Tsistsistas / Suhtai (Cheyenne) 

Girl’s dress

  • About 1915–20
  • Native-tanned elk hide, glass beads, bone, string, sinew, thread, and fake elk teeth
  • 37 3/16 × 37 3/8 in.

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College: Gift of Newton Buckner; 46.10.10795

visibilityLook & Discuss

The first material used on the Plains for dresses was animal hide. Mountain sheep hides provided the best weight and durability. By the 1920s, however, overhunting and diseases from domestic animals had eliminated bighorn sheep from the Plains. When the mountain sheep were gone, deer and elk hide, or wool and cotton cloth, replaced sheep hides.

Explore the Object

The overall construction of the dress is typical of Tsistsistas (Cheyenne) clothing. It has been made by sewing two native-tanned elk hides together. A great deal of work went into the decoration of this dress. Women once sewed elk’s teeth onto their dresses to show what good hunters the men of their family were. The average number of teeth on a traditional garment was about 300. Each elk has only two ivory molars, so one garment would require successfully hunting 150 elk! 

In 1920, it was no longer possible to hunt elk in large numbers, so dressmakers used artificial teeth carved from bone. The dress seen here has 157 of these “teeth.” In addition, the dressmaker sewed beaded bands in white, blue, red, and black around the neck, waist, and hem of the dress. There are short paired strings of amber beads at the shoulders and in the front and back of the skirt. Leather fringe runs along the sides.

This dress was designed to surround the wearer in a representation of her culture. The dress would have been warm and heavy on her body. The fringe and beaded strings would have moved as she moved. Regalia like this was worn for special occasions and intended to connect the wearer to her past and present community.

Plains: Clothing & Regalia