skip navigation
about the buffalo

More about buffalo hide painting

Indians of the northern Plains wore buffalo hides for both practical and ceremonial purposes. They wore buffalo hides in winter, with the fur on the inside for warmth. When people were sick, they often wore a hide painted with symbols to hasten healing. Women sometimes wore painted hides to promote childbearing. Political and spiritual leaders wore special hides. These hides might depict a warrior's heroism or record important events in the history of the tribe.

A girl wears the painted buffalo hide.

Buffalo Hide Painting being worn: Anna "Good Traveler" Old Elk (Crow and Sioux) wears the painted buffalo hide from the Hands On History Room that is featured in this activity. She is wearing a traditional buckskin dress, a bone choker, and beaded leggings and moccasins.


Sioux. Date unknown. Cat. No. 167,147. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Women often wore hides that they painted with geometric patterns and shapes.


Crow. Date Unknown. Cat. No. 358. 167. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Men usually wore hides that told a story in pictures. This hide shows warriors returning from a raid. Can you the find the captured soldier? HINT: He is on horseback.


Shunka Ishnala (Lone Dog), Yanktonai. About 1870. National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution. Photo by Janine Sarna Jones.

Some tribes used hide paintings to record their history. Tribal leaders chose the single most important event of each year, and added one picture representing that event to the hide painting. Members of the tribe often identified the year they were born by referring to the event depicted on these "winter count" hides. How many years do you think are represented on this hide?

To see images of these pictographs, see Lone Dog’s Winter Count from the National Museum of the American Indian. To learn more about winter counts visit the National Museum of Natural History’s website, Lakota Winter Counts