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Kansas Memory Blog

Ledger art

Posted by Michael Church (Digital Projects Coordinator) on Jun 13, 2008

When the London Circus came to Lawrence, Kansas, on July 30, 1879, its most conspicuous guests were six Northern Cheyenne Indians: Wild Hog, Old Man, Blacksmith, Left Hand, Run Fast, and Meheha. The audience started at first sight of these men, and two women grabbed their children and rushed out of the tent. Seated in a row, a guard at each end, the six Cheyenne men puzzled over elephants, lions, tigers, and camels, laughed at the antics of clowns, and drank lemonade. But this moment of levity was a rare instance in a long train of unfortunate events. While in jail awaiting trial for their involvement in the “last Indian raid in Kansas” the previous fall, these men would leave an intriguing record of their people and culture at a devastating time in their tribe’s history. Select sources on the Cheyenne people and Native Americans in Kansas are now available on Kansas Memory.

The "raid" occurred in September 1878 when a band of some 300 Cheyenne, led by Chiefs Dull Knife and Little Wolf, fled sickness and starvation on a reservation in Indian Territory [now Oklahoma] for their homeland north of Kansas. On their flight through the state, forty settlers were killed and a great deal of property was stolen or destroyed. After surrendering to military authorities in Nebraska, seven of Dull Knife's followers were turned over to civilian authorities and taken to Dodge City, Kansas, to stand trial. The Dodge City jailers gave the prisoners notebooks, pencils, crayons, and paint to create ledger art – the drawing of pictographs on the pages of ledgers – a common practice among Native American men as Indians were being moved onto reservations by the federal government in the 1870s and 1880s.

The Kansas Historical Society holds two of these ledgers. The first came as a donation in 1922 from Sallie Straughn of Denver, Colorado. Mrs. Straughn was matron of the Dodge City jail in 1878 during the Cheyenne’s incarceration when her husband, John W. Straughn, was the Dodge City jailer. This notebook includes drawings of people in patterned blankets and headdress, men on horses, and animals.

The second notebook came as a donation in 1939 by Dora A. Clayton, also of Denver, Colorado. Her husband, James Clayton, was clerk of the Indian Claims Commission created by the Kansas legislature in 1879 to investigate the losses resulting from the 1878 raid. The drawings in this notebook are especially captivating with rich colors and textures, balanced arrangements, and stark forms; including people, hunters on horseback, various animals, and decorative tipi.

Both books are supposed to have been drawn by the Cheyenne prisoners during their incarceration in the Dodge City jail. The trial venue was later moved to Lawrence, Kansas, and the men were ultimately acquitted. Some acounts give the names as listed above, other accounts list the men as Wakabish, Maniton, Old Cow, Left Hand, Wild Hog, Old Man, and Muskekan, or Wild Hog, Run Fast, Frizzly Head, Young Man, Old Man, and Crow. Some accounts refer to six men, others to seven.

See People--American Indians--Tribes--Cheyenne to access additional sources on Cheyenne Indians in Kansas. See Native American Ledger Art and Modern Ledger Art for more information on this practice.


Kansas State Historical Society, Twenty-Third Biennial Report, 1921-1922 (Topeka: Kansas State Printer): 50-51.

Kansas State Historical Society, Twenty-Fourth Biennial Report, 1923-1924 (Topeka: Kansas State Printer): 90.

Kansas Historical Quarterly, 10 (1941): 211.

Dora Clayton to KSHS, 6 August 1939, Administrative Correspondence, State Archives, Kansas State Historical Society.


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