They Took Our Children
They Took Our Children

They Took Our Children


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The Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania opened in 1879 to "save the man and kill the Indian".   On the right side of this painting is Holy Pipe reaching out to his son, Crazy Bear, who is being forced to go to Carlisle.  Holy Pipe is saying a prayer for his son as he walks away.  Crazy Bear goes into the school in his traditional clothing, holding a parfleche with his personal items in it.  The left side of the painting shows Crazy Bear in the school uniform with his hair cut. 

For many Native American people, cutting the hair short is a sign of mourning.  Oftentimes, the children's hair was cut on the day they arrived or the next day.  Crazy Bear is listening to the school administrator who is showing him a book.  Since the great majority of Native American children stolen from their families had not heard nor understood English,  it is very likely that Crazy Bear had no idea what the administrator was saying.

Size: 10.5" H x 14" W

Document: Carlisle Indian School Magazine, ca. 1912

While on film sets as an actor, Michael Horse began creating ledger paintings.  Ledger painting is a traditional Native American folk art that came out of the reservation era in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Prior to that time, events such as battles and calendars were depicted on hides using traditional paints.  When people were removed from their traditional territories and put on reservations they were not allowed weapons of any kind, so no hides.  When people no longer had access to the hides they would find any type of paper and implement to write or draw with to record what was happening prior to being on the reservation, or what life was like being on the reservation. 


Michael first saw ledger paintings at the Gilcrease Museum in Oklahoma.  He realized this was Native American history by Native American people and was inspired to create.  At the time there were fewer than a handful of ledger painters who maintained the art.  Now, there are many ledger painters, including women, who continue to keep this tradition alive.  Michael says the hardest part about his ledger paintings is finding antique documents from the era when ledger paintings were first made.  And, he especially enjoys painting on land grants which gave away Indigenous territories.