This cradleboard reveals the exquisite beadwork that epitomizes the Kiowa style of decoration in Native American art. The Kiowa developed what is possibly the most prominently known baby carrier in Plains art, the lattice cradle or cradleboard (popularly known as the “papoose”), which spread to the Comanche, Cheyenne, and Dakota tribes of the Central Plains.
The baby carrier is structured on a modified V-shaped framework upon which a deep, straight-sided hide bag was attached. The bag was closed in front by several thong ties and usually extensively covered with symbolic beadwork, as in this example. The pointed ends of the two legs of the V extended more than a foot beyond the top of the bag, protecting a baby’s head by striking the ground first if the cradle were thrown by a runaway horse. A curved piece of buffalo rawhide bent across the top of the cradle protected the baby’s face if the cradle fell forward, and backboards were a safeguard against a backward fall.
Such cradles could be hung from trees, pack saddles, and tipi poles and were easy to carry on a mother’s back by means of a strap around her shoulders. Kiowa baby carriers were lined with small, soft skins. Small toys such as navel amulets, thimbles, bead chains, and bells could be sewn onto the outside to amuse the baby.