Tag Archive | Native American Culture

Guest Post – An unusual object found by TxDOT in northeast Texas

This week’s blog is provided by the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Archeology Section, which discovers archeological evidence of human culture throughout the state when building roads. The blog details new and exciting Caddo findings in northeast Texas where TxDOT excavated portions of a Caddo village. The institute’s Native American exhibits and collections include a selection of Caddo artifacts and the details presented here by TXDOT provide additional insight on the Caddo tribe’s history in Texas.

Caddo Nation’s ancestral homeland encompasses northeast Texas, northwest Louisiana, southwest Arkansas, and southeast Oklahoma.  Archaeologically, we begin to recognize their culture in the area c. AD 900. They lived in spread out, unfortified, agriculture-based communities; however they were a highly organized and strictly governed tribe. While the Caddo were known as a friendly—their word “tejas” means “friend” and is, of course, where the word Texas originated from—they retained a fierce warrior class for when diplomatic channels failed them.

Metal artifact with Spanish Coat of Arms found by TxDOT. Image by TxDOT.

A curious artifact was discovered among thousands of others at an archaeological site in East Texas. The historic artifact was found buried in a manner that suggests it held high value. It appears to be a metal box fragment consisting of two pieces from two different sides of a Spanish jewelry box. The metal is relatively heavy, made from either silver or pewter. The fragment features a mythological beast; either a griffin (front-half eagle, and back-half lion) or a wyvern (front-half dragon, and the back-half featuring a coiled tail like a seahorse). A coat of arms also appears on the artifact and is divided into four sections. Two adjacent sections feature a field of stars, and the other two depict a double headed eagle – a common symbol used in Western Europe by the Holy Roman Empire.

Spain was part of the Holy Roman Empire during AD 1519 to 1556. These years overlap with the Desoto expedition from 1539 to 1543. After Desoto’s death in 1542, his men abandoned the expedition and tried to get back to Mexico. Expedition member Moscoso led the men through Texas (1542-1543), and when he reached the Neches River they followed it south. They would have at least passed very close to the East Texas Caddo site. Moscoso and his men were unable to feed themselves so they began to raid Texas Indian farming settlements. So, it is thought that the artifact may be evidence of Caddo interaction with Moscoso and his men. Due to the artifact’s intentional damage and being of high enough value to be purposely buried, the fragment may be a war trophy. Further, this unique find potentially precedes the date of direct contact between Native Americans and Europeans in the area – that led to established trade starting in 1686.

Caddo pottery fragment found by TxDOT. Image by TxDOT.

Moscoso and his men eventually abandoned the attempt to pass through Texas and turned around and went back towards the Mississippi River. Following the admission of Texas as a state in 1845 the Caddo were relocated to Indian Territory north of their ancestral homeland. Today Caddo Nation capital sits in Binger, Oklahoma with approximately 6,000 enrolled members. This Caddo site was originally recorded in the 1930s but was forgotten until recently. The site’s rediscovery by TxDOT means they can move forward with preserving the location and artifacts recovered, which include engraved ceramics, rare obsidian artifacts, and other stone tools in addition to the fascinating metal fragment. [Lee F. Reissig, TxDOT Environmental Affairs Division]

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Object: Rock art reproduction

I-0603a
Rock Painting reproduction
Native American
Langtry, TX.
Materials: Stone, Red Paint

This is a reproduction of a piece of cave art found at Bonfire Shelter in Eagle Cave near Langtry, Texas. Eagle cave is located in Mile Canyon, commonly referred to as Eagle Nest Canyon, which is a tributary canyon of the Rio Grande entering on the north side of the river just downstream from Langtry, Texas. Eagle Canyon gets its name from a pair of nesting eagles in the region. The canyon has been an important area of many archaeological and geological expeditions over the past century due to the region’s rich history of early human inhabitants and rock art.

Smith rock shelter in McKinney Falls State Park, Texas. Image by Larry D. Moore, via Wikimedia Commons.

