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Buffalo Hides and Elk-horn Scrapers

Plains Indian women used elk-horn scrapers to clean the hides of buffalo and other large mammals before they made them into clothes, tipis, robes, bags, and other items.

Scrapers made of elk antlers or bone were important and valued personal tools for Plains Indian women, who used them to scrape the hair and fatty tissue from animal hides before tanning. This elk-horn scraper probably belonged to a Cheyenne woman. The attached metal blade would have made her work easier and faster than a bone edge would have.

Plains women earned prestige in their communities by the quality of their work. The dots and lines carved into the handle of this scraper are tally marks, which record the owner’s major accomplishments, such as the making of a fancy robe. Hide scrapers often became family heirlooms, passed down from one generation of women to the next.

Most dresses required two dressed hides from deer, elk or mountain sheep, while 10 bison hides were needed for a tipi that was 14 feet in diameter.
Top: A Mandan/Hidatsa woman cleaning hair from a bison hide with an elk-horn scraper
Courtesy State Historical Society of North Dakota
Bottom: Cheyenne elk-horn hide scraper with tallies, 985-27-10/59390, (Courtesy Peabody Museum)