Tobacco Society moccasin with horse hoof symbols
Tobacco Society moccasin with horse hoof symbols

Symbolism

Horses

The horse, like the buffalo, was also at the centre of Plains life. Important for success while hunting and during warfare, the horse was also an asset that expressed wealth. The capture of horses in warfare or their gifting was often commemorated on footwear by the symbol of the U-shaped horse hoof. Throughout the Plains, this common symbol can be found on footwear.

Bear

Displaying a symbol of the bear identified the wearer with the powerful bear spirit. This exceptionally rare pair of shoes made from the hind paws of a grizzly bear was most likely used ceremonially.

Thunderbird

The thunderbird was popular as a patron of warriors on the Great Plains. Associated with rain and its attendant thunder and lightning, it was a symbol of supernatural strength. On footwear, the thunderbird symbol may have expressed a wish for success in warfare.

Horns

Horned animals, such as buffalo and elk, played an important role in Great Plains life. Elk horns often refer to the secret society of Elk Dreamers and symbolize the procreative powers of the bull elk. Buffalo horns symbolize the buffalo, an important guardian spirit.
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