The Life of Many Shots, painted by himself on a cowhide.

Place details: N AMERICA. United States of America / Canada / Cultural Group: Plains, Blackfoot Confederacy: Plains, Blackfoot Confederacy, Kainai: Local Name: Unknown. Materials: Cattle Skin Animal / Pigment / ?. Processes: Painted / ?. Dimensions: Max L [middle] = 2200 mm Max W [top edge] = 1700 mm Max W [bottom edge] = 2200 mm Maker: Many Shots Field Collector: John Maclean When Collected: By 1895 Other Owners: Many Shots; John Maclean PRM Source: Cuthbert Edgar Peek Acquired: Loaned 1895

KEYWORD: Painting / Robe / CLASS: Picture and Graphic Art / Clothing / ?.

Object description: From conservation card by Lorraine Rostant 21.06.1999: A white cow hide with brown patches, furred on one side. The flesh side is painted with 14 scenes from the life of "many shots", a blood (blackfoot Indian). The scenes include images of people, horses, tipis, rifles and wagons and dashed lines and rows of horseshoe shapes link some groups of figures. The colours used include black, pink, dark yellow, pale yellow, two types of blue, brown and some mixtures of the above. 12 loops of white leather are stitched to the fur side (for hanging). [FC 23/02/2009]

Publications history, trails & websites: This object features in the Museum's audio tour produced in 2010. Transcription as follows: “This painted robe was made in Canada in 1894. It’s a wonderful example of ‘picture-writing’ – using images rather than words to represent ideas and record events. This particular piece is an autobiographical war record painted by a man known as ‘Many Shots’.

Many Shots lived at the end of the 19th century. He was a member of the Kainai or ‘Blood Indian’ nation, a division of the Blackfoot people who live on the northwestern Plains in what is now Montana in the USA and Alberta in Canada. He lived on one of the Reserves in Alberta, established after a series of Treaties between the Canadian Government and First Nations peoples. These changes are reflected in this object:- it had been traditional for Blackfoot warriors to proclaim their prestige by painting their deeds on to robes made of bison skin. However, this is the hide of a beef cow, killed at the ration house on the Reserve. Unlike bison robes worn in earlier decades, this one was never made to be worn. The paint is of a commercial sort, and the human figures themselves are more naturalistic and European in style than the geometric forms usually found in Blackfoot art.

How do we know it was never worn? Well we have quite a lot of information about the robe from its collector, Reverend John Maclean. Maclean was a Methodist missionary from Scotland who spent nine years among the Blood Indians, learning about their culture. When an English anthropologist asked him to get hold of, and send him, an example of ‘picture-writing’, Maclean and a local translator commissioned this piece to be made specially by their friend, Many Shots. Many Shots gave an interpretation of the paintings, so we know what they mean. The anthropologist then gave it to the Museum.

The robe depicts inter-tribal warfare, a practice that was effectively ended by the government treaties. The row of 13 lines in the centre recalls the number of battles Many Shots took part in during his lifetime, which is a fairly modest total. Since the Blackfoot were a nomadic people, pictures of tipis, like those inside the large circle at the top, represent the camps they set up. The dots connecting the scenes can be interpreted as footprints tracing the war trail and the larger black splodges are bullets. Most of the stories relate to the theft of horses from camps and Many Shots setting off in pursuit to try to reclaim them. The bottom section of the robe shows some stolen horses and to the left, a round ‘rifle pit’ from which Many Shots and his men fire at their enemy. An array of rifles can be seen around the pit. Many Shots painted himself into some of the scenes: above the row of 13 lines he is a dark figure on horseback. The capture of weapons, especially guns, ranked very highly among Blackfoot war deeds and in the centre we see Many Shots shooting the man in the left in the knee and taking his bow which is then placed behind him along with the seven guns he captured during other fights.” (Written by Helen Hales)


• Bush-Gibson, Karen, The Blackfeet – People of the Dark Moccasins, Minnesota: Capstone Press (2003)

• John Maclean – Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online

• Bison History: http://www.essortment.com/all/bisonhistory_rmjg.htm

• Brownstone, Arni, The 'Many Shots' Robe (PRM: 2005)

[HH 25/10/2010]

Illustrated in 'Picture-Writing of the Blackfeet', by John Maclean in the Transactions of the Canadian Institute, Vol. 9. no. 5/1(October 1896), pp. 114-20 (and illustrated in the 'Supplement'?). [JC 7 10 2008]

Illustrated in black and white as figure 2.9 on page 38 of Visual Methods in Social Research, by Marcus Banks (London: SAGE, 2001). Caption (same page) reads: 'The Life of Many Shots, painted by himself on a cowhide as a personal war record. Image painted before 1895.' See also brief general discussion on page 38. [JC 11 4 2001]

Illustrated in black and white on page 10 of Blackfoot Warrior Representational Art by James Dempsey in Related Documents File. [MdeA 3/9/2001]

Illustrated in black and white as Figure 21 on page 89 of Blackfoot War Art: Pictographs of the Reservation Period, 1880-2000, by L. James Dempsey (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2007). Caption (same page) reads: 'Missionary John Maclean arranged to have this domestic cow robe painted in 1894 for the Anthropological Institute in London. It depicts the war experiences of Many Shots, a Blood. (Pitt Rivers Museum, 1895.61.1).' Dempsey also provides a detailed account of the robe and its history over five pages (pages 88-92). (Photocopy in RDF.) [JC 7 10 2008]

The subject of a PRM booklet - The 'Many Shots' Robe by Arni Brownstone (2005)

Illustrated in colour as Figure 11 on page 102 of ‘The Pitt Rivers Museum Revisited’, by Catherine Elliott Weinberg, in Tribal Art, Vol. 14, no. 3 (no. 56; Summer 2010), pp. 96–105. Caption (on page 103) reads: 'Fig. 11: "The Life of Many Shots,", painted by himself. Blackfoot, North America. Before 1894. Cowhide, pigment. Collected by John MacLean and sent to Sir Cuthbert Edgar Peek of the Anthropological Institute, London. Donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1895. PRM 1895.61.1. (c) Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford.' [JC 24 9 2010]