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The Schild Ledger Book: Drawing a Culture in Transition

In this enigmatic scene, a mounted warrior wearing a long feather headdress with horns and carrying a feathered shield and spear rides alongside a wounded warrior apparently falling from his horse. An additional shield and trade era Leman rifle are drawn in the top right corner, and hoofprints mark the path of the two riders. It is unclear whether the wounded man is a comrade being rescued or a victim. The note at top in German reads, "Wounded Indian falls from horse;" the bottom note reads, "Black snake, Cheyenne." The drawing is from the Schild Ledger Book, comprising nearly 60 Plains Indian drawings by one or more artists. Based on a variety of clues, the drawings are thought to have been created sometime between 1875 and 1895. TARL Archives.

One of the most unusual collections at the Texas Archeological Research Laboratory is a set of 58 Plains Indian ledger drawings of unknown authorship and mysterious provenance.  Some are brilliant in color and detail, others are simple pencil sketches, never completed.  Known as ledger drawings because of the paper on which they were drawn—typically ruled pages from account books acquired as a gift or through theft or trade—ledger art is a Plains Indian style created largely in the last third of the 19th century.  As a genre, it is a continuation of traditional pictorial art originally painted on buffalo hide robes and tipi covers recording battles, heroic deeds, ceremonies, and everyday customs of Plains Indians as their way of life passed into history. In contrast to the traditional hide paintings, however, much of the ledger art was executed by artists held on reservations or in prison, using the tools and materials of a foreign culture—crayons, pencils, and paper.

Originally bound in a hard-cover account book, the Schild Ledger drawings were acquired in 1964 by the Texas Memorial Museum (TMM) at The University of Texas at Austin from Mrs. Lily Tips of Frankfurt, Germany.  Her late husband, Carlos Tips, was an artist who had spent many years studying ledger art and attempting to identify the characters and scenes depicted in this book. Handwritten labels in German appear on a number of the drawings, and a note testifying to the purported identity of the book’s artist and subsequent chain of ownership is affixed to the ledger cover. Unfortunately, most of what is inscribed on and written about the drawings is now disputed or known to be incorrect.

According to Tips’ family records, the book was purchased by Dr. E. H. Tips, in Fredericksburg, Texas, in 1895, from the estate of family friend, Herman Schild, reportedly a U.S. Indian Commissioner. (The names, Herman Schild,  Oak, Arkansas, as well as Schild, Fredericksburg Texas, are inscribed on an inside cover.)  Dr. Tips brought the book to Germany, and it eventually was passed on to his son, Carlos.  It is likely that Dr. Tips wrote most of the notes on the drawings, although one or two are in English rather than German.

Questions and Clues

Much of what is known about the Schild Ledger Book raises questions—from the identity and tribal affiliation of the artist or artists who created the drawings to the circumstances of the book's coming into the possession of the Tips family.  In a handwritten note in German attached to the cover of the book, the drawings are attributed to a Comanche Indian woman named "Ollie Johnson, wife of a Chief Bigfoot of North Dakota," between 1840 and 1850.  This identification and the time period given are highly unlikely, however. There has been no record found of such an Ollie Johnson nor a Comanche by the name of Bigfoot who lived in the Dakotas. No Comanche groups were relocated to the Dakotas, but rather were confined on reservations in Oklahoma and Texas.  There are few known Comanche ledger artists, and fewer still—if any—who are female.  The great majority of Plains ledger art was created after the 1860s by other Plains Indians—Kiowa, Cheyenne, and Sioux.

Tracing the identity of Herman Schild also has been challenging. Although he is identified in the note as an Indian Commissioner, no record has been found of his service. However, the 1880 U.S. Census for Fredericksburg, Gillespie County, Texas, lists a Herman Schild, 17, working as a farmer. There is also an 1894 U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Record for a Herman Schild, of Arkansas.  In both instances, the date and circumstances make it unlikely for this Herman Schild to have been the Indian agent in question.

The identities of figures identified by name in the drawings are similarly elusive.  In one of the scenes, a wounded U.S. officer on horseback is identified in a handwritten label in English as “Jack White, Commander of Camp Supply.”  Researchers have been unable to find evidence of an officer by that name serving at Camp Supply, a U.S. Army post established in 1868 in Indian Territory (present Oklahoma). It was from this outpost that George Armstrong Custer led the 7th U.S. Cavalry to the Washita River to destroy the village of Cheyenne chief Black Kettle, a confrontation later known as the Battle of the Washita. Camp Supply later served to guard the Arapaho and Cheyenne reservation. In 1878, Camp Supply was renamed Fort Supply, after it served a key role during the Red River War of 1874-1875.

