Museums often receive objects with little known history. This beaded buckskin pouch was given as a gift to the Institute of Texan cultures many years ago without any information on its tribe of origin. However, the style of beadwork and materials used indicate that it likely came from a Plains Indian tribe. These types of items are found in many museum collections in this region. The Great Plains covers a wide range of the United States, as can be seen in the map to the left. The area designated in red highlights the Great Plains where many Native American tribes resided and are more broadly referred to as the Plains Indians (or Plains Tribes).
Because these tribes lived in the same environment, they adopted similar lifestyles and made similar daily life items. It is not uncommon for museums to struggle with identifying a specific tribe, for all their objects. By using the term Plains Indians, the museum is able to identify an item’s regional origin without having to know the exact tribal affiliation. Some of the struggle comes from the history of trade amongst the tribes across the Great Plains. This beaded pouch has a beaded design on the lower third of the bag and is made of an animal hide. This could describe the majority of beaded bags, not only amongst the Plains Indians, but most tribes across the United States. Uniformity in style, shape, color or technique, indicates trade activity and a shared knowledge amongst various tribes on how to craft beaded goods. Yet, sometimes a particular kind of bead, animal hide, or stitching can also help to identify a tribe. If a particular type of bead, animal hide or stitching is repeated in many craft goods of one tribe but is not consistent amongst the other tribes, you can use that feature to determine which tribe made the item. During the 1950s Orvoell Gallagher and Louis Powell wrote a paper entitled, Time Perspective in Plains Indian Beaded Art (1953). The paper discussed the struggle museums have in identifying Plains Indian craft goods. They pointed to the same issue of trade. If all the tribes are trading with one another it makes it much harder to find anything unique. Their paper called for criteria to be built on what to look for in identifying Plains Indian craft goods. The criteria would help guide other museums when identifying Native American products.
Beaded pouches have great potential to help identify tribal origin. The animal hide that many Native American pouches are made of can be the first clue. One of the first things to look for is what type of animal skin was used. If a tribe didn’t have access to that animal, they either received the item in trade, or it is not theirs. Most tribes used animal hides for pouches, clothes, blankets, shelter and even drums. The process to prepare the skin of an animal for use is called ‘tanning the hide’. Using every part of an animal after hunting was a common practice, nothing was to be wasted. The women of the tribe often collected the skin and brain of the animal after the meat and other organs were taken. The process of transforming the skin into leather, or ‘tanning’ it, requires many steps. The hair, flesh and membrane would need to be scraped away, leaving only bare skin. Then a mixture of animal fats and/or brain would be rubbed into the skin, followed by soaking and then stretching the hide. During the stretching and drying is when they could change the color of the hide by smoking it or adding pigment. While the overall steps of tanning a hide is consistent amongst many tribes, the hide color choice could certainly be an identifying characteristic.
To watch a documentary about Native American trading networks and hide processing, please click the link: Sheep Eater –Trading and Tools
Another aspect of the beaded pouch that could be used to identify tribal origin is the beadwork itself. This particular beaded pouch uses small decorative beads, sometimes called seed beads. The glass seed beads are significant as they are evidence that the item was made after trade contact with European settlers was established. Beads can thus help identify the date of a craft good as well. The seed beads first became very common to Plains Indians around the mid-1800s, this is not to suggest that the pouch was certainly made then, but that it is unlikely that it could have been made before. The color of the beads and the design they create on the bag are also potential identifying marks.
Bags similar to the one in the Institute of Texan Cultures collections are known from the Ute tribe (see National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Institution [24/4225] here), Sioux tribe (see Brooklyn Museum, Accession Number: 32.2099.32549, here) and Southern Cheyenne (see Nelson-Atkins Museum, Accession number 2006.40, here). All of these are examples of beaded bags from Plains Indian tribes. Each is similar in style and design to the beaded pouch we are discussing, however, but without any unique identifying characteristics we cannot definitively say they are from the same tribe. All of the bags are rectangular and taper slightly up to the opening of the bag. There is also fringe and beadwork on each bag, and each uses the lazy stitch technique to apply the beads. This technique is anything but lazy. Instead of sewing on one bead at a time, you thread several beads to stitch on all at once. A time consuming task especially, when trying to create a pattern or design.The Ute example also has a four-flap opening with tie off at the top.
