Now Online: Bandolier Bags from the Wisconsin Historical Museum


Beaded bandolier bag, Ho-Chunk or Ojibwe, Wisconsin, late nineteenth or early twentieth century

Thanks to my summer intern Maggie Ordon, 29 bandolier bags from the collection of the Wisconsin Historical Museum can now be viewed online in the Wisconisn Decorative Arts Database. Maggie examined each bag closely and conducted extensive secondary source research to learn more about the history of these colorful and intricately patterned bags made by Wisconsin Indian women.

These bags are called “bandolier bags” due to their wide straps, worn over the shoulder and across the chest. By the 1870s these bags were an important element of formal dress worn by Great Lakes Indian men (and occasionally women) to public events including treaty signings and inter-tribal gatherings as well as posed portrait photographs (see image below). Although they were a new form made from non-indigenous goods, bandolier bags quickly became highly visible symbols of Native identity to American Indians and Euro-Americans alike. At a time when the federal government aggressively pursued policies of Native assimilation, making or wearing a bandolier bag asserted not only cultural persistence, but also flourishing cultural activity.

See these sources to learn more about the history of bandolier bags and their cultural meanings:

  • Marcia Anderson and Kathy Hussey-Arnston, “Ojibwe Bandolier Bags in the Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society,” American Indian Art Magazine 11:4 (1986): 46-57
  • Beverly Gordon, “The Great Lakes Indian Bandolier Bag: Cultural Persistence and Elaboration, Dress 19 (1992): 69-81
  • Benson L. Lanford, “Winnebago Bandolier Bags, ” American Indian Art Magazine (Summer 1984): 30-37
  • Richard Pohrt Jr., Bags of Friendship: Bandolier Bags of the Great Lakes Indians (Santa Fe, NM: Morning Star Gallery, 1996)
  • Daniel Swan, “Forms and Acts: Beaded Shoulder Bags from the Great Lakes Region,” Gilcrease Journal 6:1 (1998): 48-57
  • Andrew Hunter Whiteford, “The Origins of Great Lakes Beaded Bandolier Bags,” American Indian Art Magazine 11:3 (1986): 32-43
  • Anthropology Department, Milwaukee Public Museum.  Images and descriptions of 34 bags from the MPM’s collections are available online.


H. H. Bennett, Portrait of Ho-Chunk man Chack-Scheb-Nee-Neik-Ah (Young Eagle). Wisconsin Historical Society (WHi-7359). In this image Chack-Scheb-Nee-Neik poses in dress regalia, including a bandolier bag with a wide beaded strap, for photographer H.H.Bennett, who photographed dozens of Ho-Chunk men and women in the Wisconsin Dells area in the late nineteenth century.

Posted by Emily Pfotenhauer.

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5 responses to “Now Online: Bandolier Bags from the Wisconsin Historical Museum

  1. Thanks for your beautiful display of bandolier bags.

    I have the bottom part of one and would appreciate knowing about it and perhaps selling it. I moved to a small home and am parting with some of my collection.
    I also have a beaded strap from a shirt or legging it is red, white and blue with 6 teepees.

    I also have a contemporary peyote rattle that is at least 20 years old in very nice condition.

    I can send images. thanks for any asistance you may offer.
    Regards, mary powers

  2. What a great display of Bandolier bags. I just inherited a bag that is about 37” long with 2 straps with geometric designs, the 2 straps both have a different design, horizontal section with flowers and the bag is of geometric design with 11 tabs, 2 of which have letters in them. It is made with silk and wool. Could you help me identify where it came from and the time period, I can email photos.
    I would appreciate any info.
    Thank you,
    Cindy A Forest
    wisteriagirl@sbcglobal.net

  3. Can anyone give me information about an old Indian Man/Woman medicine bag? I have got one that has been in the family. It is an otter skin with head and beadwork on tail and one foot. I believe it is potowatomi or ojibway and it is from Wisconsin. Thank you

  4. Pingback: Climbing Devils Tower in June With Andy Petefish | MFairlady

  5. I would like to sell an Indian Medicine Man’s bag from the late 1800’s. I believe it is Ojibwe although it belonged to a family member that was an honorary Potawatomi from northeastern Wisconsin. Is anyone interested?
    My email is boru@3rivers.net – hope your message does not go into spam.

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