War-Paint Not Always


Whenever the term war-paint is mentioned I tend to cringe. Native tribes in the west used paint, but doing battle with another tribe was only one instance when it was used. The practice of face and body painting, and sometimes of their animals was done by self or often by another and symbolic of countless occasions. Paint could be used to dance, for a big hunt, or a coming home riding through camp in a victory celebration. Almost any type of significant accomplishment might be a time to bring out the paint. Painting of faces and bodies also was used in mourning.

The colors used were meaningful and often quite hard to obtain. When the first traders arrived paint became an important trade item and brought a rather large price. Of all the colors red was most used and because of that most sought after. The area in and around Hartville, Wyoming, including Sunrise, the Hell Gap area, and Guernsey State Park are blessed with large deposits of iron oxide. Tribes came for miles and for centuries to this area to obtain the deep red earth found there.

Rich Red Pigment Provided by Nature

The Sacred Pipe

In Joseph Brown’s wonderful book of more than 60 years ago, The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk’s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, he wrote, “By being painted, the people have been changed. They have undergone a new birth, and with this, they have new responsibilities, new obligations, and a new relationship.”

Next time you watch an old movie where the Indians are painted for war, think this, “Maybe not, they might be painted for many things.”

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