Cave paintings are found across the world from state-parks in North America, to Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia. Often these cave paintings outline stories of hunting and gathering, fishing, or natural disasters.  The Lower Pecos region in southwest Texas is home to several examples of rock art from Texas’s ancient past. In fact, many of the paintings found in these caves give us a glimpse of the type of animals that were around during the time of these ancient peoples. It is possible that some of these paintings were made by the Clovis people who inhabited Texas during the time when the woolly mammoths roamed the earth, 11,000 years ago. These ancient Texas inhabitants hunted Woolly Mammoths and other creatures for food, clothes, and tools. They would have used caves, ridges, or bluff shelters, like the one shown on the right, to protect themselves from weather and animals.

Paints made were by mixing plants and/or animal blood with different types of clay and dirt. For example, the paint for many red cave markings is made with iron oxide called red ochre, a pigment found in many medieval art works. The ancient artists would use their hands, fingers, or objects from the ground to create shapes on the wall. They also would have used animal hair and bones from the animals that they hunted for brushes or as tools to carve into the rock wall. The ancient indigenous people were very interested in the animals they hunted depicting some possible traits of the Animism religion which dates to the Stone Age.

Sadly, many of the paintings are being destroyed by time, weathering, and treasure hunters. In Seminole Canyon State Park, located in Texas, the Parks and Wild Life Services had partnered up with archaeologists in hope of preserving these natural time capsules by way of 3D scanning of the caves and rock faces. As well as, in Eagle Nest Canyon where Texas State University has an ongoing dig site to help preserve some ancient indigenous artifacts. This is also going on in other parts of the world, such as Australia’s outback.

Australian rock art, created by ancient Aborigines, predates that of North American rock art by thousands of years. The ancient aborigines, like the Clovis people of America, also depicted hunting animals and fishing in their paintings.  These ancient people would paint or engrave lines, circles, and patterns to create scenes of humans, reptiles, fish, and whales in the stone. Today, decedents of these ancient people keep up with the traditions of their ancestors by painting in the same method but on canvas. [Arland Schnacker, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Benjamin, Roger; Andrew Weislogel; Fowler Museum at UCLA; Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art; and Grey Art Gallery. 2009. Icons of the desert: Early aboriginal paintings from papunya. Ithaca, N.Y: Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art:2009.

Cox, Kenyon. “What is painting? I: Painting as an art of imitation.” The Art World 1 (1916) (1): 29-73.

Harvey, Graham. The Handbook of Contemporary Animism. Durham, UK: Acumen.: 2013.

Mountford, Charles Pearcy. The Dreamtime; Australian Aboriginal Myths in Paintings by Ainslie Roberts. Adelaide, Rigby: 1965.

Shafer, Harry J.; Georg Zappler; Jim Zintgraff; and Witte Memorial Museum. Ancient Texans: Rock Art and Lifeways along the Lower Pecos. Houston, TX: Published for the Witte Museum of the San Antonio and Museum Association by Gulf Pub. Co.: 1992.

Object: Thatching needle

2016.4.21
Thatching Needle
Kickapoo
United States
1800-1967
Materials: Metal

Needles like this one are  used by women of the Kickapoo tribe to make woven mats using cattails and other plants. These mats are used to make Kickapoo wickiups, the traditional style of Kickapoo housing. These mats could be rolled up and transported from place to place, making them very convenient for travel, but they were also used at permanent settlements.

Before moving south to Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico, the Kickapoo were found in western Wisconsin, and parts of Michigan. While living in these northern areas the Kickapoo made their houses out of tree bark and cattails, but when fighting with European settlers and other tribes, such as the Osage, caused the Kickapoo to migrate south into Kansas, and finally Texas and Mexico, the materials they used for building changed to match the environment. Birch trees weren’t available in the southern plains, so Kickapoo used more cattail and native grasses in their houses. In the 19th century, the Kickapoo bands divided into two groups, the northern and southern Kickapoo. The northern Kickapoo went to reservations in states like Oklahoma, while the southern Kickapoo continued to migrate south, into Texas and Mexico.

While in Mexico, the Kickapoo developed a language that isn’t used by their sister tribes in America. The language is believed to have been created by the younger Kickapoos and was created for courtship rituals. Young Kickapoo men and women would use this whistling language to communicate without older members of the tribe being able to understand. This language was called onowecikepi, and is still in use today. [Ryan Farrell, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Additional Resources:

Gibson, Arrell Morgan. The Kickapoos: Lords of the Middle Border. Norman [Okla.]: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.

