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Nature and Purpose of Dolls

In Native American culture, dolls are viewed as more that a child's toy. They are often used by medicine men and women to bless and heal members of their tribe. They are employed in sacred ceremonies and rituals. Dolls are used to teach and train the young in the ways of the people.

A Buffalo Bill Center of the West Virtual Exhibit
Curated by: Toys

Northern Plains | doll and h...
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Exhibit notes: Northern Plains Doll on Horse: Not only can dolls be used to teach Indian children about tribal roles and traditions, they can also be used to teach non-Native people about Indian Cultures. The details in the clothing and regalia worn by this Northern Plains Doll and her horse speak to the ethnology of this tribe.

Museum record: NA.507.18 | ca. 1900 | doll length: 7 in | Gift of Lucile M. Wright | Ritual and Recreation: Toys. Stuffed female doll and horse. Doll has tanned dress. Horse is tanned hide with saddle. Bead decoration on dress, overlay beaded decoration on boot moccasins, and on saddle bags, horse neck decoration. Black painted spots on horse. Horse hair braids on doll and name on horse. | BBHC Cody Enterprise column: “Your Museum Matters” – December 1, 2008 From our collection: As kids, parents, and everyone in between are thinking toys and games this holiday season, we’re reminded that not only are playthings a part of numerous cultures, they’ve been around for ages, too. A civilization’s toys can tell a good deal about its beliefs, priorities, or everyday life. For instance, Native American toys helped prepare children for adult responsibilities. They were often miniature replicas of tools and implements, and play imitated adult tasks. The first dolls made by Lakota and other Plains tribes were simple figures of clay or rawhide cutouts stuffed with buffalo hair or grass. The detail in doll clothing helped an Indian girl learn her family’s way of making household objects. Finally, they were typically made by grandparents and rarely had much detail so features could be left to a child’s imagination. Photo caption/credit: Northern Plains doll and horse, ca. 1900. Buffalo Bill Historical Center, Cody, Wyoming. Gift of Ms. Lucile M. Wright. NA.507.18 | NA.507.18.JPG | NA.507.18.jpg | horse | spots | doll and horse | trade | hide | seed | hair | pigment | Beads | deer | cloth | horse | tanned | Northern Plains

Esther Bull Weasel | Crow | ...
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Exhibit notes: Small Leather and Fabric Crow doll: Dolls of this type were called "Pieces Dolls" because they were made from pieces of fabric or leather. "Pieces Dolls" were usually one of the first dolls little girls had. They were small and easy for little hands to carry.

Museum record: NA.507.82C | ca. 1910 | H: 4 in, width: 2 in | The Crow Indian Collection of Dr. William and Anna Petzoldt, gift of Genevieve Petzoldt Fitzgerald | Ritual and Recreation: Toys. Female -- doll made of cloth and leather. | NA.507.82A-Y.JPG | na.507.82c.jpg | doll | cloth | leather | Esther Bull Weasel | Crow

Salish | basketry doll | gre...
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Exhibit notes: Salish Basketry Doll: Dolls were made out of materials that were readily available. They were not made to last. Dolls were designed to wear out as the child grew, and they were usually falling apart or lost by the time the child no longer wished to play with it. *This doll is also a good example of a doll made to be sold to non-Native people.

Museum record: NA.507.79 | ca. 1900 | H: 8.5 in, width: 2.5 in | Ritual and Recreation: Toys. Doll made of woven grass; green stripes around neck, waist and base; purple hair; bead earrings; leather headband. | NA.507.79.JPG | na.507.79.jpg | stripes | basketry doll | green | leather | purple | Woven | grass | Salish

Sioux | doll | glass beads |...
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Exhibit notes: Sioux Female Doll: Dolls were elaborately beaded and dressed. Multiple dresses and accessories were made for each doll. This signifies the skill and love of the child's family members.

Museum record: NA.507.116 | H: 13.5 in | Gift of Mr. Forrest Fenn | Sioux female doll with a full length Indian tanned beaded dress with 10 tin cone jangles on each side. Beaded high-top buckskin moccasins and a red fully quilled belt with quilled trailer. Heavily beaded dress yoke with blue, green, and black seed beads. Four-strand beaded earrings and three-strand bead necklace hang below waist. Fourteen-strand neckpiece. Horse tail hair on a cloth head with beaded eyes and mouth. | na.507.116v2.jpg | na.507.116 v2.jpg | na.507.116.jpg | na.507.116v1.jpg | na.507.116.jpg | female | doll | glass beads | cloth | porcupine quills | tin cones | tanned hide | dyed | Horse Hair | Buckskin | Sioux

Crow | doll | thread | glass...
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Exhibit notes: Crow Doll decorated with Dentalium Shells: Women in Native American society took great pride in tight even stitches. The dress appears to be made by young hands because the stitches are uneven. Often a mother, grandmother or aunt would make a doll for a little girl. They would then teach the child how to make dresses for the doll.

