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NORTHERN PLAINS BUFFALO HORN WAR CLUB – A VERY ATTRACTIVE PIECE – MATCHED SET OF BUFFALO HORNS, RAWHIDE COVERED, SINEW SEWN, BEADED TASSEL:  One of the classic forms of war clubs carried by the warriors on the Northern Plains, this Buffalo Horn Club is a style which originated in the free life of the nomadic tribes when the buffalo was the center of their lifestyle, and one which continued in use once they were confined on the reservations as a reminder of the past.   

While perhaps not as durable or devastating as a stone headed club, these buffalo horn clubs were nothing to be trifled with.  As it was practiced by the Plains Tribes, intertribal warfare was not necessarily conducted for the purpose of inflicting disabling wounds or fatalities on the enemy, rather the venture often was pursued for the sake of gathering honors for the individual warrior by way of counting coup – closing with, and striking an enemy warrior and leaving him otherwise unharmed.  Engaging in very limited warfare in this manner - possibly with the addition of capturing enemy women and children to swell the ranks of their own tribe, or horses and possessions to enrich their wealth - guaranteed the continued survival of the race, and prevented an unnecessary escalation which could result in the annihilation of family groups or entire tribes.   

As described above, counting coup in these forays against other tribal groups involved approaching the enemy close enough to strike him.   In addition to using his hands, the warrior might fashion a staff. a quirt, or, as in this case, a club which was less lethal than the larger stone-headed versions.  Since killing the enemy was either secondary to gathering honors, or even something to be avoided altogether, these implements of war could be of lighter, less lethal construction, and too, the warriors were more inclined to adorn them with more intricate decorations in keeping with their purpose.   

When the Native nations were forced onto reservations, the need for heavy war clubs passed with the end of warfare between the tribes, or with the European Americans.  The tribes still held social dances based on the war dances of the past and the men still felt the need to brandish weapons as they related their acts of bravery from the past, so these horn clubs were given a new significance in their material culture.  Of the same size and proportions as a weapon, but lighter, these buffalo horn clubs were carried with pride by a warrior in parades or at dances when dressed in his finery.  

It is impossible to know exactly when this club was made, but I think its worth considering that the buffalo was all but gone from the Northern Plains by the mid-1880’s and with the Native Americans being restricted to the reservations, the opportunity to obtain a set of buffalo horns after that period would have been extremely difficult, if not completely out of the question, so it is likely this club dates from the period when buffalo horns were still available.   

The head of this club is made of a matching pair of buffalo horns, each measuring 5 ½” along the top curve and 2 ½” in diameter.  They are in excellent condition with no chips or age cracks and they have a pleasing natural shine.  Both horns have grooves worn into the length of the horn by the buffalo where the horns were rubbed against any number of things on the buffalo’s home range.  The horns appear to be laced together under the strip of native rawhide which covers the joint between the horns and continues in one piece down to cover the shaft.  The shaft runs up through the horns and protrudes through the horns, but under the rawhide strip on the top surface of the horns.  The strip passes up the front, over the top, and down the back of the horns and is sewn to the rawhide which covers the shaft.  This joint has some separation at the point where the strip is sewn to the shaft rawhide, but due to the manner in which the rawhide is stitched down with sinew, the joint is still firm and solid and there is no danger of it coming undone.   

The shaft, measuring 25 ½” below the horns and approximately ¾” in diameter, is covered with native rawhide stitched with sinew.  The sinew stitching is intact with no separation and has a smooth, well handled texture, again evidence of the age and wear of this piece.  The rawhide covering is very tight over the underlying wood shaft and the natural features of the wooden shaft can be felt through the rawhide.  Attached to the bottom of the shaft is a fringed tassel ½” in diameter which is wrapped with beads threaded on sinew.  The beaded section is fashioned in alternating bands of light blue, red white-hearts, dark blue and white.  All of the beadwork appears to be original and intact, and the tassel appears to be original to the club.   

Whether intended to be a lethal instrument in the hands of warrior, or a reminder of days of valor and glory long gone, this Buffalo Horn Club is a powerful, yet graceful piece of Native art.  (0417)  $1850



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