Date of this Version
In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000
A remarkable historic textile treasure of the early American West, the Washita Chief Blanket, originated in the early to mid-1800s trade to the Plains Indians, served as a fine garment among Southern Cheyenne people, and in 1868 survived an Indian Wars battle along the Washita River in western Oklahoma Territory. Since 1968 the blanket has been preserved at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The preceding article by Whitehead and Herold entitled "The Washita Chief Blanket: Part I, Textile Analysis" introduces and illustrates the object and presents the current research design, textile description of the blanket, and comparisons with Southwestern blankets. This article further delineates the Washita Blanket's ethnohistoric and cultural context and provenance, and begins to explore its possible origins and distinctiveness as a trade item.
Cultural-historic Context The Cheyenne, or Tsistsistas, meaning The People, in the 1830s were established buffalo hunters in the west central Great Plains, ranging from the Rocky Mountains to the areas of later western Nebraska and Kansas. With herds of Spanish horses they transported villages of hide-and-pole lodges in rhythm with seasonal buffalo migrations. Their material culture was based on the bountiful larder of the buffalo and on trading hides for cloth, knives, and other implements and luxuries. A rich community and ceremonial life featured men's military societies and a women's quill-working society. Contacts with Americans followed trading routes along the Platte and Arkansas rivers and with Spanish colonists, the trails to the northern provinces of a newly independent (in 1821) Mexico. As more and more wagon trains rolled along the Santa Fe Trail, Cheyennes increasingly were attracted to the southern edge of their territory, especially to Bent's Old Fort on the Arkansas River (near the present town of La Junta, Colorado). In 1848 United States officially took over heavily Hispanic Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.