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Beadwork Masterpieces: Native American Bandolier Bags

People of the Lakes

Bandolier bags originated with the Native peoples of the Upper Great Lakes during the mid-nineteenth century. Northern peoples who made bandolier bags include the Ojibwe, Menominee, Potawatomi, and Winnebago.

Early Ojibwe

Residents of the Great Lakes region in the late 1600s, the Ojibwe gradually expanded their territory to the north, south, and west. They spread to northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, and southern Canada by the mid to late 1800s. The earliest documented Ojibwe bandolier bag is dated to around 1850. Bags peaked in popularity from the 1890s to the 1930s, after which most bandolier bag production ceased.

Bags from the 1880s and 1890s typically have a woven panel sewed onto the bag and woven tabs beneath the bag. Designs on the tabs often bear little relation to the design on the bag. Bag panel designs are geometric, have mirror-image design elements, and usually are based on an "X". Floral motifs often appear with veins in the leaves. Pockets from Ojibwe bags from the 1870s to the 1880s are usually open nearly the full width of the bag.

Ojibwe bag, about 1860
Ojibwe, about 1860

A finger-woven bag of red and green yarn with white beads.
Source: Betty, Bob, Ruth, and Reichert Shullaw, Lincoln.

Often made of red wool with green edging with an appliqué border, Ojibwe bags also show a "beavertail" motif on earlier examples, and symmetrical appliqué floral designs on the panel above the pocket. Ojibwe bags tend to have tall back panels that are 50 to 100 percent the height of the beaded panel. Woven beadwork panels decorate the straps. The designs on each strap side were usually different, though often related.

Ojibwe, about 1875
Ojibwe, about 1875

According to collection records this bag was acquired from the Yankton Sioux in the 1870s, although its characteristics lead to an association with the Ojibwe. It is possible that this bag was acquired through a trade.
Source: Loan from the Anthropology Division, University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln.

Regarding trade, the Reverend Joseph A. Gilfillan, Episcopal missionary to the Ojibwe on the White Earth Reservation from 1872 to 1898, stated in 1901:

"Most of the Ojibwe men have their women make quantities of their beautiful bead-work every winter and store it up. When summer comes the husband carries it to the Sioux country, and brings back as many ponies as he had tobacco-pouches (kashkibitangung). One of the bead-work pouches is the great ornament of the Ojibwe, and any person wearing it is considered to be in full dress: it is worth a pony among the Sioux."

Ojibwe bandolier bag, about 1900
Ojibwe, about 1900

Source: Loan from the Anthropology Division, University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln.

Aw ke wen zee, leader of the Ojibwe in 1854

Source: Photo by Martin's Gallery, Minnesota Historical Society,
[order photo] [MHS 36747, E97.1A/r17]

Ke-bay-nah-kay, about 1860, Leech Lake Ojibwe

Source: Photo by Charles A. Zimmerman, Minnesota Historical Society,
[order photo] [MHS 33395, E97.1K/r6]

Chief of the Rabbit Lake Ojibwe
Ah-ah-shaw-we-kee-shick, about 1860.

Chief of the Rabbit Lake Ojibwe
Source: Minnesota Historical Society,
[order photo] [MHS 34184, E97.1A/r10]

Oge-mah-oche-way-osh, 1870

Source: Photo by Hoard & Tenney, Minnesota Historical Society,
[order photo] [MHS 34175, E97.1O/r10]

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Last updated 4 February 2005  

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