White Bull Brochure

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White Bull obtains a first coup as he lances and unhorses a U.S. Indian scout near Pumpkin Buttes in Wyoming, August, 1865.

Theirs was a culture that had been made possible by horses, enabling them to abandon a sedentary life based on agriculture and roam freely over a great expanse. Warriors were constantly on the alert for opportunities to steal horses from enemy tribesmen like the Crows and Pawnees, or from the whites, who began to invade Sioux territory in the 1840s.

In a society that was dependent on the fighting abilities of its men, it is not strange that Sioux developed a social system that gave first position to the bravest warriors, and evolved a coup system to measure courage. There usually were three grades of coups, ranked in the order in which warriors managed to touch an armed and dangerous foe. The object in striking coup was to demonstrate one's bravery by getting that close to a formidable foe, rather than standing off at relatively safe distance and dispatching him with a rifle or bow.

The warrior who claimed to have struck a coup had to have witnesses willing to substantiate his claim. Having achieved this recognition, the warrior was encouraged to recite the circumstances of the coup before gatherings of his people.

Whether raiding for houses or trading blows with the enemy, the Sioux emphasis was on the individual. Horses he captured

did not become band property, rather, they were the warrior's to dispose of as he chose. Likewise, fighting was not a true team effort, but an opportunity for the individual to demonstrate courage and gain coups. By the time he was in his mid-twenties, White Bull had over thirty of the coveted awards and enjoyed the highest status the Sioux accorded the brave.

White Bull depicts himself lancing a soldier during the Fetterman Fight near Ft. Kearney, Wyoming, December 1866. Two bullet holes can be seen in White Bull's cape.

White Bull's celebration of his achievements was not confined to the recitation of his coups at appropriate times. Depicting the specific action that merited the coup on a tepee cover or a buffalo robe was common by the mid-nineteenth century. The logical next step when paper became available was to use this convenient medium to record the coups. Ledgers discarded by or seized from the U.S. Army or trading stores began to make their way into the hands of warrior-artists.

According to students of ledger art, it began to die out in the 1890s as Sioux males confined to reservations no longer were able to earn the coups to record. White Bull retained, however, the pictographic record that he had compiled soon after entering the reservation.

At first glance, pictographs seemed to be a simple two-dimensional art. But if one comprehends the conventions (see next page)

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