A Lakota War Book from the Little Big Horn: The Pictographic "Autobiography of Half Moon"
Foreword by Chief Joseph Brings Plenty, Cheyenne River Sioux
Houghton Library Studies 4
"Transformative." —Candace Greene
The composite nineteenth-century document known as "The Pictorial Autobiography of Half Moon, an Uncpapa Sioux Chief" has at its core seventy-seven drawings made by Lakota warriors of the northern Plains. Found in a funerary tipi on the Little Bighorn battlefield after Custer's defeat in 1876, the drawings are from a captured ledger book that was later acquired by Chicago journalist James "Phocion" Howard. Howard added an illustrated introduction and leather binding and presented the document as the autobiographical work of a "chief" named Half Moon.
Anthropologist Castle McLaughlin probes the complex life history and cultural significance of the ledger and demonstrates that the dramatic drawings, mostly of war exploits, were created by at least six different warrior-artists. Examining how allied Lakota and Cheyenne warriors understood their graphic records of warfare as objects as well as images, McLaughlin introduces the concept of "war books"—documents that were captured and modified by Native warriors in order to appropriate the power of Euroamerican literacy. Together, the vivid first-person depictions in the ledger—now in the collection of Harvard's Houghton Library—make up a rare Native American record of historic events that likely occurred between 1866 and 1868 during Red Cloud's War along the Bozeman Trail.
A complete color facsimile of the Houghton ledger is reproduced in this ground-breaking volume.
Castle McLaughlin is Peabody Museum Curator of North American Ethnology.
"McLaughlin’s latest publication brings readers into the world of the real Crazy Horse. … As McLaughlin explains, these [ledger] drawings are as rich and informative as any Euro‐American literary text"
Co-published with Houghton Library.