Perhaps the most substantive clues to location, date, and identity of the groups depicted in the book comes from a complex drawing showing a battle between U.S. soldiers and Indian warriors (see below). Based on the unusual defensive position of the soldiers, Texas Historical Commission archeologist Brett Cruse believes this drawing depicts the Buffalo Wallow battle, one of the engagements between U.S. Army forces and Indians during the Red River War.  According to Cruse, there are few, if any, reported battles during the Indian Wars in which soldiers fired from within a pit. Further, the number of soldiers depicted in the drawing matched the number of soldiers actually at the battle. Kiowa were the dominate group of Indians involved in the Buffalo Wallow battle. This lends credence to the argument that this and many other drawings in the Schild book were created by a Kiowa artist.

 
Ledger art is a continuation of traditional pictorial art originally painted on buffalo hide robes and tipi covers. Plains Indian artists recorded battles, heroic deeds, ceremonies, and everyday customs as their way of life passed into history.
Cover of Schild Ledger Book with note written in German by its then owner, Dr. E. H. Tips of Fredericksburg, Texas. Much of the information he provides about the drawings, including the time period, subject matter, and artist, is believed to be erroneous. Enlarge to read translation.
Ledger drawing of elaborately dressed figure, a man clad in beaded leggings and moccasins, short skirt over long loin cloth, vest, hairpipe necklace, face paint, and a feather and scalp headdress
The handwritten label on this drawing reads, “Ollie,” who according to the book's owner, Dr. E. H. Tips, was a Comanche woman who created the ledger drawings. However, based on the loincloth and other masculine attire, this elaborately dressed figure is a man. He wears beaded leggings and moccasins, a short skirt over the long loin cloth, vest (possibly altered from a U.S. military uniform jacket), hairpipe necklace, face paint, and a feather and scalp headdress. He also  carries a feather fan. The costume has been identified as dating to the reservation era, circa 1880. TARL Archives.
Indian attack on U.S. soldiers, who are barricaded within a hole or depression in the ground. In this richly detailed, panoramic scene, four soldiers and six Indian men are depicted. The Indians are armed with feathered lances and rifles, and two of the warriors wear long, feathered war bonnets. The label at bottom right reads, “A heavy battle in which more white than Indians killed. Soldiers in hole” and “Fight where half Indians killed.” Based on the position of the soldiers as well as their uniforms, Texas Historical Commission archeologist Brett Cruse believes this scene may depict the Buffalo Wallow battle in 1874, one of several clashes between Southern Plains Indians and the U.S. Army during the Red River War. There are few reported accounts of battles where soldiers have fought from a defensive position dug in within a hole. An unusual element in this drawing is the suggestion of a wooded landscape in the top left corner. Trees, plants, and  geographic features are rarely included in ledger art. TARL Archives.

Following the Trail

There are, however, numerous other clues in the drawings—elements of Indian dress, weaponry, and ornamentation of horses, as well as details of customs depicted.  Some of these apparently connect them to Kiowa and others, although fewer, to the Cheyenne.  Prominently featured in almost every drawing are horses, a critical element in the development of Plains Indian culture, enabling tribes to hunt buffalo with greater ease, travel farther, carry heavier loads, and conduct warfare from a mobile base of operations.  Many of the horses are drawn with elaborate bridles and other ornamentation, as well as body paint, signifying their importance to the tribe. Some bear brands indicating they may have been obtained through raids on white settlements or Army posts. Stylistic details may hold clues to the artist(s) or to the evolving nature of the art form: while most horses in the Schild book are drawn with a diminutive head in relation to the elongated body, a few are shown with more realistic proportions. Variations in the way horses are depicted in motion—most are in "rocking-horse" style with back legs extended, but a few are drawn with a rear leg thrust forward—suggest the hands of multiple artists.

Great attention is paid to details of dress, both of the Indians as well as the U.S. soldiers and settlers, and these details may help in dating the drawings. Cartridge belts and uniform jacket style suggest the post-Civil War period, not the 1840s, as stated in the notes attributed to the Tips family. Some soldiers wear the post-Civil War kepi style forage cap, while others wear brimmed hats. Native equipment—shields, headdresses, lances, and other personal gear—was drawn in sufficient detail to identify the Indian subjects to their cohorts at the time.