There are many other characteristics of craft goods that we can use to identify the tribe they belonged to. Material, bead design and how the item was made are just some of the first things to consider. Museums and archaeologists have collaborated over time to build a wealth of knowledge to aid in the exploration and identification of objects. Each object has a story and history waiting to be told. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Jennifer McPhail]
Blumberg, J. (2007). Beading the Way. How Joyce Growing Thunder Fogarty created one of the centerpieces for the National Museum of American Indian’s “Identity by Design” Exhibition. Smithsonian Magazine.
Duncan, K. (1991). So Many Bags, so Little Known: Reconstructing the Patterns of Evolution and Distribution of Two Algonquian Bag Forms. Arctic Anthropology . Published by: University of Wisconsin Press. Vol. 28, No. 1, Art and Material Culture of the North American Subarctic and Adjacent Regions (1991), pp. 56-66.
Gallagher O. & Powell L. (1953). Time Perspective in Plains Indian Beaded Art. American Anthropologist. New Series, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Oct., 1953), pp. 609-613. Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Vanstone, J. 1997). An Ethnographic Collection from the Northern Ute in the Field Museum of Natural History. Fieldiana. Anthropology. New Series, No. 28, An Ethnographic Collection from the Northern Ute in the Field Museum of Natural History (August 29, 1997), Published by: Field Museum of Natural History. pp. i-iii, 1-48.
This tapestry was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. Ross S. Sterling of Houston, Texas during the late 1920’s. The tapestry has several images that represent the natural environment of Texas and several scenes from Texas history. The overall concept of the tapestry is based off of a painting of similar proportions that was also commissioned and designed by Mr. and Mrs. Sterling. The painting was completed in New York, but the tapestry was woven in France. When the tapestry was completed it was displayed in the Sterling home in Houston for a number of years.
Ross S. Sterling was born in February of 1875 and served as Governor of Texas from 1931 to 1933. Sterling was involved in several business ventures throughout his life, including the oil industry. In 1910 Sterling founded the Humble Oil Company. It in turn became the parent company of the Humble Oil Corporation and in 1973, the Exxon Corporation. Sterling sold his interest in the oil company in 1925 and used his profits to purchase the Houston Dispatch and the Houston Post in 1926. He later combined them as the Houston Post-Dispatch, which later became the Houston Post. He became the Chairman of the Texas Highway Commission under Governor Dan Moody and turned it into a consistent highway program. Sterling became the Governor of Texas after beating out Miriam A. “Ma” Ferguson in the Democratic primary, but became a one-term Governor after losing to Ferguson in the following election. After leaving the Governor’s office he retired from politics but continued his ventures in the oil industry. He died in Fort Worth on March 25, 1949, and was buried in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston.
The border of the tapestry shows different plant and animal life native to Texas. At the top, in the center, are six flags with a star. The flags represent the six countries that have held sovereignty over some or all of the territory that today is the State of Texas. They are Spain, France, United Mexican States (Mexico), Republic of Texas, Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. The portraits in the corners are Stephen F Austin (Upper Left Corner), Moses Austin (Upper Right Corner), David Crockett (Lower Left Corner), and William Wharton (Lower Right Corner). The center image depicts the surrender of Santa Anna to Sam Houston after the Battle of San Jacinto. The bottom image depicts the cabin where the Texas Rebels declared their independence from Mexico.
If you would like to know more about the Texas Revolution we have several blogs referencing the events and offering more details. You can see them here.
The Education department here at the Institute of Texan Cultures has recently added a number of fabulous downloadable resources for K-12 teachers to the Education portal on the ITC’s website. From Texas pioneers and cowboys and cattle drives to how to grow your own classroom garden, we have something for everyone! All of our lesson plans and hands-on activities are free of charge and meet TEKS requirements in social studies. Head on over to the website to learn more!
