Monday, March 11, 2013

History and vintage photos of Native American dogs

Dogs are so inextricably woven into the fabric of our lives that we rarely think of them as the strange beasts that they truly are - human made tools engineered for herding, guarding, hauling, hunting and of course, companionship.

Pacific Northwest Tribe
Source: University of Washington

Arctic people's very existence depended on their specially bred sled dogs.
Three little arctic girls with three puppies. 
Source: Library of Congress

Almost every culture interacts with dogs.  A comparison of the way dogs are named tells a lot about the people who name them.
Pacific Northwest Native American child with puppy.
Source: University of Washington

The dog was the only work animal indigenous Americans had until the horse was introduced. In many native languages the word for horse derives from dog.

A typical day's work for a dog.  He's pulling a travois.
Note that the dog is costumed as decoratively as the man.

The mystical word for horse in Dakota is schanka-wankan, the holy spirit of the dog. The Dakota Sioux word for horse means great mysterious dog.

Source: Library of Congress

The Teton Dakota word for dog means horse of the woman
Note the dog sitting next to women on far left.
Source: Library of Congress

The Karankawa Indians of the Texas gulf coast called the dog a word that translates to kiss. Karankawa means dog lovers or dog raisers.
A man and his dog, not Karankawa though.

To be named after a special dog, or to be asked to name a special dog, was a great honor in the Hidatsa culture.  
Hidatsa Chief, Long Time Dog
Source: Library of Congress
Dogs were managed by Hidatsa women. Sometimes a man who had earned honor named a special dog.  Glorifying violence is apparently not a new thing.  Some Hidatsa dog names:
first-strike, last-strike, caught-with a-hand, killed-many-enemies, stabbed, shot-with-an-arrow, killed-by-a-club, ran-over-him, brought-an-enemy’s-horse, took-an-enemy’s–horse,  brave-man, chased-an-enemy, he wept –being-caught-by-the-hair.  They must have had nicknames as it would be difficult to call these pooches from the field.

One tribe called the dog kadosch which means son-in-law.
A son-in-law with his son-in-law?
Source: Library of Congress

Until the mid 1800s, when Anglo sailors arrived on the Mortlock Islands, people had never seen such an unusual animal. Their word for dog translates to comehere.  Apparently that's what they thought the sailors called them.  (In sign language it's the same. Dog is indicated by snapping your fingers then slapping your right flat hand against your leg, as in "come here.")

Full disclosure - there are a whole lot of words for dog that translate to things that are edible. But I'd rather not discuss that.


  1. I like reading the native american novels by the Gears and they do use dogs in the stories too, so fun to see more history on them.


  2. Wonderful photos you featured in this post!!! You can tell that these dogs were valued and well loved!! A lot of indigenous people had dogs live with them, and they are still an important part of their communities today!!!!

  3. All-natural soothing Snout Soother is ideal for treating Hyperkeratosis skin conditions in dogs naturally in days. Snout Soother is organic, vegan and 100% natural. hyperkeratosis

  4. Jane, WELL DONE! The photographs you have shared are priceless. The information along with them is a gift. They moved me and my husband so much. Being dog groomers as our living, we have the privilege to interact with all kinds of dogs daily. I have not seen all of the photos that you shared prior to today. Thank you. Please post more. Celeste & Grafton R.