Nez Perce Plateau War Shirt

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This war shirt was made in the 1860s and is decorated with the typical markers of Plateau artisans. The shirt fits like a poncho, being draped over the neck to cover the uppermost portion of the wearer’s torso. Soft hides are used for the shirt’s base material, but the tanned leather is hidden behind a plethora of brilliantly colorful bead work. Softer fabrics of emerald, red, and deep blue further accent and bring life to the item. The open sleeves end in long frilling but are also adorned with dangling charms made of fur, fabric, and capped with bronze-hued beads.

War shirts were not meant so much for protection but instead worn as a status symbol of the warrior. Shirts like this one were rarely even seen on the battlefield. Like head dresses, a heavily embellished war shirt was a ceremonial item, presented only to the bravest and most successful warriors of the tribe. Typically, after a victory over another tribe in battle, the successful party would gather their warriors together and celebrate their prowess in battle. Whilst enjoying the spoils of war, the tribe would recognize those who had been most valiant in battle and it was these men who could don war shirts. Once in their ceremonial garb, these men would recount their experiences during the battle before the entire tribe. This position was considered a great honor. In later times, after colonization, successful raiding parties would also wear these shirts in the aftermath of a successful raid on European settlers.

Item #: 0042