Extra pressed for time or just need a few quick warm-up ideas? Check out our Educator Quick Start Guides! All of our Quick Start Guides are presented in an engaging, visually appealing infographic form and are available for download as PDFs. Learn how to teach with objects, use primary sources in the classroom, and more!
Our brand new “Just for Kids” interactive learning experiences highlight aspects of some of our long-term exhibits here at the Museum. Kids can engage with interactive infographics, exhibit murals, and timelines to learn about archaeology, Native Americans, and life on the cattle drive throughout Texas history! We are also in the process of producing short, educational videos highlighting objects from our exhibits to include in these activities, as well! Stay tuned!
Materials: Wood, Armadillo Shell, Metal
This unusual guitar uses an armadillo shell as a sound box, it was created by Steve Cicchetti. Mr Cicchetti is a country musician known for hand-making a variety of musical instruments, he has also been a frequent Texas Folklife Festival participant.
There are many different species of armadillo in the world, but only the Nine-Banded Armadillo lives in North America, all the others live in either Central or South America. The Nine-Banded Armadillo is found mostly in the Southeastern United States, though it has been seen as far north as Illinois. Its overall length is about 2½ feet, and adults weigh from twelve to seventeen pounds, which puts it roughly around the size of a house cat.
Armadillos are omnivores, which means they eat plants and animals, primarily small bugs with the occasional small lizard and plant matter. In their hunt for bugs, they are prolific diggers. Their digging ability can often become a nuisance for landowners, because they will dig up lawns and fields. They also dig deep burrows, where they sleep up to 19 hours a day. They typically live anywhere from 7 to 20 years in the wild. Nine-banded armadillos often have identical quadruplets when they give birth; which means that they have four genetically identical babies. It is a common misconception that all armadillos curl up into balls with their protective shell covering them, only the Brazilian native Three-Banded Armadillo is capable of that feat. They are considered a threatened species due to habitat destruction and the high number killed on highways each year.
Nine-Banded Armadillos are the small state animal of Texas and are used as the mascot for several schools and businesses throughout the state. [Jennifer McPhail & Abby Goode]
To watch some videos about the Nine-Banded Armadillo follow the link below:
One cannot visit San Antonio without taking a trip to the Alamo. Usually after visiting the IMAX theater inside the Rivercenter mall where the movie Alamo: The Price of Freedom is continuously showing; here is a link of show times. In Texas, the Alamo is a top tourist destination visited by more than 2.5 million people a year. The object featured in this blog is commemorative gold rimmed plate commemorating the 1836 fall of the Alamo. Another popular way to commemorate the story of The Alamo has been through film. To date there have been 15 films based on the Alamo, the first was a silent film made in 1911 and the most recent was made in 2004. Although, some of these films are historically inaccurate and sometimes surrounded by controversy “the Alamo makes a good backdrop to tell stories of patriotism, courage, sacrifice and duty.”
The first known movie about the Alamo is titled The Immortal Alamo and was released on May 25, 1911. No known copy of the film exists, only still photographs and reviews in a journal titled Moving Picture World remain. The Immortal Alamo was 10 minutes long and was said to have been shot on location in San Antonio. However, this cannot be confirmed since no actual footage exists. The Immortal Alamo follows a “pretty girl, shy hero, and villain.” Richard Flores author of Remembering The Alamo: Memory, Modernity, & the Master Symbol claims this film is one of the earliest attempt at a historical documentary. Four years later a film called Martyrs of the Alamo was made. Compared to the film The Birth of a Nation, the film projected racist rhetoric, and reinforced white supremacy. The film given the subtitle The Birth of Texas and was re-released with that title in the 1920s. The film captured audiences nationwide and can still be seen on archive.org: Martyrs of the Alamo.
