Blackfeet 13

Wayne Many Guns and Joe Fisher
Production Date: 
Run Time: 

Establishing shot:  A girl hand-stitching a canvas Tipi pattern

Named locations: Browning, MT
Major themes covered: Blackfeet elder and artist Leo Bull Shoe, crafts a hexagonal hand drum from wood and cow hide.

Native activities shown:  Native American Arts & Crafts

Individuals Named: Leo Bull Shoe 
Native language spoken: Blackfeet word for “drum” is toh-gee-mah, which roughly translates to ‘sound.’

Noteworthy elements: 

Leo Bull Shoe Sr. is the grandson of Old Bull Shoe and son to Joe Bull Shoe. Leo was an elder of the Blackfeet community who taught traditional knowledge and arts and crafts at the Blackfeet Boarding School. In this video he is recorded making a non-traditional hand drum using contemporary methods. In the film Leo explains that in the old days the Blackfeet had to carve the drum frame from cottonwood and sew the hide on with sinew. Contemporary drum makers frequently use machine-cut wood, hammers and nails to assemble drums. Bull Shoe mentions that the hand-drum is typically used for entertainment purposes, perhaps for games. He also mentions that the larger drums, which are 2-4 feet in diameter, are usually the ones used in ceremonies and thus have cultural significance.

The animal hide needs to soak in water before it is placed on the drum frame. This makes the hide easier to work with because it becomes more relaxed like a fabric rather than dry and stiff. Some drum makers use oil instead of water, but it is recommended to use warm water. If the water is too hot, the hide will fall apart. After the hide is placed on the drum frame successfully, while still wet, the hide dries on the drum frame where it acquires its unique sound.

After a drum is completely dry, it is recommended to heat it up in a fire before first use. No two drums are the same, nor is their sound. The more a drum is heated, the tighter the hide becomes on the frame which changes the sound.

Leo Bull Shoe is no longer living, but he is survived by his wife, Molly Aims Back Bull Shoe, his daughter, Mary-Jo Bull Shoe and his five grandchildren.

Print sources:

Spotted, Eagle D. Voices of Native America: Native American Instruments and Music. Liberty, Utah: Eagle's View Pub, 1997.

Website resources:

This is the official webpage for Native artist, Darryl Andrew McKay who specializes in drum making.

This webpage features information on various aspects on the subject: American Indian drums


Web video resources:

‘How to make a Native Hand Drum.’ Time = 00:04:22.

--Sara Guzman, 2014