1650AD - 1900AD

The historic period, 1650 AD - 1900 AD,  pertains to the Native Americans since their first contact with the Europeans. Tribes such as the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Cherokee are all descendants of the ancient people from the earlier time periods.


The historic period pertains to the Native Americans since their first contact with the Europeans. Tribes such as the Cheyenne, Sioux, and Cherokee are all descendants of the ancient people from the earlier time periods. So what happened to the great empires of the Mississippian Period? What become of the city at Spiro Mounds and the pottery of the Caddo and Quapaw? While theories have speculated everything from natural disasters to the depletion of land resources, modern day anthropologists place the downfall of these prehistoric civilizations on the diseases brought over from Europe. Some demographers estimate that as many as nineteen out of twenty Native Americans died of European diseases like smallpox, influenza and tuberculosis.

Iroquoian (Cherokee) Booger Mask, which portray and mock bad-mannered people. This early example was carved from eastern cedar (juniper) in the 18th Century. It was abandoned in Tennessee by its Cherokee owners on the Trail of Tears.

Blackfoot Headdress, ca. late 1800s. On loan from the University of Arkansas.


Headdresses are a symbolic, as well as artistic item for the Native Americans. There are many different styles of headdress and bonnets which were worn for different occasions or special events. The museum has several displays of different forms of Native American headgear and regalia. Eagle feather headdresses represent a great tradition of the Native American, but few people understand the meaning behind them. Eagle feathers were only given for special feats or displays of bravery and often warriors only attained a few in their lifetime. Horned headdresses were used by Native Americans on the western Great Plains. They were generally created by making a cap of buffalo hide and then horns were added for decoration. Only warriors of a certain stature were allowed to wear these horned caps.


Quillwork is perhaps the oldest form of Native American embroidery. Porcupine quills are soaked to make them pliable, then flattened and dyed to give them color. The quills were then arranged into patterns, usually geometric. Quillwork was the preferential method of decorating moccasins, vests and other clothing until the mid 1800's when glass beads became easily attainable through trade with Europeans.

Quilled Leg Band (ca. 1800s).

Beaded Bandolier Bag (ca. mid 1800s), from the Great Lakes region. 


Beads have been used for decoration by the Native Americans for thousands of years. Some of the first beads were made of stone, shell and bone. [Europeans brought glass beads to the Americas to use in trade and as gifts to gain favor with Native Americans.] European explorers brought with them beads made of glass and used them to barter with and gain favor through gifts. Introduced in the mid 1800's, very small glass beads called "seed beads" (due to their size) were traded by the Europeans in large numbers to the local natives. Seed beads were used to make very intricate patterns, but were very costly for the Native Americans to acquire thus often being a sign wealth or status within the tribe. Early glass beads were cheaply manufactured in large quantities resulting in inconsistent sizes and colors. Even in a single color, you can see variations in hues and shapes. If you look closely at these beads you will notice some of these inconsistencies, some lighter, some darker, and often with flaws. Often popular beads were given descriptive names like "greasy yellow", "Cheyenne pink" or "White Heart".

Winter Count

Winter counts are histories or calendars in which events are recorded by pictures or symbols, with one picture for each year or winter. These winter counts are often recorded on Buffalo hide. One such winter count on display in the museum is "Long Dog's" winter count. Lone Dog's winter count records 70 years of memorable events for the Lakota Sioux. When viewing the winter count in the museum, it includes a reference guide to show you what each of these symbols represents. Over the years, when hides would become damaged or worn out were occasionally transcribed to another robe or material for preservation.

Lone Dog's Winter Count is one of the best known Winter Counts and records the years between 1801 and 1871 for the Lakota Sioux.