Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Leather Men Volume 57 Number 5, September/October 2004

Rock art in Colorado and Kansas has offered up evidence for armored calvary among the Plains Indians. Doctoral student Mark Mitchell of the University of Colorado identified the petroglyphs, which depict leather-armored warriors, most likely Comanche, astride similarly clad horses.

Plains Indians like the Comanche first obtained horses from the Spanish in the mid-seventeenth century. Native Americans also probably got the idea for protecting themselves and their mounts with leather "armor" after seeing Spanish horse soldiers. Leather armor fell out of use as firearms became available to American Indians in the mid-eighteenth century.

Mitchell notes that while the existence of leather-armored horsemen has been long known (a Jesuit priest in present-day New Mexico showed leather-armored mounted warriors battling Apache foot soldiers in a 1720 painting), these petroglyphs are the first depictions thought to be crafted by Plains Indians. "There is some recorded history but virtually no archaeology of the Comanche, which makes these rock-art depictions very valuable," says Mitchell. "They should point us to additional places to look for Comanche sites containing artifacts associated with horses."

© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America