Paukeigope (Kiowa), Cradleboard

Meant to carry a baby and created by a community of women, this cradleboard is an expression of love.

Paukeigope (Kiowa), cradleboard, late 19th century, wood, hide, glass, metal, cloth, 25.4 x 113 cm (Gilcrease Museum)

[0:00] [music]

Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:04] We are at the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, Oklahoma, standing in front of a 19th-century cradleboard attributed to Paukeigope. In this singular object, we can learn so much about daily life of the Kiowa in the late 19th century and the knowledge that [was] shared among community members.

Dr. Chelsea Herr: [0:23] Cradleboards have been made, not just among the Kiowa, but among many tribes across the United States for generations. However, the materials and the techniques used are a fairly recent innovation with the introduction of trade goods, such as red wool or what’s called broadcloth, cotton calico cloth, glass beads, and German silver.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [0:44] Let’s talk about what a cradleboard is supposed to do. A baby would be placed inside the cradleboard. It would hold the child, entertain the child. There are elements that would have dangled in front for a baby to reach out. It was also a form of transportation. This would allow parents to transport their child across distances.

[1:05] Lastly, when propped up vertically, this would help to orient the child to experience the world much like an adult would while standing.

Dr. Herr: [1:13] This cradleboard and others like it would take months to create, if not longer. Typically, it would take the entire period of gestation. Once a woman found out she was pregnant, then other women in her kinship network would create a cradleboard like this in community with one another.

[1:30] It also extends past the moment of birth. There’s room for the child to grow inside of the cradleboard. It also is meant to be passed down. The cradleboard wouldn’t only be used for one child. It would be used throughout the family. Although this cradleboard is attributed to Paukeigope, we know that she worked with other women in her family to create this cradleboard over many months.

[1:52] Everyone involved would likely have a different responsibility. Someone would be responsible for harvesting and shaping the wood for the slats. Someone else would be responsible for creating the rawhide support that is inside the cradleboard. Someone else might be responsible for sewing the wool and the calico together. Then others would be responsible for the beadwork all along the outside.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:13] Everyone who was involved in the process of making it took great care and had expertise. Look at the way that the beadwork design is so wonderfully outlined with white contour lines, then with different colored glass beads inside.

Dr. Herr: [2:28] There’s a compelling combination of both geometric and organic forms and lines. This is recognizable as Kiowa beadwork because of that combination. We see floral motifs rendered in very pale or sometimes referred to as “greasy” colors, such as the light pink and light blues, but then there are also very strong geometric forms such as the diamonds and the triangles that are peppered through those organic motifs.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [2:54] It’s not just these small glass beads. We’re seeing silver medals. We’re seeing different patterns and colors of calicos on the inside, and on the bottom of the carrier, we’re seeing bells.

Dr. Herr: [3:07] The two silver medallions that are attached to the piece that would dangle over the front of the hood to entertain the child and help develop motor skills, those are trade items. They’re made out of German silver. One of them is a medal with a representation of St. Joseph, and then the other comes from Texas.

[3:26] These materials were widely traded throughout what is now Oklahoma. Though it may not look like it, movement was a very important part of creating this piece. There are also bells attached to the fringe that hangs down from the bottom below the child’s feet. You would hear that tinkling as the cradleboard moved, either on the mother’s back or if it was strapped to a saddle.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [3:48] Yet here we are looking at it in a museum where it’s now static.

Dr. Herr: [3:52] We don’t know how long it might have been used before it was collected and eventually accessioned into the Gilcrease collection, but we do know that it was not created with the intention of being on display or being stored in a museum setting.

[4:06] This is representative of how harsh life on reservations, and in this case on the Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation in the late 19th century, would have been. Although Paukeigope had access to highly valued materials, this piece was sold at some point, and it’s possible that it was to deal with those harsh conditions on reservations and to be able to feed your family.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [4:29] The designs are not just aesthetically beautiful, they also have deeper meanings associated with them.

Dr. Herr: [4:34] The beadwork designs across the cradleboard would have been specific to Paukeigope’s family, and so other beadworkers would not have used the same designs, the same patterns, or the same color motifs, because it identifies this child as part of her kinship network, in the diamonds that bisect the cradleboard that are outlined in white, but contain yellow and dark green stripes.

[4:58] Then also in the floral motifs themselves, there are yellow and dark blue stripes. Those likely refer to Paukeigope’s genealogy and her descendancy from a Kiowa chief named Dohasan or Little Bluff. He was the keeper of what is now referred to as a battle tipi.

[5:16] He was a highly ranked warrior within Kiowa society. It was his responsibility to visually record his experiences in battle. He created this tipi that is painted on one half with bold yellow and black stripes, and on the other half with pictorial representations of the battles that he had been involved in.

[5:36] It’s possible that that yellow and black motif is specific to Paukeigope’s family, and that’s why it’s included in this cradleboard.

[5:44] This is a fantastic embodiment of intergenerational knowledge in the Kiowa community. Paukeigope, who was also known as Etta Mopope, was Stephen Mopope’s mother.

Dr. Kilroy-Ewbank: [5:54] As we look at this cradleboard, we’re actually standing next to a painting by Stephen Mopope, who we know would have been placed into a cradleboard like this one.

Dr. Herr: [6:02] That responsibility for keeping history of your community can also be seen in the way that the Kiowa community has privileged child-rearing as a community effort.

[6:14] Not only did it take several people with specific knowledge to create this cradleboard, but many other members of the community would have also been responsible for helping to raise that child.

[6:25] That communal gathering of multiple people for the benefit of one child is a poignant expression of love within the Kiowa community.

[6:34] [music]

Cite this page as: Dr. Chelsea Herr and Dr. Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank, "Paukeigope (Kiowa), Cradleboard," in Smarthistory, July 15, 2022, accessed June 12, 2024, https://smarthistory.org/paukeigope-kiowa-cradleboard/.