Drawings made by native peoples of the 19th century are often identified with the English name “ledger drawings”. They were pictographs made with colored pencils, inks of various kinds, on sheets of the time that the white man gave them, or to write in the “Boarding schools” of the Missionaries, or on old reserve, accounting books or on accounting ledgers always managed by the reserves or from structures adjacent to reserves such as: banks, post offices, or small businesses.
When these ledgers or notebooks, generally lined, were by now finished as a whole, they were given to the natives, on whom they made these wonderful paintings, bringing back both their memories of when they lived free in the great geographical extensions that were their ancestral territories, or even moments of life in the reservations were represented. Memories reported in pictorial artistic form of the original oral tradition. We can affirm today that, even before the transposition of the history and memories and deeds of the Native peoples in literary form in English and then also, in some cases in the Lakota language, the ledger drawings, represent the first form of pictographic transcription of history, culture customs, spirituality and traditions of the peoples of the great plains.
We can say that some of the most famous Ledger drawings were made in Fort Marion, in Saint Augustine, Florida in the historical period that goes from 1875 to 1878; 72 Cheyenne, Kiowa, Comanche, Arapaho, and Caddo were imprisoned due to their participation in warfare carried out in the geographical area known as the Red River in Indian territory (later Oklahoma). Mainly the Cheyenne and Kiowa were even encouraged to represent their historical memories, both as warriors and as hunters and as people then locked up in reservations.
Many “ledger drawings” were also made before this historical period, in particular on sheets of paper that came for example from military dispatches, taken after the battles by Lakota warriors or other tribes, and on which they, with fresh memory, drew those marvelous drawings that testified to the warrior deeds of that historical moment. Not having, the natives, more available animal skins on which to draw their drawings known as “winter accounts“, they used what they had at that time available, for which the sheets of all kinds had become part of the history of the peoples of the great North American prairies.
Before 1870, in general the oral tradition and teaching to young people was also transmitted with the aid of pictographic material made on animal skins that reported the history, hunting, war and daily life of these nations. After the establishment of the Reservations and the killing, by the white man, of the local fauna and therefore, having no longer easily available these supports on which to depict these events, the native peoples adapted to depict their “memory” on these sheets of paper of the time and today very valuable artifacts of high historical and memory value as well as of high commercial value.
Today the “ledger drawings” represent a vital piece for the study, understanding and knowledge of the history of these Native American Nations, from which we can learn their history, and their resistance for survival after the establishment of the time of the reserves “. Example of sublime and refined art which, allows the historical memory to be able to tell and describe the wonderful and fascinating culture of the “American Indians”.