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Iron tail's warbonnet: in the buffalo bill museum, lookout mountain.


In a recent article [Green 2009], this author described a painted muslin dance shield that once belonged to the Oglala Sioux chief, Iron Tail (Sinte Maza), acquired from his close personal friend and adopted son, Frederick B. Hackett. The present article showcases another important piece of regalia with documented links to the celebrated Oglala chief.

In his 1971 article published in American Indian Craft & Culture magazine, the late Dr Colin Taylor presented a stunningly beautiful trailer warbonnet from his personal collection that reportedly belonged to the famed Oglala chief, Iron Tail.

Acquired in 1955 from British-born rodeo cowboy Tex McLeod when Taylor was but a youngster, the warbonnet was exhibited widely at such venues as the Hayward Gallery (Sacred Circles exhibition, 1976), the Barbican Art Gallery (1998), both in London; the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds, Yorkshire (1999); as well as in the United States. It is now in the permanent collections of Hasting Museum, Sussex, England. [1]

Frustratingly, although there are many surviving photographs of the veteran chief wearing eagle feather warbonnets, not a single one shows the chief actually wearing the warbonnet in the former Taylor Collection.

Another fine trailer warbonnet, now in the collections of the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave at Lookout Mountain in Golden, Colorado [2], has more substantive documentation linked with Iron Tail, having belonged to the Sioux chief during the period he spent working for Cody's Wild West Show in the early years of the twentieth century. Crucially, the warbonnet features in a number of historic photographs, including those shown in Figs.1 and 5, both of which document the Sioux chief wearing the bonnet as part of his traditional regalia.


In terms of its construction, the Buffalo Bill Museum headdress is typical of the Sioux style trailer warbonnet popular at the turn of the century era when large numbers of Sioux individuals toured North America and Europe with Cody's and other similar Wild West shows.




The warbonnet is constructed using a total of seventy-five immature golden eagle tail feathers. [3] The twelve front feathers are mounted directly on a black felt cap; the remaining sixty-three laced to a double trailer made of a fine weave black cotton fabric, backed with canvas.

The buckskin browband is beaded with two lanes of lane-stitch beadwork, sinew-sewn, the designs comprising simple triangles in medium blue, white-core rose, and greasy yellow on a white background, divided by small paired blocks of white-core rose. At either side of the browband are remnants of silk ribbon pendants, red, blue and yellow in color, all now missing.

Each of the eagle tail feathers is extended with a short wooden splint, and prepared in the typical manner with a rawhide loop and wrapped in red woolen cloth, bound with dark colored cotton thread. On just two of the front feathers, a cream-colored cotton thread is used instead. At the base of each feather is attached a small orange-dyed fluffy feather. The tips are decorated with red-dyed fluffs, secured with gypsum.

The trailer measures a total of 65 inches (1651 mm) in length, and 14 inches (355.6 mm) in width at the point where it is attached to the felt cap. Approximately halfway down its length, the trailer divides into two separate halves, each measuring 7 1/2 inches (190 mm) in width. The long edges are machine-sewn. Attached at intervals along its length are clusters of sage grouse tail feathers. (These are clearly visible in the photograph of Iron Tail, pictured in Photo 5). The uppermost clusters also have doubled lengths of orange silk ribbon attached. Individual small eagle feathers adorn the center of the black cotton trailer.

Recent conservation treatment

As post-script to this article, it should be noted that, in 2006, Iron Tail's trailer warbonnet underwent extensive conservation by textile conservator Julie Parker in Denver. The treatment consisted of careful cleaning of all feathers and textile surfaces, as well as repairs to damaged feathers and tears in the black cloth trailer. Missing beads to the beaded browband were also replaced. The conservation treatment carried out will help ensure the survival of the wabonnet for generations to come.


The trailer warbonnet forming the subject of this article is of substantial historical importance, having belonged to a prominent Oglala Sioux chief and documented in numerous period photographs. It is presented here for the interest and enjoyment of readers.




Sincere thanks to Julie Parker of of Denver for kindly supplying photographs of Iron Tail's warbonnet used as illustrations in this article; and to Betsy Martinson of the Buffalo Bill Museum, Lookout Mountain, Golden, Colorado, in whose collections the warbonnet belongs, for kind permission to use them.

Further reading

Taylor, Colin F. (1994). Wapa'ha--The Plains Feathered Head-dress. Verlag fur Amerikanistik, Wyk auf Foehr.


Green, Richard. (2009). I Dreamed of the Elk--Iron Tail's Muslin Dance Shield. Whispering Wind, 38:4, 4-10.

Taylor, Colin F. (1971). Iron Tail's Warbonnet. American Indian Crafts & Culture, 5:5.


[1.] Hastings Museum acquisition number 2004.47.82

[2.] Buffalo Bill Museum acquisition number #480

[3.] One eagle tail feather appears to have become detached and is now missing, which would have made a total of seventy-six feathers.
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Author:Green, Richard
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2009
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