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Square hand drum

Lakota square hand drum
ca. 1860–1870
North Dakota(?)
Hide, horn, wood, pigment
59 x 49 x 7 cm
Gift of John S. Williams

Museum catalogue information states that this drum was given to Elisha Slocum, an agent of the Adams Express Company in North Dakota, by John Crawford. According to Slocum, the drum belonged to Sitting Bull, the Hunkpapa Lakota medicine man.

While I question that association, the drum is similar to a square drum said to be Assiniboine or Yanktonai Lakota from the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana. The two drums are so close in design that the same person could have painted them. Both show a yellow face with red eyes and no mouth, with black painted buffalo horns protruding from the face. Both drums also have two similar circular designs above the face.

Only the “Sitting Bull” has actual horns. The use and depiction of painted buffalo horns on these images likely represents power. The color black could represent the buffalo—night and death for the buffalo if the hunt was successful. This drum could have been used for calling buffalo to ensure a successful hunt and the well-being of the tribe.

I believe this drum is from the Assiniboine or Yanktonai Lakota. Following the 1862 Minnesota conflict known as the Dakota War, the Yanktonai made treaties with the United States. Many of those called Lower Yanktonai settled at Fort Peck, home today to the Assiniboine and Sioux. Those called Upper Yanktonai settled mostly at Standing Rock Reservation, where Sitting Bull and his people also lived.

—Donovin Sprague (Minnicoujou Lakota)
Historian and instructor, Black Hills State University

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