Museum record: NA.507.113 | ca. 1900 | H: 10 in | Gift of Mr. Forrest Fenn | Crow female doll wearing a long cotton dress with a calico hem. Six braids of black hair are sewn to the head. 178 dentalium shells are sewn in three rows from the waist to the neck of the doll. She has a cotton body, beaded moccasins, and a cloth belt. Her eyes and moth are also beaded. | na.507.113.jpg | na.507.113v1.jpg | na.507.113 v2.jpg | na.507.113v2.jpg | female | doll | thread | glass | cloth | Beads | dentalium shells | cotton | hair | Cotton cloth | Crow

Umatilla | Plateau | toy cra...
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Exhibit notes: Umatilla toy doll and cradleboard: Cradleboards were usually made by the female members of the husband's family as a way to honor and welcome the new baby into the family. This practices was also a way for the aunts to show honor and respect to their brother.

Museum record: NA.507.83 | 1890 | L: 16.5 in, width: 8 in | Ritual and Recreation: Toys. Beaded cradle board with doll sewn inside. Doll has horse hair, beaded eyes and mouth. The cradle board cover has leaf design (4) beaded in rose, sky blue, green, turquoise. Field is beaded with ochre beads. A strip of beaded leather is tucked behind dolls head. | NA.507.83.JPG | NA.507.83.JPG | leaf design | toy cradle | doll | cotton | thread | glass beads | pony | canvas | leather | Beads | Horse Hair | Umatilla | Plateau

Northern Plains | doll | mal...
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Exhibit notes: Male Doll-Northern Plains: Some tribes used dolls as part of the Ghost Dance. This Doll could have been used for such a purpose especially if it were accompanied by a female counterpart. Another reason for dolls to appear in pairs is if they are part of a love spell.

Museum record: NA.507.106 | ca. 1880's | H: 12.5 in, width: 3.5 in | Gift of Museum Selections | Ritual and Recreation; Toys. Male native american doll, dressed in tanned buckskin, decorated with beads. | na.507.106.jpg | male | doll | male | hair | glass beads | tanned | hide | Northern Plains

Northern Plains | doll | fem...
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Exhibit notes: Female Doll-Northern Plains: This doll could have been used as part of a Ghost Dance, especially if she had a male counter part. Also, if a male and female doll closely resembled each other it could be because the children who played with them were twins.

Museum record: NA.507.105 | ca. 1880's | H: 12.5 in, width: 3.25 in | Gift of Museum Selections | Ritual and Recreation; Toys. Female native american doll dressed in light tanned buckskin with beads as decoration. | na.507.105.jpg | female | doll | female | hide | glass beads | hair | tanned | Northern Plains

Northern Plains | dolls | de...
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Exhibit notes: Small Dolls tied together: Not all dolls were used as toys for children. In some Native American tribes they created small dolls that hung from leather thongs. These were "Worry Dolls." It was their function to relieve the person who carried it from worrying.

Museum record: NA.507.21 | L: 2.125 in | Gift of Henry B. Joy, Jr. | Ritual and Recreation: Toys. Tanned, fully beaded dolls tied together with thong. | NA.507.21.JPG | na.507.21.jpg | dolls | deer | seed | hide | Beads | tanned | Northern Plains

Sac and Fox | Meskwaki | Sau...
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Exhibit notes: Sac & Fox-Meskwaki Carved Wooden Male Doll: Native American's used dolls to model the roles of men and women, and their place in society. Typically boys were not encouraged to play with dolls. They were encouraged to play with bows, arrows, clubs, and spears, however if they were to play with dolls it was to be male. This doll is a good representation of a doll modeling the role of men in the tribe.

Museum record: NA.507.9 | ca. 1890 | L: 16 in | Adolf Spohr Collection, Gift of Larry Sheerin | Ritual and Recreation: Toys. Male -- Carved wooden doll with black wool shirt and breech cloth, buckskin leggings with bead decoration, purple and green ribbon trim, wooden and bead necklace. Fur hat with beaded tabs attached. Feather in back, metal armbands. Holding wooden war club. Fur and bead knee bands. | NA.507.9.JPG | na.507.9.jpg | arm bands | Beads | claws | ribbon | carved | trade | wool | cloth | Animal | fur | seed | wood | metal | feather | Sac and Fox | Meskwaki | Sauk and Fox

Meskwaki | Sac and Fox | Sau...
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Exhibit notes: Sauk & Fox-Meskwaki Carved Wooden Male Jointed Doll: Jointed dolls were used by medicine people during sacred ceremonies and rites. The joints were representative of human movement and life. Jointed dolls were also used during celebrations as puppets to teach children tribal traditions and rules of conduct.

Museum record: NA.507.8 | ca. 1890 | L: 19.75 in | Adolf Spohr Collection, Gift of Larry Sheerin | Ritual and Recreation: Toys. Male -- Carved wooden doll with black wool breechcloth with red and green cloth trim. Necklace of animal fur, claws and red and black glass beads. Beaded knee bands with yarn tassles, tanned moccasins with blue bead border. Small bead choker necklace. | NA.507.8.JPG | na.507.8.jpg | doll | blue | carved | green | black | fur | tanned | Beads | cloth | wood | claws | seed | Animal | trade | hide | deer | wool | Red | yarn | tassles | Meskwaki | Sac and Fox | Sauk and Fox

Southwestern | kachina | fea...
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Exhibit notes: Hopi Katsina Doll: There are over 250 different katsina. Each one has a specific function and purpose.

