Lakota Ledger Art

Ledger Art evolved from Plains Indian hide painting. Traditionally Plains tribes decorated tipis, leggings, buffalo robes, shields and other clothing items with depictions of life events. The figures were usually drawn with a hard, dark outline and then filled in with color. The painting was done with bone or wood sticks that were dipped in naturally-occurring pigments.

Unknown artist Ledger Art

The women of the tribes often made designs while the men depicted scenes of war, hunting, other personal feats or historic events. Besides battles, the changing lifestyle of the Plains Indians and infusion of Euro-Americans was documented in the art – trains, covered wagons, guns, and even cameras.

Unknown artist Ledger Art


Ledger art began in the 1860s and continued to the 1930s and is experiencing a revival with a few contemporary Lakota artists today. It is called ledger art because instead of the paintings being on buffalo hides (which had become scarce from near extinction of the vast buffalo herds) the drawings were done on paper, often ledger book paper that was discarded by government agents, military officers, traders or missionaries. In addition to the new paper format, Plains artists also had access to pencils, pens, crayons and watercolor paints.

Ledger Paper medium

An 1884 crayon ledger drawing by Lakota artist Red Dog honoring the valor of a warrior named Low Dog.

Noted Lakota artists include Black Hawk and Sitting Bull. Black Hawk, in an effort to feed his family during the very harsh winter of 1880-81, agreed to draw a series of 76 pieces of art for an Indian trader that depicted one of Black Hawk’s visions. He was paid 50 cents a drawing. That book of 76 drawings sold in 1994 for nearly $400,000 dollars. Although not technically ledger art since the drawings were on new lined paper, not ledger paper, Black Hawk’s work are one of the finest examples of that style of Lakota art. Two examples of that series are shown below.

Black Hawk Ledger Art

Black Hawk Ledger Art

Contemporary Lakota artist Alan Monroe uses traditional ledger-style designs on rabbit skins.

Ledger-style Art on Rabbit Skin by Lakota artist Alan Monroe


Ledger-style Art on Rabbit Skin by Lakota artist Alan Monroe


Ledger-style Art on Rabbit Skin by Lakota artist Alan Monroe


2 thoughts on “Lakota Ledger Art

  1. Paula, I really enjoyed this post and appreciate the gathering of this collection for our collective and personal enjoyment.

    I am desperately trying to find my collection of squash blossoms, rings and things and I may have identified the box they are in. I have a large and diverse inventory to share.

    Furthermore, your taste and scholarship have me blown away.

    I am so behind in my postings it’s not funny. I only have one squash out. But I’m not close to my treasure trove of items collected since age 12, including 6 squashes.

    The lesser squash is still here, separately. I need to post it along with other items. I will find them, along with others, but I must find them first.

    In Old Quebec, where I found and treasure my inuit drawings, and sculptures, I have a series deserving of appreciation and posting.

    My blogs and posting are as slow as a turtle. I posted my tortoise along with my heavy tortoise inlaid piece, and have found more. Anyway, I found my “Captains chest” and look forward to sharing its contents with you.

    I am an admitted “newbie” but always feel free to refer items such as the 2″ belt buckle because deep in my archives I have one. Plus I appreciate the “shout out” for the 2″ belt buckle. I have one and would like to share it.

    All my best regards, DaratheCollector.

    • Hi Dara,

      You are too kind ! I enjoy putting the posts together. I have hundreds of topics and questions to answer – if I could only do it full time ! I’m assembling quite a reference book collection and find that if I read about 6 that cover a topic, I get little bits of this and that from each one. Makes it a great adventure for me and I’m glad that readers find it interesting too.

      The blogs do take time – best of luck getting some of those treasures you have out there and talked about !


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