Image from The Half Moon Ledger.
(All Images Courtesy of Harvard Houghton Library and
Peabody Museum Of Archeology and Ethnology.)
Sometime around 1865, prospector J.S. Moore purchased a small accounting ledger in which to keep track of his money. He was attempting to make his fortune near the Bozeman Trail, which connected the gold rush territory of Montana to the Oregon Trail. Unfortunately, the area was smack dab in the middle of the lands in dispute during Red Cloud's War (1866-1868), a series of battles fought by a combined force of Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Sioux against white men threatening bison herds near the Powder River. Moore became collateral damage in that fight. The prospector was killed, and his ledger fell into the hands of Lakota Sioux warriors.
Howard also penned an illustrated introduction for the book, purporting to explain the meaning of the warrior's drawings. It contained a fearsome portrait of an angry chief identified as the famous warrior, "Half Moon." (According to Castle McLaughlin, associate curator of North American ethnography at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, the text added by the newspaperman is notable mainly for revealing "how poorly Howard knew his subject.")
Early in the 21st century, Harvard librarians came to realize that The Half Moon Ledger was something special. Ledger drawings by Native Americans are not uncommon, but to find a large number of them in their original context is extremely rare. The volume also proved of great interest to the University's Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology, which houses one of the largest collections of indigenous artifacts in the Western Hemisphere. In concert with the Houghton librarians, curators at the Peabody and members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe began to study the ledger's historical significance in depth.
Through her work with the horse conservancy, McLaughlin also formed a friendship with Lakota tribe member Butch Thunder Hawk, a respected contemporary artist, and tribal arts instructor at the United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota. Together McLaughlin and Thunder Hawk--along with Peabody exhibits director Sam Tager-- created an ongoing exhibit now on display at the museum, which is centered around The Half Moon Ledger.
Among many artifacts, contemporary art works, and audio and video installations on display for the exhibition, are a complete facsimile of The Half Moon Ledger, reproductions of selected pages, and the ledger itself. Due to extreme fragility and risk of damage from light exposure, the ledger is carefully opened to a single page, which is secured with a thin strip of archival-quality plastic. The page is turned every three months by Houghton Library Lake Conservator Mary Oey. Pages are only allowed to be on display--under glass--after they are monitored for color fading by a spectra photometer.