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Scalping Knife and Sheath

Arts of the Americas

The articles in this case and the adjacent clothing case [see 50.67.6] are some of the earliest and finest Eastern Plains pieces in existence. They were collected by Dr. Nathan Sturges Jarvis, a military surgeon stationed at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, between 1833 and 1836. Most items were made by the Eastern and Middle Dakota (Sioux) or by the peoples of the Red River region, including the Red River Métis, Anishinabe, Plains Cree, and Salteaux. Some of the objects were purchased by Jarvis, and others may have been given to him in exchange for his medical services.

By the early nineteenth century, the growing numbers of white settlers and military personnel—following decades of fur trading—had depleted much of the game on which the Dakota and Red River peoples depended. Indigenous ingenuity in combining trade materials such as cloth, metal, and glass beads with traditional hides, pipestone, and porcupine and bird quills is evident in these objects.
MEDIUM Hide, metal, wood, porcupine quills, brass, skin, cloth, tin, sinew
  • Place Made: United States
  • DATES early 19th century
    DIMENSIONS knife: 10 3/8 x 1 1/8 in. (26.4 x 2.9 cm) sheath: 8 3/4 x 2 1/2 in. (22.2 x 6.4 cm)  (show scale)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of the Americas
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    ACCESSION NUMBER 50.67.118a-b
    CREDIT LINE Henry L. Batterman Fund and the Frank Sherman Benson Fund
    RIGHTS STATEMENT Creative Commons-BY
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    CAPTION Sioux (probably) (Native American). Scalping Knife and Sheath, early 19th century. Hide, metal, wood, porcupine quills, brass, skin, cloth, tin, sinew, knife: 10 3/8 x 1 1/8 in. (26.4 x 2.9 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Henry L. Batterman Fund and the Frank Sherman Benson Fund, 50.67.118a-b. Creative Commons-BY
    IMAGE overall, 50.67.118a-b_bw_SL1.jpg. Brooklyn Museum photograph
    "CUR" at the beginning of an image file name means that the image was created by a curatorial staff member. These study images may be digital point-and-shoot photographs, when we don\'t yet have high-quality studio photography, or they may be scans of older negatives, slides, or photographic prints, providing historical documentation of the object.
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION The slightly curved steel blade of the knife is bound to the well-round bone (?) handle by a worked sheet of brass. This brass is finished in a series of little points at the handle end and incised with series of simple lines, both parallel and diagonal, to form bands. The sheath for this knife is worked with porcupine quills in purplish brown, orange, yellow, and natural white in a motif of connecting diamonds. The body of the sheath has an orange triangle with "V" shaped outlines at the very bottom, below the pattern of connected diamonds. The panel or cuff is striped. Many metal cones are suspended from the bottom of the cuff and one single cone, or tinkler is suspended from the bottom tip of the sheath. These 'tin-tinklers' on the panel were once quill-wrapped.The leather is thread sewn so that beige ribbon adorns the panel or cuff.
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    Scalping Knife and Sheath