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Raiding horses was one way to demonstrate cunning and bravery on the Plains in the 1800s, as shown in this Hunkpapa Lakota scene.

Girls learned how to sew and bead by making dolls, like this one which belonged to a Lakota girl.


key idea
The shirt honors an individual, but involves the community.

A man had to earn the right to wear a shirt like this one on the Great Plains in the 19th century. He might prove himself to be brave in battle, or cunning at raiding horses. But he also had to be thoughtful and wise. His actions helped his community survive.

A woman of the community stitched the beadwork and sewed the shirt. Elders of the community presented the shirt to him in a sacred ceremony. Sometimes they attached long locks of their own hair (or their enemy’s hair) to the shirt, in place of a fringe. The wearer of the shirt literally carried his community with him when he wore it. If he acted dishonorably in the future, the shirt might be taken away.

The man would wear the shirt on special occasions, with leggings, moccasins, and a headdress. The decorations on the shirt might invite a retelling of the stories of his exploits. The history of the tribe would come alive. Just as importantly, those stories offered a model of honorable behavior for the well-being of the people in the future.

February 2004