Featured Works from The Heritage Center Collection

American Horse’s Top Hat

Artist: American’s Horse’s Wife (Oglala Lakota)
Date: Late 1880’s
Materials: Beaver fur, beads, feathers, cloth, metal, and leather
Gift of Ralph and June West

During the second half of the nineteenth century, Lakota people across the plains defended their land and resources against encroaching settlers in a series of conflicts known as the “Sioux Wars.” In response to the violence, a number of Lakota leaders—including Chief American Horse—traveled to Washington, DC to negotiate for peace with the U.S. government in the late 1880’s.

During their visits, federal government officials often presented Lakota tribal leaders with gifts, including European-style suits and beaver skin top hats like this one. When American Horse returned home, his wife thought the top hat was plain and adorned it to incorporate elements of Lakota culture and identity.  Adorned items like this one—which is believed to be the only surviving example of a decorated top hat—became symbolic of its owner’s leadership and involvement in history. American Horse’s top hat was recently part of a major exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC called Song of the Horse Nation.

The Heritage Center at Red Cloud Indian School holds an extraordinary collection of nearly 10,000 pieces of Native American contemporary and historical Lakota art. Throughout the year, we’ll be featuring unique pieces from the collection—visit The Heritage Center online for more!

All Rights Reserved ©The Heritage Center and Red Cloud Indian School, Inc., 2014