The earliest visual documentation of the appearance and culture of Comanche people was created in 1834, by the indefatigable traveler and artist George Catlin...who painted their leading men, as well as many prominent warriors. Many of these Comanches posed for the artist with their large shields of buffalo rawhide. Painted with mystical designs, these talismanic weapons often were embellished with banners of red cloth, the feathers of raptors and other birds, and parts of valiant animals, such as the tails of bulls, and the claws of grizzly bears...
In the Comanche language, as also among their Aztec cousins, the word for shield is chimal...On horseback, the chimal was usually carried slung on the back, or with the strap slipped over the shoulders and down to the waist, so that the chimal hung against the hip at one side. In combat, the shield was generally just slung from the shoulder, bandolier-style, and swung around so that it hung between the warrior and the enemy, the exact position changing constantly with the necessary maneuvers. In retreating, the chimal was flipped around to hang on the back.
"Each warrior feathered, painted and 'medicined' his shield to suit himself; but all were painted to represent the sun ... The painting was done with cinnabar (scarlet quicksilver ore), of which they had an abundance in their Chisos Mountain camps. This they called 'echobit', meaning red paint. They had many fights to hold this property from enemy tribes---particularly the Apaches. The Comanches declared it cost more lives to 'herd' their cinnabar holdings than to herd their wild horses" (Harston, 1963: 123). Other colors which appear prominently on many Comanche shields are yellow, usually yellow ochre; and blue, in various shades.
''The Comanche warrior's weapons were an extension of his will and personal strength. The lance, bow and arrows had no 'puha' or supernatural power. The amulet generally found in the center of a Comanche shield is called a 'puhahante.’ 'Puha' means power, so 'puhahante' probably translates to roughly 'medicine power'. Its main purpose was the supernatural protection of its bearer from injury in battle.
The shield represented a kind of 'puha' and, except in battle, was protected from contaminating moisture or grease by a cover of tanned and painted leather. The 'chima!' ... hung on a lance, or on a tripod of three lances, outside the warrior's tipi and was never allowed to touch the ground. On the night before a planned battle or war party, the 'puhahante' was consulted like a small oracle, which might then reply in a dream"
The outer cover of this shield...is made of brain-tanned animal skin... The painted motif is the ubiquitous "Sun" circle found on so many documented Comanche shields, and noted specifically by J. Emmor Harston...Here, the sun is shown in its commanding midday color of yellow-ochre; whereas on the inner cover, the Sun is depicted in the echobit color of dawn or sunset. The yellow Sun of the outer cover is outlined in black, and surrounded by a corona of turquoise blue-green…Outside the turquoise corona there is a white (uncolored) interval about two inches wide, and beyond this an encircling line in yellow ochre. Such solar coronas are a refractive effect of dust, the smoke of prairie fires, or ice crystals high in the atmosphere. That is, their presence here is not merely as "designs"; but they are representative of actual meteorological phenomena observed by the shield owner, and which had particular significance for him, though this import is lost to us now.
At the center-top of the outer shield cover is painted an isoceles triangle in black with highlights of dark blue. Its base is on the circumference. Another triangle of identical size and color appears in the same position on the inner cover of this shield. Very little cosmological attention has ever been directed toward Comanche beliefs, so we have only fragmentary knowledge of any symbolism they might have employed. By contrast, quite a lot of attention has been directed toward these questions among neighbors of the Comanches, the Kiowas, Southern Arapahoes and Southern Cheyennes. All three of those tribes conceived the design surface of a war shield as a cosmo gram, with the circumference representing the encircling horizon. Triangles or quadrangles on this "horizon", then, represent mountains or buttes, often of particular, spiritual importance, such as Bear Butte, South Dakota, for the Cheyennes; or Devil's Tower, Wyoming, for the Kiowas. It is likely that a similar intent is at play on this Comanche shield; while the Sun represented in the "center" is actually intended to mark the zenith. That is, a three-dimensional universe is here represented in only two dimensions---if one will, a "God's-eye view" of "everything under the Sun".
The inner cover of the shield is also made of either antelope or deer skin which has been brain-tanned. On the inner cover, if the cosmolgical speculation is accurate, then the turquoise-blue ground likely represents the night sky. This is reinforced by the depiction of a red, four-pointed star shown with radiating lines meant to indicate its twinkling luminosity. This might represent Betelgeuse, a prominent red star in the constellation of Orion, which during most of the 16th to the 19th centuries rose heliacally (just ahead of the Sun) at summer solstice. It was, therefore, a handy celestial marker used by many cultures in the Northern hemisphere....Before moving to the Southern Plains at the end of the 16th century, the Comanche homeland was on the headwaters of the Platte river in south-central Wyoming. There, the most prominent landform is Devil's Tower. After the Comanches emigrated to Texas, the Kiowas moved south into the old Comanche country, where they formed a psychic affinity toward Devil's Tower as their own, sacred mountain. It figures in many of the Kiowa foundation myths, associated with a huge bear that attacked a group of children, who climbed onto a "dead" stump in their desperation to escape. One child prayed to this tree, which immediately began to grow, lifting the children higher. The grizzly leapt after them, its claws always missing by inches, then dragging down the sides of the trunk, leaving vertical grooves in the surface. Soon, the children were carried to safety in the sky; but with an immense leap the bear followed. At that instant, all were changed into stars, and the helpful tree stump was changed into stone. Now they are beacons of remembrance, uniting the people of the Earth with relatives Above. It is very possible that the Kiowas, who adopted the Comanche homeland, may also have adopted earlier, Comanche mythic traditions. It is striking that all of these "Kiowa"elements---a prominent butte; the "red star" of summer solstice sunrise; and a huge bear floating in the sky---are united in this composition. Yet this shield is very strongly in the design canon of the Comanches, rather than the Kiowas.
The eight, black, triangular lines on the lower circumference of this shield compares with the identical motif on the earliest, documented, Comanche shield. These motifs are too uniformly repeated on other early examples to be merely coincidental. The several examples in the National Museum of Natural History collection, all documented as of Comanche provenance, are very strong indicators that the shield under consideration here must also have originated among the Comanches. A shield in the United States National Museum, cat. No. 4430, collected in 1840 by Jean Louis Berlandier also features on its outer cover the celestial figure of a grizzly bear floating to the right of the sun---precisely the motif seen in this shield. Another bear figure---feet toward a central sun---is seen on a Comanche shield cover in the United States National Museum of Natural History, cat. No. 8443-1; and bear paws, alone, appear below the "sun" image in another example.
I believe that in all cases this assemblage of motifs directly represents the tale better known to us from the Kiowa tradition...The eight, black lines mark the contour of Devil's Tower, and represent the vertical marks explained in the tale by the grizzly's claws scoring the sides of the tree stump as it mystically grew, carrying Comanche ancestors to safety in the heavens. This is shown more symbolically on the Comanche shield in the United States National Museum of Natural History, where the bear's paws are framed within the zigzag lines made by its claws. The motif in this shield is similar, but shows the denoument: the bear has launched upward, and been transformed into a star beacon---now a guide and protector of the Comanche People; while the aggressive fury of claws that can rend mountains is appropriated, and directed against Comanche enemies.
Dating the Comanche shield: In my opinion a circa date of 1850 is warranted for this masterwork of Comanche artistry."
Please call 1-800-555-5555 to order a print catalog for this sale.
Online Registration to Bid is Closed for this Sale. Would you like to watch the live sale?Watch Live Sale