The Dakota nation, commonly called the Sioux, dominated the heart of the Great Plains and are one of the most famous of the native tribes of North America. Known for being particularly aggressive, they resisted the approach of the white man more stubbornly than many, and participated in one of the most famous incidents of the Indian Wars, the battle of 'Greasy Grass', also called the Little Big Horn, in 1876.
Until the 19th century the most dramatic change in the history of the Sioux had been the introduction of the horse during the 17th, which changed their lives in many ways, including of course the way they made war. The enormous mobility that horses offered allowed them to raid far more deeply into enemy territory, and mounted warfare quickly became much the most popular form of combat. Their skill in using the horse was widely commented upon by all observers, and the acquisition of good horses became a major goal of raids.
This set of 12 mounted warriors includes four horse poses, all of which are fairly accurate from a historical point of view. They have only a simple cloth on the animal's back, and all have a rein attached to the lower jaw, with no bridle or bit (nor stirrups for the riders, which is all quite correct). Traditionally the rein was a single strand, therefore passing one side of the neck or the other, whereas all the animals here have a rein on both sides. Naturally in later years Indians copied the more sophisticated bridles of the white man, so perhaps this arrangement is not impossible, but we would have much preferred the usual single rein. In addition it was normal for warriors to tie their horse's tails before going into battle, and here we find just one horse with a cloth tie (which is not restraining the tail at all) and another with a thin tie towards the end, while the other two are left lose. Naturally if the warriors were being attacked and had no warning then the tails might look like this, but when given the chance to prepare for battle these horse's tails should be much better prepared. The first horse pose pictured above is fine, but the second and third, although common choices in such sets, are very poor representations of horses at the trot or gallop. The final pose, one of the animal falling, is both dramatic and very well done, but naturally has limited uses.
As for the men, we get a quite generous nine poses, all of which could easily be in battle. Most of the poses speak for themselves, but two deserve clarification. The second figure in the top row is leaning from his horse much like the warrior with the pistol shown on the box artwork, while the penultimate figure in the second row is about to come off the falling horse. Both look good when properly mounted as can be seen here. However all the poses are very good.
Most of the figures are wearing little more than a breech-cloth, although some also have trousers underneath. Many warriors certainly did go into battle dressed this lightly, but it would be wrong to assume that this was the appearance of most warriors. The war shirt was a very important part of many warriors' wardrobe, as it often depicted their past exploits in battle and also provided much of the medicine that was supposed to protect them from the enemy's weapons. It was also seen as an essential item of dress should the warrior be killed and pass to the Great Spirits. Native depictions of great battles suggest many wore such shirts, particularly the older, more experience warriors, so perhaps they could have been better represented here. The two obviously senior warriors in this set are those with the full war bonnets, yet even here only one wears a shirt. The first figure pictured above wears a headdress apparently based on the bison, which indicates he belongs to one of the many warrior societies. Many such headdresses, based on animals or birds, were worn, and it is nice to see one here. However it must be said that having three of the 12 figures in the set wearing a full war bonnet greatly overrepresents the occurance of this prestige item. None of the other warriors have any feathers at all on their head, but some with one or two would have been a better choice.
The major traditional weapon of the native was of course the bow, and its popularity remained long after the introduction of firearms from the whites, not least because it still had many advantages over the early cumbersome muskets. Even when the natives gained quantities of the new repeater rifles, the bow still saw plenty of service, so the presence of both bows and rifles in this set is welcome. The axes too are fine, as are the lances held by the two senior warriors, although both were as much a symbol of authority and prestige as a serious weapon, particularly the crooked one in the top row (which is sometimes incorrectly identified as a coup stick).
Some shields are included here, which like all the weapons are not separate but moulded as one with the figure. The shields are small, round and heavily decorated, which is quite correct. Such items were less about physical protection, which was often minimal, than the medicine they carried to gain good fortune for their handler.
The sculpting is beyond reproach, with all the crisp detail and great proportions that we have come to expect from Waterloo 1815 and Italeri. The human musculature, which is of course very important in such a set, is flawless everywhere, while the faces have loads of character and the all-important hair has been perfectly done. A couple of the figures which are in profile to the mould have some minor problems with the split line going through the face, but otherwise there is no flash and this is a master class in beautiful sculpting. The horses too are entirely realistic in anatomy, and the riders fit their mounts easily, although not so tightly that we would say there is no need to reach for the glue. For some natives the average height of these figures would be a bit too much, but the Sioux were well known for their good height, which was comparable to the whites, so these figures are fine.
We should add one word of warning. It seems that the exact contents of this set do vary. Each box contains one of each of the complete sprues we have pictured, plus a part sprue which repeats some of the figures and horses, but which may not repeat the same ones we found in ours. Therefore treat the exact numbers of each pose above with caution.
This is a great set, and while the horses could have benefited from a bit more research we can have little to complain about here. An essential addition for anyone interested in this period of history.