As in other ledger artwork, some of the Schild battle drawings include the symbolic use of hoofprints and dashed lines to represent directionality and movement, and spiral lines with dots to represent bullets in flight. Like earlier, traditional hide paintings, most Schild ledger scenes convey a sense of narrative by drawing action from right to left, or with horses and figures largely drawn in left profile. Landscape details are not included, with the rare exception of the panoramic battle scene in which what appears to be a motte of trees or woods in the top left corner.

The most comprehensive research on the Schild ledger drawings was conducted by University of Texas Fine Arts student Barbara Ellen Loeb LaMont. Her 1975 unpublished Master’s thesis compiles interpretations of tribal iconography and regalia derived from correspondence with Plains Indian scholars, art historians, and ledger art experts across the country. These include Father Peter Powell, author and spiritual director of the St. Augustine Center for the American Indian and a member of the Chief’s Society for the Northern Cheyenne People;  Kiowa artist James Auchiah, one of the famed “Kiowa Five” at the University of Oklahoma’s School of Art in the 1920s; Smithsonian Institution anthropologist and author John Ewers; traditional Indian costume maker Mildred Cleghorn; and  UT Anthropology Professor William Newcomb, the latter of whom was instrumental in acquiring the drawings for the TMM. LaMont also examined collections of ledger drawings at other institutions, including those of the Smithsonian National Anthropological Archives, comparing the Schild drawings with those of known Kiowa and Cheyenne artists.  Given the authoritative sources she consulted, LaMont’s thesis is a fascinating trove of information. Excerpts from her findings and those of other researchers are included with this selection of examples from the Schild Ledger book.

Enlarge each drawing below for detail:

 

Unfinished ledger drawingof a U.S. soldier is apparently falling from his horse
In this unfinished drawing, a U.S. soldier is apparently falling from his horse. The near-vertical position of the horse is seen in other drawings and indicates the animal has been wounded or killed. The drawing bears the inscription in English, “Commander from Camp Supply, Jack White” along with the German word  for “dead.”  It is unclear whether the knife shown in the drawing relates to the soldier. Enlarge for more detail. TARL Archives.
Ledger drawing of a horse decorated white man's saddle and two blankets in front of a tipi
Befitting their important role in Plains culture, horses are prominently featured in almost every drawing, such as this one shown with a decorated white man's saddle and two blankets in front of a tipi. According to Father Peter Powell, the horse's ears are clipped like those of a race horse. What appears to be a tooth hanging from the horse's neck may be from an antelope, considered protective medicine for race horses. Note the diminutive scale of the horse's head, a stylistic convention seen throughout the ledger drawings. TARL Archives.
This detailed drawing, interpreted as “bringing boughs to the Sun Dance Lodge,” holds promise as identifying a specific tribe or culture. A mounted Indian man rides behind a group of people under umbrellas who appear to be pulling felled trees. The lodge is framed by upright poles or forked tree trunks and is adorned with feathers and bundles of goods (possible offerings). The long black object atop the lodge is thought to represent a stuffed buffalo skin which many tribes placed above the center pole. Although identified in the German label as “Indian burial”, the structure and boughs are thought to identify it as a Sun Dance Lodge. Father Peter Powell identified the scene as Kiowa because women of that tribe, unlike Cheyenne, assisted in bringing boughs to the lodge. However, the center pole appears to have a red stripe of paint, which some scholars believe was not a Kiowa tradition; most Kiowa lodge center poles were not painted. TARL Archives.

 

 

Ledger Art in Historical Context

Unlike calendar art, or winter counts, executed by Kiowa and Lakota men using simplified symbols to mark key events within the tribe over the course of a year, many ledger drawings are personal narratives heralding individual deeds and honors. The warrior-artists recorded their heroic past and the tumult and transformation of their life in the present. Ledger drawings memorialize the “glory days” of warriors and hunters, when bison were still abundant on the Plains, while other scenes capture moments of individual bravery during battles with the U.S. Army before the tribes were moved onto reservations.

