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.