the back side.

Plains bow case-quiver sets were made from almost every type of larger animal hide. "Buckskin" (including deer and elk skin), otter, mountain lion, buffalo (hair off or hair on), horse hide, and commercial leather were all used. At the height of the conflict with Euro-American invaders in the 1860s and 1870s, many Central and Southern Plains men carried bow case-quiver sets made of domestic cow skin with the hair on. Domestic cattle had been present on the Plains for a long while by that time, and the use of cow bow case-quiver sets long predated annuity beef issues during the reservation period. The Cheyenne cultural prophet Sweet Medicine warned his people of the strangers that would come and of the animal with the head of a buffalo and a long tail.

Caption: Figure 2 is a William Soule (1836-1908) photo of the Arapaho leader Powder Face and his family, c. 1867. His spotted cowskin bow case-quiver is across his lap. Powder Face's set is more elaborate than many surviving examples, decorated with beadwork around the bow case and quiver openings and at the bottom of the quiver. Rectangles of cloth edged with bead lanes are also at the ends of the shoulder strap.

Caption: Figure 3 (right): An 1868 Alexander Gardner (1821-1882) photo of the Oglalas Fire Thunder and Old Man Afraid at Ft. Laramie. Fire Thunder, on the left, holds his cowskin bow case-quiver set in front.

Caption: Figure 4 (below) is another Alexander Gardner image from Ft. Laramie in 1868, showing a group of Oglala men. The man at left wears a spotted cowskin bow case-quiver set at his back, with the shoulder strap across his breast.

An Oglala man (above) photographed by Alexander Gardner at Ft. Laramie in 1868. He has his bow case-quiver turned to his front for access to the arrows.

Caption: Cowskin bow case-quiver sets also appear in the exploit drawings of Plains Indian men. Figure 5 (above) is an early, c. 1875, Cheyenne drawing from Fort Marion, showing a man wearing a black and white spotted cowskin set on his back.

Caption: Figure 6 is another Cheyenne drawing from the "Little Skunk" ledger in the National Anthropological Archives. The man has his black and white cowskin quiver turned to his front for access to his arrows.

Caption: Figure 7 is a Comanche set with solid collection history, in the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), Smithsonian. It was captured after a battle at Paint Creek, Texas in 1867 along with other items including shields and a tacked knife case. It is made of brown and white spotted cowskin, and there is a narrow hide pennant painted blue-green hanging from the mouth of the quiver. This same quiver is illustrated in Otis Mason's 1893 Smithsonian publication "North American Bows, Arrows, and Quivers." At that time, a small leather pouch was attached, containing flint, steel and a buffalo horn powder charger for a gun. That pouch was detached from the quiver set some time after 1893 but is still at the NMNH and is illustrated here as Figure 8 (below).

Caption: Figure 9(above) is a probable Cheyenne set at the NMNH, with a collection history that it was captured at the Battle of the Washita in November, 1868. It is made of brown cowskin. The shoulder strap is made from a strip of hide ending at the cow's tail, which was split to form each strap end.

Caption: Figure 10 is a brown and tan cowskin set also from the NMNH.

Caption: Figure 11 is a white cowskin set from the NMNH, collected in the 1860s. The cow's tail serves as a pennant from the mouth of the quiver, and the exposed hide surfaces are colored with red pigment.

Caption: Figure 12: A fine Sioux set probably collected in the 1860s or 1870s showing stitching detail.

Caption: Figure 14

Caption: Figure 15
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Title Annotation:Glimpses
Author:Chronister, Allen
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2017
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