According to Candace Greene, author and North American Indian ethnologist at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, the Kiowa considered these heroic actions, or coups, to be the “property” of the man who executed them. The right to tell the story or portray it in drawing was closely held by the individual. In some detailed drawings, Greene has found that specific individuals can be identified, based on details of their dress and weapons such as the symbols on their shields. Other ledger drawings record tribal customs, such as courting, dances, and spiritual ceremonies. For the artists, the drawings were important representations reflecting a chief or warriors’ wealth and status, signified by the quantity of possessions and the ornamentation of regalia and weaponry. Representing the continuation of an artistic tradition originally executed on buffalo hide robes and tipi covers, the drawings are a colorful and poignant reflection of Plains Indian life. 

Greene examined copies of the Schild ledger drawings and, in a 1984 letter to a TMM staff member, wrote that in her opinion “the drawings represent the work of several artists and are definitely not by any Cheyenne artist whose work I have examined. Their style is not typical of the Cheyenne, especially the extensive use of square front and back views… .”  She notes further that the style is more typical of the work of various artists located around Ft. Sill, the most well known of which are Kiowa. The representation of costume by the artists also suggests Southern Plains. Although she notes there was much intertribal sharing of costume styles during the late 19th century, her interpretation as a whole contradicts the handwritten notes in the Schild book which seem to connect the drawings to a location in North Dakota.

Much of known Plains ledger art was created during a time of tremendous cultural upheaval during the 1860s-1880s when contact with white soldiers and settlers led to violent conflict and ultimately removal of tribes to reservations. As a result of the Medicine Lodge Treaty of 1868, and the Red River War of 1874-1875, the Kiowa and Comanche were concentrated together on a reservation in western Indian Territory, now southwestern Oklahoma. Cheyenne and Arapaho were confined on a different reservation in the same general area. The latter tribes drew their annuities (supplies furnished annually by the U.S. government) from Camp Supply, and later from Fort Reno. Kiowa and Comanche drew their annuities at Fort Sill.  Members of all four tribes participated in the battles comprising the Red River War, which occurred in the wake of the attack on white buffalo hunters at a compound known as Adobe Walls, in the Texas Panhandle.  The battle of Buffalo Wallow, believed to be depicted in one of the ledger drawings, was fought on September 12, 1874, in southeastern Hemphill County, Texas.

Of all the ledger art known to have been created by members of the various Plains tribes, some of the most vivid scenes are attributed to Kiowa men held prisoner at Fort Marion in St. Augustine, Florida.  At the end of the Red River War in Texas and Oklahoma in 1875, more than 70 Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne, and Caddo men were transported to the prison without trial and placed under the command of a man named Richard Pratt.  While the intent of the imprisonment was to strip the Indians of their culture and force assimilation into American life, it was Pratt—with his philosophy of ‘kill the Indian and save the man”—who encouraged the prisoners to create works of art as a trade.  Many of the drawings were sold commercially to an eager tourist market. Denied their traditional way of life, the artists preserved their past through drawings.

An Enduring Mystery

The Schild Ledger Book was passed down through at least three families before it came to the University of Texas. Memories and interpretations, whether orally transmitted or written, are subject to alterations with each retelling or reiteration.  Because the Comanche loomed large in the history of Fredericksburg, Texas, where Herman Schild and the Tips family lived at one time, it is possible that the art was attributed to that tribe simply because of that aspect of regional history. The notes accompanying the drawings are puzzling, and questions about the artists and people and places depicted in the drawings may never be definitively answered.  Later analyses of the Schild book were conducted long before museum collections and government records were digitized and made available through the Internet. There now is considerable opportunity for researchers to learn more about the remarkable Schild drawings by comparing them with other collections available online and for questions surrounding their provenance to be re-investigated.

Correlated Lesson Plan for Teaching about Plains Ledger Art

A new lesson correlated to the Schild Ledger Collection examines how ledger art was, and still is, an important medium of expression for Native Americans. Created by TBH Education Advisor Carol Schlenk, the lesson is oriented to 7th-grade students and meets a number of the state-mandated curriculum objectives for Social Studies and Middle School Art (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS). Detail on this lesson and a link to the TEKS and pdf copy of the lesson is below:

Drawing Our Lives: Plains Indian Ledger Art Revisited
In this lesson, students view examples of Plains Indian ledger art from different eras and read a speech made by Kiowa chief Satanta when his tribe was forced onto a U.S. government reservation in the late 1800s. They will then create an example of ledger art that documents some aspect of their own culture and write a paragraph explaining their choice of subject. Suggested for 7th grade, but easily adapted for 4th. View TEKS and download page

Credits and Sources

This Spotlight entry was written by TBH Editor Susan Dial, based on information in the following sources as well as research on additional ledger drawings and correspondence in TARL Records. TBH Associate Editor Heather Smith programmed the page for the web. Scans of the images were made by TARL volunteer Marianna Grenadier. The Schild Ledger Book is owned by The University of Texas and curated at TARL.