Goggin, John M. “The Mexican Kickapoo Indians.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology 7, no. 3 (1951): 314-27.

Hurley, William M. “THE KICKAPOO WHISTLE SYSTEM: A SPEECH SURROGATE.” Plains Anthropologist 13, no. 41 (1968): 242-47.

Nielsen, George R. The Kickapoo People. Phoenix: Indian Tribal Series, 1975.

Ritzenthaler, Robert E., and Frederick A. Peterson. The Mexican Kickapoo Indians. 2013.

Object: Saddle

02105c

2016.4.12
Pack saddle
Kickapoo
Mid to late 19th century
Materials: Wood

“Girl with Burro”
by Ritzenthaler & Peterson, 1956. Photo via Milwaukee Public Museum.

This is a Kickapoo saddle, used for horse riding. This saddle is only the wood base of what would have been an elaborate piece of equipment. The horse’s back would have been covered with a saddle blanket and the saddle would rest on top. the blanket was made of leather, cotton, or wool which could be adorned with beads, and sometime feathers or quills. Often saddles like these are wrapped in leather, the stirrups and leather girth would be set in the space between the wooden sides of the saddle. The girth, sometimes called a cinch strap, wrapped around the belly of the horse to secure the saddle on the horse’s back.

The last prehistoric horses in North America died out over 11,000 years ago but horses remained and evolved in Asia, Europe, and Africa. In 1519 horses returned to the Americas with the conquistadors from Spain. In the land that is now Mexico, the Spanish began breeding their horses and taught Native Americans how to ride and take care of the herds of horses. These herders were the first vaqueros, or cowboys. Although the Native Americans were herding, riding, and caring for the horses, the Spanish kept the Native Americans from owning their own horses for many years. The first Native Americans to acquire horses were the Apache, in modern day New Mexico. As more groups of Native Americans adopted the horse, stealing, bartering and breeding horses became a significant part their way of life.

The Kickapoo are a group of Algonquian speakers originating from the Great Lakes area, east coast, and Canada. Before European contact they relied on hunting, fishing, and gathering roots, seeds and wild rice. The Kickapoo first encountered the French in the 1640s when they were still living in modern day northern Michigan. However, the threat of white expansion grew and the Kickapoo gradually migrated south. Resulting in the Kickapoo disbanding into the three distinct groups that exist today, the Oklahoma Kickapoo, the Kansas Kickapoo, and the Mexican Kickapoo (later Texan Kickapoo). During the Civil War Spain granted displaced Native Americans land in the northern part of the Spanish Territory of Mexico. These groups wanted to get out of the United States to get away from the American Armies who were either trying to recruit them to fight or massacre them for their resources. In 1865 a band of Kickapoo led by No-ko-aht traveling to Mexico to seek refuge, were attacked by Confederate soldiers and Texas Rangers, commanded by Captain Henry Fossett. The battle took place on a branch of Dove Creek, east of Mertzon, Texas. The Kickapoo were hunting when the battle began, chief No-ko-aht’s daughter was killed when she went to meet the troops with a white flag. The Battle of Dove Creek is well remembered because No-ko-aht’s account of the battle still exists, making it one of the rare occasions that the Native American side of these conflicts are heard. [Sara Countryman, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]

Hunt, Frazier, and Robert Hunt. 1949. Horses and heroes, the story of the horse in America for 450 years. New York: Scribner’s Sons.

Latorre, Felipe A., and Dolores L. Latorre. 1976. The Mexican Kickapoo Indians. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Pool, William C. 1950. The battle of Dove Creek. [Place of publication not identified]: [publisher not identified].

Taylor, Louis, and Lorence F. Bjorklund. 1968. The story of America’s horses. Cleveland: World Pub. Co.

Wright, Bill, and E. John Gesick. 1996. The Texas Kickapoo: keepers of tradition. El Paso: Texas Western Press.

Object: Rock Painting

I-0603a

I-0603a
Rock Painting (reproduction)
Texan Indian
3,000-1,000 B.C.
Materials: Stone, Paint

This object is a reproduction of a rock painting found at Bonfire Shelter near Langtry, Texas. There is evidence of human presence at the site as far back as 12,000 to 14,000 years ago, at the end of the Pleistocene era. Bonfire Shelter, and other rock shelters in the Lower Pecos area have a long history that continues to be a part of archaeological investigations today.