One of the most popular movies depicting the Alamo is the 1960 film starring John Wayne. The film titled The Alamo is one of the most expensive Alamo films made. John Wayne’s vision was to make the a historically accurate film about the Alamo. However, he mainly succeeded in producing an accurate set. After looking at different locations to shoot the film including Mexico, Peru, and Panama. It was ultimately decided that the film would be shot in Texas. This decision came after people in Texas threatened to boycott the film if it was shot in Mexico, even though in 1836 the Alamo was located inside Mexican territory. The location for the film was a 22,000 acre ranch owned by James T. “Happy” Shahan. The film premiered at the Woodlawn Theatre on October 24, 1960 and received mixed reviews. It was praised by the Daughters of the Republic of Texas but some film critics stated it was boring and too long. The film did receive 7 Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture, but only won one for sound. It has been argued that in the end the film had little to do with 1836 and more with John Wayne’s own vision and politics. The set of the 1960 film, called Alamo Village, remained open decades after the film was shot and became a tourist destination. In 2010 Alamo Village closed permanently and is currently for sale. The set is not well preserved and some of the buildings are succumbing to the elements. A businessman from Corpus Christi reportedly has plans to buy the set and turn it into a theme park.
In May 2002 director Ron Howard and Governor Rick Perry held a conference and announced that a new Alamo movie was in the works. According to Don Graham, the 9/11 attacks “led to an urgency to the idea of a movie about Americans taking a stand.” Ron Howard met with various historians in Austin who urged him to make the film as historically accurate as possible. Howard left the project due to differences with Disney over an R rating and budget. John Lee Hancock, a native Texan, took over as screenwriter and director. Hancock knew he would receive criticism whether he did a poorly researched film or a film that was well researched. Two historians were hired as consultants who would sit behind the camera and look for mistakes. For example, placements of flags and what kind of buttons should be on the uniforms. The film was shot on Reimer Ranch near Dripping Springs, Texas. The Curator of the Alamo, Bruce Winders stated “it’s probably the most accurate portrayal of the Alamo.” The film was set to premiere on Christmas day 2003 however, it was pushed back, making many question the film. Usually when a movie is pushed back it means there is a trouble, although that is not always the case. The film opened in San Antonio on March 27, 2004 and nationwide April 9, 2004. The film received mixed reviews but most were negative. Some called it a “dry history lesson” others an “over achieving made for TV movie and a dolled up history lesson.” So why did the movie fail? Don Graham states it could be because the film clashed with everyone’s collective memory of the siege of the Alamo.
As for future films depicting the story of the Alamo, a new TV mini-series called Texas Rising will premiere on television and some theaters. The series will air on the History Channel and is produced by ITV Studios America and A&E Studios. The release date is set for May 25, 2015. The mini-series will portray the Texas Revolution and the how the Texas Rangers were created. The series will star Bill Paxton, Chad Michael Murray, Ray Liotta, Olivier Martinez and others. How this miniseries will be received and whether it is historically accurate is something we will have to wait for. So what is your favorite Alamo movie? Leave your responses in the comments below. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]
Graham, Don. 2004. “Mission Statement: The Alamo And The Fallacy of Hisotrical Accuracy in Epic Filmmaking.” In Lone Star Pasts: Memory and History in Texas, by Gregg Canterll and Elizabeth H. Turner, 242-269. Texas A&M University Press.
Prior to 1980
When dining at a Mexican restaurant a molcajete like the one pictured above is usually somewhere in sight. It is also commonly found in Mexican households, and is often passed down from generation to generation. In English a molcajete is called a mortar and tejolote, or pestle. The word molcajete comes from the Nahuatl word molcaxitl. Mortar and pestles are made of various materials. The most popular ones are made of ceramic, stone, hard wood, porcelain, basalt, brass, or glass. This object is most likely made of vesicular basalt, a type of volcanic rock. Although a mortar and pestle are also used for medicinal purposes the type pictured above is mostly used for food preparation.
