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Tomahawk associated with Mee-nah-tsee-us (White Swan, Apsáalooke (Crow) ca. 1851–1904)
ca. 1890
Montana
Wood, iron, otter fur, paint
60 x 23 cm
Collected by William Wildschut
12/6401

White Swan grew up in the traditional manner of young Crow males, maturing into a warrior probably by the age of thirteen. In 1876 he enlisted as a scout for the U.S. Army, first with the 7th Infantry, later on detachment to the 7th Cavalry under George Armstrong Custer. On the morning of June 25, 1876, White Swan and several other Crow scouts ascended what is now known as the Crow’s Nest, where they spotted the large Sioux and Cheyenne encampment in the Little Big Horn Valley. He accompanied the Army’s attack on the south end of the camp later that afternoon. Severely wounded, he was transported to the steamer The Far West on the Big Horn River for medical care. In 1897 he applied for and received a pension of $17 a month for his loyal service as a scout.

White Swan was noted for his artwork and craftsmanship, evident in his paintings and in his personal attire, such as this tomahawk. The tomahawk in Northern Plains warrior culture evolved from being a weapon or tool to possessing spiritual significance. Army scouts like White Swan carried tomahawks for counting coup, or spiritual purposes. Early non-Indian visitors believed that most warriors adorned themselves and their weapons merely for decoration. In fact, the weapons’ décor represented war deeds or instructions received from a vision or a medicine man. White Swan, the noted warrior, scout, and artist, is interred at the Custer Battlefield National Cemetery.

—Alden Big Man (Apsáalooke)
PhD candidate in history, University of New Mexico

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