Bonfire Shelter

Bonfire Shelter. Photo by Wilmuth Skiles, via http://www.texasbeyondhistory.net

Bonfire Shelter’s importance was initially discovered by a high school student named Michael Collins. Collins was visiting the area with family when he went to go explore the rocky outcrop. Having read about archaeological excavations, Collins attempted to dig in a similar way to archaeological digs. After making a square hole and digging past a layer of cave dust and rock, Collins found charred bone a foot below the surface. He soon found a jaw bone that he thought belonged to a cow and took it to Glen Evans, a paleontologist and family friend. Evans determined that the bone belonged not to a cow but to a bison and the landowners began to look into an archaeological investigation.

In 1962 the area surrounding Bonfire Shelter was chosen as the future site of the Amistad Reservoir. Mark Parsons from the Texas Archaeological Salvage Project was sent in to determine if the area could be flooded. Almost immediately Parsons found artifacts, like a Montell style dart point which dated the bison bone layer to the late Archaic Period, roughly 2,500-3,000 years ago. As the investigation continued, evidence indicated that Bonfire Shelter was the site of a bison jump. Bison jumps were areas where bison were herded off a cliff and down onto a rock pile in front of the shelter where they were then butchered. Archaeologists realized that this bison jump site was the oldest known in North America as well as the furthest south.

Cave painting of horse in the Lascaux cave.

Cave painting of horse in the Lascaux cave. Image via WikiMedia Commons.

The rock art found in the Bonfire Shelter area is an example of the Lower Pecos rock art style. Rock paintings go back thousands of years. Until recently, the oldest cave paintings were found in Spain and France and dated at 30,000 to 32,000 years old. In 2014 a new discovery pushed the oldest known painting back to 35,400 years old and was found in Sulawesi, Indonesia. There are even older paintings of abstract unidentifiable objects, which have been dated to 40,000 years old.

Today, Bonfire Shelter and the surrounding area is a part of the Seminole Canyon State Park. The park is named after Lieutenant John L. Bullis’ Black Seminole Scouts who were descendants of runaway slaves. This area sports some of the oldest known rock shelters in North America as well as some of the oldest rock wall paintings or pictographs, which can be seen on guided hiking tours today. [Briana Miano edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources

Dubble, David S. and Dessamae Lorrain. Bonfire Shelter: A Stratified Bison Kill Site, Val Verde County, Texas. Austin, Texas: Texas Memorial Museum, 1968.

Lawson, Andrew J. Painted Caves: Paleolithic Rock Art in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

“Rock Art.” Texas Beyond History. May 2008.

Shafer, Harry J. and Georg Zappler. Ancient Texans: Rock Art and Lifeways along the Lower Pecos. Austin, Texas: Texas Monthly Press, 1986.

Object: Drum

I-0465a

I-0465a
Drum
Tigua
Ysleta del Sur, TX
20th century
Material: Leather, paint and wood

This object is a Tigua drum. The Tigua community is based out of the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, and is located in El Paso, Texas. The Ysleta del Sur Pueblo, like many other Native American settlements, is recognized as a sovereign nation, even though it is located inside Texas.  The Tigua tribe was one of the last tribes to be officially recognized in the United States. This was due to their rich agricultural economy, which sustained them and they found no urgency in being recognized. It was not until the State of Texas threatened to annex Ysleta del Sur from El Paso and subject the Tigua to higher property taxes, that they moved to be officially recognized as a surviving Native American tribe. The Tigua are dedicated to preserving their history and cultural traditions. The core values of the tribe today are centered on culture, tradition, teachings of ancestors and sustaining land resources.

maptigThe Tigua however, were not always part of Texas. Originally from New Mexico their ancestral homeland was the Quarai Pueblo. However, due to drought the Tigua were forced to leave the Quarai Pueblo, and looked for refuge at the Isleta Pueblo. However, the biggest threat to the Pueblo tribes were at the time were the Spanish who had begun settling the land.  Spanish colonists were moving into the Southwest and taking advantage of the resources provided by the land. The Pueblo tribes felt threatened by the colonists and in 1680 banded together to drive out the Spanish. This is known as the 1680 Pueblo Revolt. During the revolt some of the Tigua were captured and were forced to retreat with the Spaniards, walking 400 miles south. Two years later, in 1682, Ysleta del Sur was established near El Paso. To differentiate between the first Isleta Pueblo they gave Yselta del Sur the letter Y.

