OBJECT OF THE MONTH - August, 2006

Man's Shirt With Quillwork

Man's muslin shirt decorated with dyed quillwork and fringe, Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, UCM 32291. Front view.

This muslin shirt, decorated with fringe and quillwork, was donated to the Museum by the Harold W. Case family. In 1922 Reverend Harold W. Case and his wife, Eva, joined the Congregational Mission at Elbowoods, North Dakota on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation of The Three Affiliated Tribes, known today as the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. The Cases remained at Elbowoods, the reservation tribal center, until 1954 when residents of the town and surrounding bottomlands were forced to relocate to make way for reservoir waters of the Garrison Dam.

During his missionary career on the reservation, Reverend Case collected a large number of cultural artifacts. This man's shirt is handmade of muslin with a button-closure at the neckline in the style of clothing introduced by whites. It's decorated with traditional panels of plaited porcupine quills dyed bright orange and deep purple. Fringe is laced through the edges of the quilled panels.
Some of the front fringe was added at a later date, suggesting the quilled panels originally may have decorated a traditional-style war shirt of buckskin, and were later sewn onto this muslin shirt. Traditionally decorated war shirts were worn by distinguished tribal leaders. After the days of Plains warfare, decorated honorary shirts were worn at tribal social and political events (Hail: 68). Calvin Grinnell, Resource Specialist in the Cultural Preservation Office of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, commented recently that "these shirts are our tuxedos."
To learn more:
  • Hau, Kóla!: The Plains Indian Collection of the Haffenreffer Museum of Anthropology, Barbara A. Hail, 1980, University of Washington Press, Seattle.
  • The Way to Independence: Memories of a Hidatsa Family, 1840-1920, Carolyn Gilman and Mary Jane Schneider, 1987, Minnesota Historical Society Press, St. Paul.
  • Handbook of North American Indians, Plains, vol. 13, pt. 1, Raymond J. DeMallie, vol. editor, 2001, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C.
  • 100 Years at Fort Berthold: The History of Fort Berthold Indian Mission, 1876-1976, Harold and Eva Case, compilers, 1977, Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, North Dakota.