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Historic cradleboard makes its way to the People's Center

By Lailani Upham

The cradleboard displayed at the People’s Center museum was given to Governor Joe Dixon for his inauguration in 1920, and has recently been returned to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes through a Dixon family member. (Lailani Upham photo) The cradleboard displayed at the People’s Center museum was given to Governor Joe Dixon for his inauguration in 1920, and has recently been returned to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes through a Dixon family member. (Lailani Upham photo)

PABLO — A cradleboard made in the 1800’s was given to Governor Joe Dixon in 1920 on his inauguration and the trail of the board has circled back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes last month.

On October 3, The People’s Center received the cradleboard from the Missoula County Commissioners.

It was known that after Governor Dixon’s death in 1934, his wife, Caroline Worden Dixon and daughter Francis Lyman Worden, loaned the cradleboard to the Missoula Public Library for display.

The cradleboard was granted permanent residence to library in 1946 by their daughters after the death of Mrs. Dixon, according to Missoula Public Library records.

According to the Missoula Public Library documents, the specific tribe was not named in the recording of the gift to Gov. Dixon in 1920. It was stated that the cradleboard containing a doll was possibly Salish. It was “Given by Indians of Montana to Governor Joseph M. Dixon on his inauguration.”

Marie Torosian, The People’s Center staff official, stated the museum has been getting ready for a cradleboard exhibit in January and have been researching out the history of cradleboards and says many tribes had a variety of uses and styles for the baby carriers.

According to John Stoutenburgh, he stated in the Dictionary of American Indian in 1960, “The Indian cradleboard was made in various was and materials varied with the locality. Generally speaking, the baby was laced into the cradle for about a year.”

Torosian said she found in her research that babies could remain in the boards up to early toddler age. “It was a way for the mother’s to get things done while the baby was protected and would not wander off when the mother was busy.”

The cradleboards were designed to be able to sit upright against a teepee, rock or any strong structure so the child could observe and hands could be free to reach for items.

Floral bead design on the cradleboard is said to have originated from the Salish, according to historical records from the Missoula Public Library. (Lailani Upham photo) Floral bead design on the cradleboard is said to have originated from the Salish, according to historical records from the Missoula Public Library. (Lailani Upham photo)

The board’s design was also used in not only as a parent to carry the child but to also to be hung from the back, or on the side of a horse.

Cradles were handed down in a family and in most tribes considered them to be sacred.

Torosian said in this area moss and cedar bark was used as a lining or cushion on the boards.

Cradles were also known to be lined with down from birds, and soft animal skins as well.

Cradles were sometimes notched to show how many children had used it. If the baby died, the cradle was buried with the child in it, or it was burned, broken or thrown away, according to Stoutenburgh.

Materials vary from tribe to tribe. Some materials that were used in cradle making were: dogwood, tule, or cattail fibers. Whatever the materials, each shared certain structural elements such as a broad firm protective frame for the infant’s spine.

“They (cradleboards) were used to help strengthen the spine of the baby,” Torosian explained.

The cradles not only had domestic use – they were viewed as symbols of kinship and tribal identity and works of art.

To learn and examine more about historical cradleboards, visit The People’s Center Museum at 53253 Highway 93 West, Pablo, or call the Center at (406) 675-0260. You can also find the center at www.peoplecenter.org; or look them up on Facebook at Sqelixw Aqlsmaknik.

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