Museum record: NA.502.56B | H: 2 Inches, W: 1.5 Inches, D: 1 Inches | Ritual and Recreation: Ritual, Curing and Cult Objects. Wooden, painted with black feathers glued to heads. | na.502.56b.jpg | kachina | feathers | wooden | black | painted | glue | Southwestern

Southwest | Hopi | kachina |...
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Exhibit notes: Hopi Katsina Doll: Most likely Koyaala, a clown katsina who performs during interludes between katsina dances. His job is to enforce proper behavior on the part of the spectators at the dance.

Museum record: NA.502.140 | ca. 1950(?) | H: 13.25 in, width: 5.5 in, depth: 4 in | Ritual and Recreation: Ritual, Curing and Cult Objects. Wood; squatting figure with horned hat; hat, upper body and lower legs painted with black and white stripes; upper legs painted blue; breech cloth of blue cloth tied on with pink and white cloth; green cloth bag tied around neck with strip of pink cloth; white tassles on horns;right arm broken below shoulders. | NA.502.140.JPG | na.502.140.jpg | stripes | kachina | paint | cloth | tassles | wood | Southwest | Hopi

Southwest | kachina | Square...
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Exhibit notes: Hopi Katsina Doll: Katsina are a detailed visual record of the powerful beings who are an important part of Pueblo life. This katsina may represent Hu' Katsina, a whipper katsina, he serves as a disciplinarian. He appears in pairs during the Powamuya ceremony with Crow Mother.

Museum record: NA.502.143 | ca. 1890(?) | H: 10.25 in, width: 4.25 in, depth: 3.25 in | Ritual and Recreation: Ritual, Curing and Cult Objects. Carved wood figure; square head; red feathers attached to top of head; green and black painted horn on left side of head, right horn missing; one bulging black and white eye, left eye missing; face painted with geometric pattern in turquoise, yellow, black, red and white; upper body painted yellow and red; lower body painted white with geometric pattern on right side in black, green, blue, red and yellow; legs and feet painted green, turquoise and red. | NA.502.143.JPG | na.502.143.jpg | geometric | kachina | Square | White | Figure | paint | black | blue | turquoise | feathers | yellow | green | wood | Red | head | Southwest

Spoonhunter, Bob | Arapaho |...
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Exhibit notes: Arapaho Woman & Baby: Doll without a face: Dolls represent ideals, but in Native American society imagination is equally important. Some dolls are intentionally left without a face. This allows the child to image anything they want about the doll's appearance, and the doll can take on a life of it's own through the child's imagination. However, some dolls are considered to be a spirit, therefore they are also without a face.

Museum record: NA.507.85 | ca. 1985 | H: 14.125 in | Ritual and Recreation: Toys. Woman and Baby -- Leather body, dark brown hair tied at each side of face, leather dress with beaded triangle and rose designs in red, maroon, dark green, light green, yellow and orange and fringed at sleeve ends and bottom, belt and buckle beaded in diamond design in same colors as dress, plaid fabric under dress shows on lower arms and at dress bottom, wrapped leather leggings and leather moccasins, leather baby carrier with rabbit fur lining on her back, holding a leather bag with fringed bottom and beaded rose and edging in same colors as dress in her right hand. Base is a cross section of log with a metal rod supporting the doll from the back. | NA.507.85A&B.JPG | Diamond | rose designs | triangles | dolls | dark green | metal | log | light green | Beads | rod | cloth | yellow | seed | leather | orange | plaid | maroon | dark brown | Red | fur | hair | rabbit | cross-section support | fringe | Spoonhunter, Bob | Arapaho

Navajo | doll | pigment | co...
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Exhibit notes: Navajo Novelty Doll: The Navajo people were very strict about children not playing with dolls. They believed that dolls had a life of their own and could bring mischief or harm to people. This doll is an excellent example of a doll made for resale. It has value as a means of teaching non-Natives about the culture and manner of dress among the Navajo people.

Museum record: NA.506.137 | ca. 1950 | H: 13.5 in, width: 8.5 in | In memory of William Paton, Shell, Wyoming | Ritual and Recreation, Gifts and Novelties. Female doll dressed in traditional style clothing. Doll is wearing a burgundy velvet dress with beads and sequin trim down the bodice and sleeves. She has a petticoat of yellow calico and hot pink moccasins. Her belt is of blue flowered ribbon trim. Seed bead necklaces, bracelets and earrings. Face is painted onto fabric. Doll is sealed in a shadow bow, with a frame of carved wood painted gold, with matting of white linen. | na.506.137.jpg | female | doll | pigment | cotton | Beads | velvet | Navajo