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An 1891 photograph of a traditional Native American cow shield.

Cow shields were used by Native Americans as a defensive and protective armor for warriors on horseback. Cow shields were especially prominent amongst the Great Plain Indians. Columbus brought the first cows to the Americas from Europe in 1493. As a domesticated animal, cows were primarily a food source for Native Americans. Additionally, cowhide was used for clothing, tents, and shields. The cow shield in this photograph has green spots on white ground, with blue, red, and yellow lines across center.