Five years later in 1998, the very same saddle, along with a number of other pieces
presented in the book, were part of a traveling exhibit circulated by the Smithsonian
Institution, which visited the High Museum of Art in nearby Atlanta, Georgia. Upon
personal observation of the saddle, it was noticed that the decorative beadwork had
indeed been applied to individual pieces of tanned hide that were attached to the
various sections of the commercial saddle.
It was also noted that some of the separate, fully beaded pieces constructed in order
to be simply fitted over some of the sections of the saddle while some were tied to
other parts with leather thongs. Apparently, both techniques were used in order to
temporarily attach the beaded covers to the saddle for parades and special occasions
and then be able to easily remove them in order to get on with the daily work and
travel activities involving the horse.
Sioux saddle blanket
Sioux beaded leggings
How Can One Reproduce A Sioux Beaded Saddle and Blanket?
The first step was to acquire a western saddle, which oddly enough was easily located
and purchased at an antique show in central Georgia. The saddle was in superb
condition, and the dealer indicated that it was a long time traditional style probably
manufactured in the early to mid 1900's.
So once again scholars embarked on a project that involved beading covers for a
commercially manufactured item, as they did when beaded covers for 4 satchels two
years before. As the planning stage began, it was noted some similarities. First of all,
the exterior of the commercial item can have small imperfections, such as scratches,
tears or even small holes, as the entire exterior will be covered by the beadwork.
Additionally, when measuring the hide for the individual covers, it is necessary to allow
for shrinkage created by the application of the beadwork.
There were also some differences in beginning the construction phase of this project,
as compared to the beaded satchel experience. When creating the templates for the
satchels, felt, denim or on occasion, canvas was used to cut out the patterns for the
tanned hide that was eventually used for the application of the beadwork. The flat
surfaces required only a matched pattern be reproduced for each of the sides and the
bottom of the satchel. However, with the many turns, curves, and uneven surfaces of
the saddle, especially when dealing with the fork, the cantle and the seat, it became
apparent that these materials would not be appropriate for use in the creation of the
templates for this project.
Sioux beaded moccasins
So, instead of using felt, denim or canvas, it was decided to use pliable, commercial
tanned hide in order to duplicate the more expensive brain-tanned hide that would be
used in the final product. Tanned hide was easier to "form fit," as the sewing in of
additional small pieces here and there was required in order to allow the template to
lay flat on the surfaces to be covered. It was a bit of "trial and error" was
experienced, cutting small pieces of triangular shaped hide and sewing them into the
larger pieces in order to complete each pattern. Once again, using commercial tanned
hide was much more economical than dealing with the more expensive brain tanned
material for this step in the project. Once the patterns were complete, identical
duplicates were created out of brain tanned deer hide acquired from Dave
Christensen, a superb tanner from Big Timber, Montana.
Sioux beaded saddle blanket
The next step was to lay out the traditional Northern Plains designs to be used in the
application of the lane-stitch beadwork technique. "Lane-stitch beadwork was generally
done by tribes on the upper plains, west of the Mississippi -- the Cheyenne, Sioux,
Arapaho, Kiowa, Crow and other Great Plains tribes." The lanes for all of the covers for
the saddle, including the fenders, were laid out perpendicular to the backbone of the
horse, going from side to side over the horse. The lanes on the covers for the stirrups,
however, were laid out parallel to the backbone of the horse.
The chalk white background, navy blue and dark green seed beads used in the designs,
were modern 12/o Czech, while the white-heart rose beads were older 12/o Czech
vintage. The greasy yellow beads used were 4/o Italian.
Once completely beaded, each individual cover was edged with navy blue braid, similar
to the "military braids supplied by early day Indian traders...and used instead of ribbon
on many old time Indian-pieces as seen in museum specimens." Calico cloth was also
used on occasion to edge the beaded covers while it was not uncommon to simply leave a
small border of unbeaded hide along the outer edge of the beadwork.
The form-fitted covers were then slipped over the saddle seat, rear jockey, skirt,
cantle, horn and fork of the saddle, while leather thongs, also cut from brain-tanned
hide, were used to attach the matching covers to the fenders and the stirrups. These
various saddle parts are Sioux.
Sioux Style Saddle Blanket
Upon completion of the beaded saddle project, and in order to compliment the display,
they decided to also reproduce a Sioux style saddle blanket. It should be noted here
that the use of both beaded items together was not typical, and that a fully beaded
saddle was more commonly paired up with an unbeaded saddle blanket. However, an
undecorated hide covered wooden fork or antler saddle, or an undecorated
commercially manufactured saddle, was more often used along with a beaded saddle
I chose to use as a guide, a saddle blanket that I had seen in a photograph and
identified as having been created by the Santee Sioux, early in this century. I also
chose to include some additional typical Northern Plains features such as red wool
trade cloth in place of the more common canvas center section of the blanket, along
with pieces of saw tooth cut yellow wool and brass hawk bells placed above each of the
fringe panels. I had seen similar treatment on numerous saddle blankets in my travels
to museums throughout the Northern Plains.
Matching 12/o Czech and 4/o Italian seed beads were used on the saddle blanket as
were used on the beaded saddle covers. The lane stitch beadwork was similarly applied
to two long bands and 2 short bands of brain tanned deer hide. After the beads were
applied, the four bands of decorated hide were sewn together to form the beaded
"framework", or H-shaped border for the red wool center material.
Prior to attaching the red wool center material however, the assembled beaded bands
were edged with light beige military braid for conformity in style with the beaded
The use of military braid type edging was observed on several museum examples of
saddle blankets. On occasion other edge treatments were used, including cotton cloth,
ribbon and light canvas. Also, as with the beaded saddle covers, many saddle blankets
were not edged at all, simply leaving a small border of unbeaded hide along the outer
edges of the beadwork.
Once again, it appears that the beautiful beaded saddle blankets of the Sioux were, as
with fully beaded saddles, used primarily in parades and on special occasions. "Beautiful
beaded items, such as horse head covers, saddle blankets and saddlebags, were used
to decorate a favorite horse on a special occasion, such as the Fourth of July parade."
I have seen numerous undecorated western saddles and commercially manufactured
saddle blankets displayed on wooden saddle stands and used as decorator items in
homes. The addition of Northern Plains style beaded covers and a beaded saddle
blanket would not only compliment a western saddle, but bring to mind yet another
beautiful art form that was part of Native American culture during the development
of the western frontier.
The first northern Plains beaded
American Indian Art. "A fully
beaded to which decoration was
lavished upon children's objects in
Plains beadwork design. "The flags
on the stirrup covers suggest the
saddle's use in Fourth of July
parades and celebrations."