Cedar Tree, Southern Arapaho, ca. 1880
Not much is known about Cedar Tree, a Southern Arapaho warrior artist that this ledger book is named after. Around 1882, the year the Cedar Tree Ledger Book was first collected, he likely resided nearby the Cheyenne and Arapaho Agency in Darlington, Oklahoma. Cedar Tree’s autobiographical drawings describe a man of great accomplishment who possessed an extraordinary visual memory and demonstrated a remarkable attention to detail. Contrary to the conventions of Ledger Art, and most Plains pictographic traditions, Cedar Tree’s mounted warriors enter the composition from the left hand side of the page. The consistent depiction of himself holding a lance in his left hand, along with the characteristic left-to-right orientation of his drawings suggests that Cedar Tree was left-handed.
The fifty-six drawings comprising the Cedar Tree Ledger are the result of a collaborative effort between five or six Native American artists from the Kiowa, Southern Arapaho and Southern Cheyenne nations. The last page of the book contains a list, handwritten in English, likely by its first non-Indigenous owner, that briefly describes the content of each drawing as well as the tribal identity of its artist, an uncommon feature in ledger books. “Big Tree” is the first name listed in the inventory. A comparison with the US census from the years corresponding to the collection of the book indicates that the same warrior likely went by the name Cedar Tree. This instance illustrates a common issue arising from the transliteration of Native American names to the English language for government use.