Rattles & Thrapples


Among Indians on the northern plains, rattles once were made of rawhide, which is animal skin stretched, usually untanned, and dried. They were assembled with threads of sinew, which are dried strips of the tendon that connects a muscle with a bone. Indians in the South used hide-covered turtle shells and gourds for rattles. By the end of the 19th century, tin cans were sometimes used.

None of the rattles pictured below matches Sergeant Ordway's description of the "thrapple" he saw the Yankton Sioux men using, but they are typical of others that were used by tribes of the Northern Plains.


This Northern Plains Indian rattle consists of a hollow spherical head made of two pieces of rawhide, one with fur attached,sewn together and extending over a stick handle. Possibly it was made by filling the wet rawhide bag with sand until dry, then inserting a few seeds or small stones.

Length, 6.6 inches (17 cm); diameter, 2.75 inches (7 cm).
Collected by Gilbert Wilson before 1918.
Minnesota Historical Society No. 7059.65. Used by permission.

This Hidatsa Indian rattle, made of rawhide and painted red, with a handle of willow twigs wrapped in fiber, possibly was used in the Hidatsa Sun Dance, and in ceremonies connected with eagle-capturing.

Length, 10.25 inches (26.3 cm); diameter, 4.5 inches (11.7 cm)
Collected by Gilbert Wilson about 1913-15.
Minnesota Historical Society No. 7049.66. Used by permission.

This Northern Plains Indian rattle, used by members of the Dog Society, consists of a wooden handle covered with tanned hide. Twenty-three carved hooves, possibly from deer, are attached with narrow strips of tanned leather. The triangular pendant at the lower end of the handle is made of lazy-stitched white and blue glass seed beads.

Length 16.5 inches (42 cm).Minnesota Historical Society No. 7059.64. Used by permission.