Saddle Blankets & Saddles

Before about 1850, most saddle blankets were made of animal hides. In addition to buffalo hide, a variety of thick animal pelts were used, such as wolf, grizzly bear, cougar, and otter. First developed as a functional object, the saddle blanket soon became a showpiece of decorative techniques.

After traders introduced European-style saddles, Native artists developed their own, made from indigenous materials, in two distinct styles: pad saddle and frame saddle. The pad saddle is simply a bag fashioned from tanned hide and stuffed with hair or other material. The frame saddle is constructed of wood and antler.

Kainah man with horse

Kainah (Blood) man with horse, 1882. Daniel Cadzow. National Museum of the American Indian. (P1531)

Upper Missouri saddle blanket

Upper Missouri saddle blanket, ca. 1830–50. Pony beads, hide, and sinew. Photograph by Katherine Fogden, NMAI. (2/7354)

Made of buffalo hide and pony beads, this piece is important as much for its age as for its simple and elegant geometric design, typical of the period. Pony beads were among the first glass beads to reach Native Americans, brought in by European traders on pack ponies.

Woods Cree saddle blanket

Woods Cree saddle blanket, ca. 1885. Canada. Seed beads, ribbon, wool cloth, cotton cloth, and thread. Photograph by Katherine Fogden, NMAI. (11/3506)

The uncommon shape of this beaded saddle blanket may have been adapted from those of the U.S. Cavalry. This blanket is also unusual because none of the designs on the four corners match.

Cree padded saddle

Cree padded saddle, ca. 1895. Seed beads, wool cloth, hide, deer hair, rawhide, and cotton thread. Photograph by Ernest Amoroso, NMAI. (20/6221)

A flat padded saddle allowed a warrior to lean forward over (or under) his horse’s neck to aim his rifle—a big advantage during a gun battle.

Bannock saddle

Bannock saddle, ca. 1870. Deer antler, wood, rawhide, and sinew. (13/1433)

Arapaho saddle

Arapaho saddle, ca. 1880. Wyoming. Deer or elk antler, wood, rawhide, and sinew. (12/2018)

Menominee saddle

Menominee saddle, ca. 1875. Brass tacks, wood, rawhide, and sinew. Photograph by Katherine Fogden, NMAI. (16/9160)

Tsitsistas/So'taeo'o saddle bags

Tsitsistas/So´taeo´o (Cheyenne) saddle bags, ca. 1850. Montana. Seed beads, dewclaws (deer hooves), tin cones, brass beads, pigment, hide, and sinew. (20/7658)