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Beadwork Masterpieces: Native American Bandolier Bags

bandolier bagExhibit Introduction

Bandolier bags are elaborately decorated shoulder bags most commonly made by Native peoples of the Prairies and Upper Great Lakes, from southern Canada to Kansas. The bags are thought to have originated around the 1840s or 1850s. Few were made after the 1940s, although they are occasionally made today.

Bandolier bags have a wide, beaded shoulder strap and a rectangular lower section that sometimes has a pocket. They were made primarily for show, although they were sometimes used to carry belongings. Some late nineteenth/early twentieth-century bags have false pockets, pocket openings that were too small to fit a hand, or no pockets at all. Such bags were made for fashion, not function, and could be an indicator of the wearer's status and wealth.

Usually worn one at a time over the shoulder and across the body, the bags were sometimes draped over the neck, hung over a saddle or horse's neck, or worn several at a time.

Traditionally worn by men, the bags appear in photographs being worn by women as well.

Different tribes had stylistic preferences for decoration. Trade, tribal movement, and increased contact between tribes and Europeans may have led to the sharing of techniques and to the similarity of bags attributed to different tribes.

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Last updated 4 February 2005  

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