Ewers, John
1939 Plains Indian Painting: A Description of an Aboriginal American Art. Stanford University Press.

Greene, Candace S.
2005 Winter Counts and Coup Counts: Plains Pictorial Art as Native History.  Smithsonian Museum of Natural History AnthroNotes 26(2):1-6.

LaMont, Barbara Ellen Loeb
1975 The Schild Ledger Book: Plains Indian Drawings. Unpublished Master’s thesis, The University of Texas at Austin.

Mooney, James (Transcribed and edited by Father Peter Powell)
2013 In Sun’s Likeness and Power: Cheyenne Accounts of Shield and Tipi Heraldry. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln.

Utley, Robert M.
1984 The Indian Frontier of the American West 1846-1890. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque.

Links

To learn more about the Kiowa and view additional examples of ledger art, see the Kiowa section of the Peoples of the Plateaus and Canyonlands in Historic Times on TBH:

http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/plateaus/peoples/kiowa.html

Learn more about the last days of the Plains Indians in Texas in The Passing of the Indian Era in the Frontier Forts exhibits on TBH:

http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/forts/indians.html

Learn more about the Battles of the Red River War, the 1874 U.S. Army campaign to remove tribes from the Southern Plains:

http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net/redriver/index.html.

Other ledger art collections can be viewed at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History galleries of works by Fort Marion artists:

http://anthropology.si.edu/naa/exhibits/kiowa/ft_marion.htm

 

 

A soldier pursues two Indians on horseback. Note the Indians’ shield and lance. The horse has been painted with red handprints, and what appears to be a scalp hangs from the bridle. Symbols for bullets and hoof prints also are drawn into the scene, indicating battle. TARL Archives.
Ledger drawing scene depicting an attack on five armed white men in a building
This scene depicts an attack on five armed white men in a building. Another man with an arrow in his chest lies on the ground next to another building. Someone has written the word, “soldiers,” next to the men, but they are dressed in non-military attire; it is unclear whether they are settlers, members of a militia, or other unit. The numerous symbols for bullets, hoofprints, and footprints drawn around the scene indicate a heavy battle took place. Although no Indian foes are shown, a wounded horse bearing Indian ornamentation is drawn at left. TARL Archives.
Map of Indian Territory in Oklahoma showing locations of the Kiowa and Comanche with Fort Sill and the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservations
Map of Indian Territory in Oklahoma, 1866-1890, showing locations of the Kiowa and Comanche reservation, Fort Sill, and the Cheyenne and Arapaho reservations. Note locations of Fort Supply and Fort Reno, which were supply points for the military and later, for the reservations. Graphic adapted from Utley 1984.
 
The signature page of the ledger book shows the name “Herman Schild, Oak, Arkansas”, in black, and three additional names below: “Schild, Fredericksburg, Texas”; “K. Flemons”, and “Sandy”, in purple pencil
The signature page of the ledger book shows the name “Herman Schild, Oak, Arkansas”, in black, and three additional names below: “Schild, Fredericksburg, Texas”, “K. Flemons”, and “Sandy”, in purple pencil. The fact that the first page of the book was inscribed in this fashion, and not used for a drawing, may indicate that it belonged to Schild from the beginning of its use.
Ledger drawing of a painted tipi and a decorated shield hanging beside the tipi door.
Painted tipi and a decorated shield hanging beside the tipi door, attributed to Bigfoot and Ollie, respectively. This scene was drawn on the other inside cover of the book. Questions about the purported artist, Ollie, and the people and places depicted in the Schild ledger book may never be answered. TARL Archives.
modern ledger drawing with trucks.
This contemporary drawing entitled "The Road to Indian Market is Filled with Potholes” by Dolores Purdy Corcoran (2012), is part of a new TBH lesson plan that examines how ledger art was, and still is, an important medium of expression for Native Americans. The lesson, "Drawing our Lives: Plains Ledger Art Revisited," is correlated to the Schild Ledger Book. Oriented to 7th-grade students, the lesson contatins a variety of primary documents to aid students in understanding Plains Indian history. Image courtesy of the artist. Enlarge to see full drawing.