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Rod-armor vest

Karuk rod-armor vest
ca. 1900
Wood, iris, fiber cord, leather
57 x 59 cm
Collected by Grace Nicholson

Armor from native California is exceedingly rare, and this vest, while perhaps a commissioned piece, may be the only documented Karuk example extant in museum collections. It was acquired by the indomitable collector of native California art, Grace Nicholson, in the early 20th century. Never a common item among California tribes, or indeed North American Indians in general, protective armor is most often associated with certain Northwest Coast tribes, such as the Tlingit.

Karuk live along the Klamath River in northwest California. Warfare, such as it was among Karuks, usually resulted from a family avenging some transgression, which, in turn, could escalate into retaliatory violence between Karuk villages. By the time this rod-armor vest was collected, intervillage warfare had long ceased among Karuks, although Alfred Kroeber, a highly respected anthropologist who worked among California tribes, photographed a Karuk elder wearing a such a rod-armor vest and protective helmet.

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