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Before We Were Here – The Buffalo Robes

In the days before us, were times of great hardship. Before settlers arrived and even in the times of the early settlers, Our native ancestors took life for sustenance and utility rather than sport and game. The Buffalo filled the bellies of many but they provided so much more to our people than food.

Every part of the buffalo was used. For example, bones and horns were sometimes used as eating utensils and weapons while the stomach was made into a water container, and hides were tanned for clothing and shelter.

Tanning the hides made them more flexible, durable, and water-resistant. This was a long process that included scraping, soaking, stretching, and treating them with brain and bone marrow. While women were often responsible for tanning the hides, both men and women decorated the robes with their art.

Some scholars draw distinctions between the art of men and women. This observation suggests that men specialized in drawing scenes containing figures and more easily guessed narratives, whereas women specialized in geometric designs.

Robes created in the 18th and 19th centuries were mostly used for ceremonies, but some were exchanged with the French. The Quapaw are among the very few tribes that had a well-known amicable relationship with the French. This relationship resulted in the formation of political alliances, trading of goods, and even inter-marriage.

Three Villages Robe

This buffalo robe is known as the Three Villages Robe and was created over 280 years ago. It is clear, from looking at the robe, that it holds great symbolic significance. While oral traditions hold some memory of this robe and what it represents, there is not much evidence of the significance that lies in the details of this work of art. Nonetheless, many outsiders have made many speculations of the symbolism shown throughout this robe.

Some say it tells the story of two opposing tribes and the friendship among the French. There are seven figures which are speculated to be seven Quapaw Warriors six of whom are carrying muskets or another firearm and the one wielding a bow and arrow which is aimed and ready to shoot. The Quapaw warriors seem to be standing against another tribe who are also carrying sport muskets, but two of them have turned back presumably to gather support from their community.

In the third group of people, there is a more seemingly peaceful event which depicts four dancing couples that follow a leader. The leader is holding what is thought to be a rattle toward the ground where a scalp lies that may have been a trophy won from the battle. In the middle of these scenes are a sun and a moon. The sun is red -and the artist used feathers to illustrate its rays. In contrast, the moon is light-blue and appears to be waxing with a figure in it with the profile of a man. The ‘V’-shaped figure appears to be calumets or peace pipes.

Four words were also found written on the robe in Roman characters. The first word is ‘ACKANSAS,’ which is a known Algonquin word referring to a part of the Illinois group of Indians and is known to be used by the Ogahpah people. The last three words are ‘OUZOVTOVOVI,’ ‘TOVARIMON,’ and ‘OVOAPPA .’ these words are said to indicate three Quapaw settlements that existed at that time are also shown in addition to the French Post.

The over-arching story that this robe tells is the celebration after a battle. Some might say that the events depicted here illustrate the gravity of human events weighed among the cosmos. This is a reminder that human relationships are ever-evolving, while the sun, the

moon, and the cosmos remain constant.


Horse Capture, George P., Anne Vitart, Michel Waldberg, and W. Richard West, Jr. Robes of Splendor: Native North American Painted Buffalo Hides. New York: New, 1993. Print.

Plagens, Peter. “When Beauty Meets Utility.” The Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. 27 Mar. 2015. Web. 09 Sept. 2021. (


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