The Tigua took on many Spanish customs after losing most of their land and relocating. One example of a Spanish custom the Tigua adopted pertained to leadership and family in the community. The Tigua were originally matrilineal, meaning leadership and authority was passed on in the family through the mother’s bloodline. But over time they became patrilineal which focuses on the father’s bloodline.  A modern example of how patrilineal customs work is the practice of a woman taking the last name of the man she marries. The Tigua also took on Catholic marriage traditions. Often when two cultures come together neither lose all traditions but rather combine traits and sometimes form new ones.

Ysleta_Del_Sur_church

Ysleta Del Sur Church

Today, Ysleta del Sur Pueblo consist of about 1,700 tribal members. Many Pueblo tribes maintain economic stability by selling craft goods and art, but the Tigua still have a thriving agricultural economy. This drum has a hand-painted design on the rawhide drumhead. The central red and yellow pattern represents a sun which is a common Tigua design, as they are known as the people of the sun. Traditional Tigua designs are full of images of the landscape, people or animals. Today the community is making every effort to maintain some of the traditional customs of the Tigua. The crafting and playing of drums, like this one, help them practice their traditional crafts and harvest dances while also educating a wider audience about their history.

To learn more about different cultural groups in Texas visit the Institute of Texan Cultures. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]

Additional Resources:

Adam, S. K. Extinction or Survival?: The Remarkable Story of the Tigua, an Urban American Indian Tribe. Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2009.

Eickhoff, Randy Lee. Exiled: The Tigua Indians of Ysleta Del Sur. Plano, Tex: Republic of Texas Press, 1996.

Houser, Nicholas P. 1970. “The Tigua Settlement of Ysleta Del Sur”. Kiva. 36, no. 2: 23-39.

Liebmann, Matthew, T. J. Ferguson, and Robert W Preucel. 2005. “Pueblo Settlement, Architecture, and Social Change in the Pueblo Revolt Era, A.D. 1680 to 1696”. Journal of Field Archaeology. 30, no. 1: 45-60.

http://www.ysletadelsurpueblo.org/

 

Object: Jar

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I-0214g
Pottery, Bowl
Artist(s): (Possibly) Maria and Julian Martinez
San Ildefonso Pueblo
New Mexico
1925-1943
Material: Ceramic

We have a pottery mystery here at the Institute of Texan Cultures. This piece of pottery was given to the museum with little historical background provided. After cataloging, photographing and inspecting its condition, a signature was found on the bottom and it appears to read: Marie + Julian. These are the names of one of the most famous producing pottery couples out of the southwest. They were masters of their craft, perfecting techniques that others today can only aspire to match. Yet, for being masters of their craft this pot is a bit underwhelming. It does not have the quality most commonly associated with Marie + Julian pottery. Thus, we must investigate further.

pueblomap

Map by Paula Giese, via http://www.kstrom.net

First we should start with what we know about the piece of pottery we have in the museum collection. In analyzing the piece we need to make note of as many details as we can, because no matter how big or small they could be a clue. Notice the color, shape and designs. Each of these characteristics can help identify where a piece of pottery came from. For example, the southwest is well known for its elaborately decorated pottery. Some pieces have distinctive designs, some are made of characteristic types of clay or finishes, others have symbolic shapes such as the wedding vase. The shape of a wedding vase is a symbol of unity, the unity between a man and a woman. It has a large round base for liquid and two spouts for the couple to drink from. This pot is 6 x 8.5 inches, black, with evidence of design work on the upper shoulder of the pot. The inside was left unfinished and there are signatures on the bottom of the pot that looks like Marie + Julian.

