In the eighteenth century, the area of land known today as Arkansas was inhabited by the clans of the Quapaw people. This same land was also claimed by the French as part of their colony of Louisiana. Like the French, the Quapaw were fairly recent arrivals to the area, and they welcomed the opportunity to make an alliance with a partner who could provide superior weaponry to protect them from rival Native tribes. The French and Quapaw established a mutually beneficial relationship, but the Quapaw always maintained their sovereignty and cultural practices.
Quapaw clans were patriarchal, meaning that clan membership was tied to the father, not the mother. Even so, Quapaw women wielded far more influence in their communities than European women. Quapaw women produced all of the food that kept their communities fed, which entitled them to a place in community councils and an active role in the diplomacy with foreign powers. Some Quapaw women rose to the status of chief in their communities.
The Quapaw were pushed out of their lands in the Arkansas valley by the United States government in 1834. Today the Quapaw nation is based in northeastern Oklahoma.
This painted buffalo hide, considered a masterpiece of Native art, was made by Quapaw women. They both tanned and stretched the skin, and painted the beautiful images. Quapaw painted hides were renowned throughout the Louisiana colony. The Quapaw used the painted hides to decorate their homes.
The hide measures 7½ x 5½ feet, and has a lot of fascinating details. The three Quapaw villages—Osotuoy, Tourima, and Kappa—are depicted along the top edge. The right edge depicts a French fort, which historians have identified as Arkansas Post. On the bottom edge, is a drawing of Quapaw defeating another Native tribe in battle (given the time period, it is probably the Chickasaw). And above the Quapaw villages, on the top edge, is a drawing of a Quapaw dance or ceremony with both men and women participating. In the center, is a sun and moon, along with decorative calumets forming a V shape on the left.