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Biographies of Plains Indians

Amos Bad Heart Bull — 1869-1913

Called the "Herodotus of his people", Amos Bad Heart Bull chronicled the life of the Oglala Lakota. Bad Heart Bull’s father was the historian of the Oglala, recording through pictures on buffalo hide each year’s most important event. His father died young and Bad Heart Bull was raised by his uncles. The told him about the battles they had fought in and watched as the young man collected documents about Lakota-white encounters.

Bad Heart Bull became a scout for the U.S. Army in 1890 and learned English. Along the way he was able to obtain a used ledger and it was on this that he began drawing the history of his people. In about twenty years he created 415 drawings. The drawings depict multiple perspectives of each event. First, he used a panoramic view showing a great mass of men and animals in battle and then on the same page and off to the side he would render close-ups of some aspect of the event.

The sets of drawings start with Oglala life before 1856, then the conflicts with the Crow from 1856-1875. Another set shows the Battle of the Little Bighorn, including a drawing of his cousin Crazy Horse. The drawings catalog the life of the Oglala through 1903. By preserving the most minute details of daily life, Amos Bad Heart Bull left a priceless historical record.

Helen Blish discovered the drawings when talking to W.O. Roberts at the Pine Ridge Agency in 1926. Blish was working on her master’s degree and was looking for examples of Plains art. Roberts told Blish of Dolly Pretty Cloud’s collection of ledger art. Pretty Cloud was Amos Bad Bull Heart’s sister. After much persuasion Blish convinced Pretty Cloud to allow her to study the art. She photographed each page.

The ledger book was buried with Pretty Cloud when she died in 1947, but the historical record was preserved in Blish’s photography. In 1967 the University of Nebraska Press published A Pictographic History of the Oglala Sioux.

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