MORE THAN 1,000 HOURS IN THE MAKING.
In order to replicate the original shirt as faithfully as possible, the man who organized the effort, Larry Belitz, turned to Delores Yellow Bull, an elder member of the Red Cloud clan of the Lakota Sioux who remembered the ancient techniques from the Buffalo Days. Now deceased, she worked on the project for nearly a year, enlisting an entire team of Lakota experts – each with different specialties to create this museum-quality piece.
The leather is tanned in the traditional manner and hand-rubbed with blue and yellow earth clays from the Badlands symbolizing the power of the sky and the earth.
The red and blue around the neck represents lightning and thunder for protection.
Lazy-stitched beaded strips are sewn with sinew from deer, elk or buffalo using small 12 or 13-size seed beads.
More than 200 locks of hair were donated by Lakota members according to the belief that the wearer of the shirt will carry the power of the entire Lakota nation. Each is wrapped with sinew and purple-dyed porcupine quills and attached using a blue bead.
The lighter colored hair ties are from horses representing those captured by Red Cloud in raids against Lakota enemies.
Small beaded squares symbolize hail from the Thunder Being to make bullets bounce off like hail.
There are eleven rows of beading - more than the seven rows on other leadership shirts.
There is added fringe on the beaded sleeves not found on other shirts.
In addition to the white background areas and diamond shapes typical of Lakota, this shirt has pink, green and maroon colors favored by the Cheyenne - likely influenced by Red Cloud's Cheyenne wife, Pretty Owl, who directed the making of the original shirt.
The front and the back are different as it was considered impolite to look directly at Red Cloud. However, when he walked away, one should look and be impressed. Therefore, more hair ties were on the back.