The origins of the molcajete can be traced back centuries. Many have been found in archeological sites including Aztec and Maya civilizations. Although similar to the tripod molcajete, the ones that have been found are called metates. However, they are used for the same purpose which is to process and prepare food. Two popular modern dishes that a molcajate is used for are salsa and guacamole. A traditional recipe for salsa made with a molcajete would call for tomatoes, red and green chilies of your choice, garlic cloves and salt. The tomatoes and chilies are heated on the stove and then crushed on the molcajete. There are many different varieties of salsa you can make using a molcajete, a simple Google search can get you on your way to enjoying tasty salsas.
Absorbing the flavors of every food prepared in it, the molcajete gets better with age. However, when first receiving a new molcajete you will have to do a few steps to prepare it for use, so no grit from the molcajete will end up in your salsa. This is called curing or seasoning the molcajete. People cure their molcajet’s in different ways but a common method is to soak the molcajete in water, then scrub it with a wire brush. After scrubbing, use the molcajete to grind rice until there is not grit inside, then the molcajete is ready to enjoy. However, beware of unauthentic molcajetes which will leave grit in your salsa no matter how many times you try to cure it.
Making an authentic a molcajete can take anywhere from 4-5 hours to complete. The first step in the process usually involves finding the basalt volcanic rock that is needed. Once the stone is found large pieces are cut usually with simple tools. The large stone is then cut into smaller pieces and taken back to where the artisan will work on it. Getting the stone to its final shape has to be done with precision. One wrong step or mistake can ruin the molcajete and the hours spent would have been wasted. The rock ends up with the traditional three legs and sometimes has the head of a pig or bull carved as well. The molcajete has been around for hundreds of years and will probably stick around for a hundred more. [Joscelynn Garcia, edited by Jennifer McPhail]
The following video shows how to make a molcajete:
Materials: Cloth, metal
This object is a uniform consisting of a jacket and pants from the United States Army. Army uniforms have gone through many changes over the years. This particular uniform style was originally used in World War I, but during World War II a different style of uniform was in use. Due to a shortage of the newer style, many WWI surplus uniforms were issued to soldiers at the beginning of WWII. This seems to be the case with this particular uniform since the patch on it is from a WWII Division.
The 19th Infantry Regiment was first organized 1861 but has since been reorganized, combined with others, and had many changes of assignment. During WWII they participated in the Pacific Theater of the war and one of their assignments was with the 24th Infantry Division. Divisions are large groups of soldiers, made up of several brigades or regiments. This division was also known as the Hawaiian Division during WWII. Later divisions also were formed from the Hawaiian Division such as the 25th Infantry Division which was able to defend Hawaii during World War II.
The patch design that the Hawaiian Division used is a taro leaf in the center with a red background and a black border around the circular patch. The taro leaf is a very important plant in the history of Hawaii and other Pacific Islands. The taro leaf was part of the economic, political, and religious history of Hawaii as well as a dietary staple. At one time there were up to 300 different varieties of taro that were harvested on the Hawaiian islands, the crop was the preferred food source over the sweet potato even though taro required more effort to grow.
Hawaii became a part of the United States, first as a territory in 1898, and then as a state in 1959. Many changes have taken place since receiving statehood. Tourism has greatly expanded as over-sea Pacific travel has become more accessible and affordable. The appearance of the islands began to change as the buildings and activities required to support this tourism rapidly expanded. Even still, the cultural awareness of Hawaiians and other Polynesians has heightened both on and off the islands.
On the islands there are different opportunities for traditional Hawaiian beliefs, practices, and ceremonies to be performed for both entertainment and education. Some Hawaiians have also moved off of the island, to the mainland, bringing their culture and traditions with them. Even in Texas there are Hawaiians that seek to maintain and share their culture through organizations such as the Texas Hawaiian Civic Club. [Abby Goode, edited by Jennifer McPhail]
Ariyoshi, Rita. 2009. Hawaii. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.
The Exhibits and Collections staff here at ITC is just now putting the finishing touches on a new exhibit, “Sikhs: Legacy of the Punjab.” This exhibit was originally developed by the Smithsonian Institution back in 2004. ITC will be redeploying this as a temporary exhibit, with additional information about Sikhs in Texas, starting on February 21st.
You can get a sneak peek of our progress installing it below.