Maria and Julian Martinez are legendary names amongst potters, avid collectors and museums. Maria Martinez grew up in San Ildefonso Pueblo, just twenty-five miles north of Santa Fe, New Mexico. San Ildefonso has a rich history with evidence dating back to as early as 1300 A.D. The San Ildefonso people had many struggles over the years, from an uprising in 1696 to later colonial encounters that would spread illness through the pueblo, such as smallpox and pandemics like the 1918 Spanish flu. A once thriving population was diminished to only ninety by 1918. Arts and crafts became essential to the San Ildefonso economy soon after during the 1920s as they lacked the people and resources to maintain a thriving agricultural economy. The influence and attention that Maria and Julian’s pottery brought to the community helped build the reputation of an otherwise suffering San Ildefonso Pueblo.

Maria Martinez learned traditional pottery techniques of the area from her family as a young girl. Later in an effort to prefect her craft, she studied the excavated pottery from local archaeological sites. Maria alongside her husband Julian Martinez would spend their lives designing and teaching pottery to others. The two married in 1897. Maria and Julian Martinez were a perfect team. Maria focused on making the pieces of pottery themselves while Julian would paint and add detailed designs to the pieces. Julian Martinez is known for mastering the technique that creates the black on black finish you see on this object.

Maria Martinez…San Ildefonso Pueblo video:

The inscription seems like a dead giveaway that this piece of pottery must be a work of Marie and Julian Martinez. The signature even has the ‘+’ symbol that is typical of their pieces produced between 1925 and 1943. Yet, the history of Maria Martinez signing pottery is a long one. When Maria and Julian first began producing pottery they didn’t sign their work. Even after they did start signing their works,  the style of the signature would periodically change. Maria, while not officially changing her name, would sometimes sign her name “Marie.” It is said she was advised to do so because Marie was a more commonly recognized English name and Julian’s name was omitted entirely at first because pottery making was the work of women. As their work developed and gain notoriety they began to sign each piece ‘Marie + Julian’ and this would remain their signature until 1943 when Julian Martinez passed away. Marie surrounded by the support of her children would continue to make pottery with her daughter-in-law and son who took on the black on black design work of his father.

The following video can tell you more about Maria Martinez signatures.

Compared to many of the pieces of pottery by Maria and Julian Martinez the craftsmanship of this piece is lacking. The black on black design is barely recognizable at first glance and has a rough, raised and bubbled look to it. This might be the result of damage, or simply a “bad batch” made of lesser quality materials or due to a problem with the firing conditions. The signature indicates that it couldn’t be one of their earlier works, when they were still learning their craft, as those pieces would have been unsigned. Of course, due to the popularity and value of Maria pottery, this piece could also be an attempted forgery. Unfortunately we don’t always get all the details when objects are donated as museum artifacts, and many authentications must be based on expert opinions. Without further research, we can only say that this piece might have been made by Maria and Julian Martinez. What do you think? Is this a Maria Martinez original? Let us know by writing a comment below! [Trisha Taylor, edited by Kathryn S. (Barr) McCloud]

Additional Resources:

C. Norris Millington. Modern Indian Pottery. The American Magazine of Art Vol. 24, No. 6 (JUNE 1932) , pp. 449-454.

Cody Hartley. Maria Martinez, Industrial Designer. IA. The Journal of the Society for Industrial Archeology . Vol. 34, No. 1/2, IA IN ART (2008) , pp. 73-86. Society for Industrial Archeology.

F. W. Putnam. Archeological Frauds. Science . Vol. 1, No. 4 (Mar. 2, 1883) , p. 99. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

L. P. Gratacap. An Archeological Fraud. Science . Vol. 8, No. 196 (Nov. 5, 1886) , pp. 403-404. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Object: Pouch

I-0422a (2)
I-0422a
Medicine or Pipe bag
Plains Indian (likely Cheyenne)
North American Great Plains
Mid-1800’s – 20th century
Materials: Leather, beads, thread

Plains_Indians_range

Range of Plains Indians at the time of first European contact. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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 itsorigin. 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. 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, design, 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 hide 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. 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. Each is similar in style and design to the beaded pouch we are discussing, however, based on the bead design and the mouth flaps we believe the ITC pouch is a Cheyenne bag.

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]

Additional Reading:
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

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Sutton, Mark Q., Brooke S. Arkush, and Joan S. Schneider. 1998. Archaeological laboratory methods: an introduction. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Pub.

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.

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