These particular tobacco bags were made to hold the sacred calumet pipes, although one example at the end of the list is a smaller bag for holding tobacco and a pipe for everyday use. The terms “pipe bag” and “tobacco bag” are used to distinguish the ritual vs. secular function of the objects. As a group, the larger bags would have served a similar function, holding tobacco and the separated pieces of calumet pipes when they were not in use. Some of them have been identified as belonging to a specific group, while others are simply categorized regionally as “Great Plains.” Two are associated with individuals, Spotted Elk and Crazy Bull. The latter is the great-grandson of the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull, who gave lectures on Sioux culture in Boston as early as 1925.
The variation in styles, colors, and symbols in the intricate beadwork could just as easily be representative of the different nations who occupied the Great Plains as of the women who made them and men who carried them. While the exact nature of these designs remains obscured, it easy to appreciate their significance in the lives of their original owners when one considers the time and the skill necessary to create these works of art.
* “Adornment: Native American Regalia.” University of Wyoming Art Museum, Educational Packet (2009).
Jessica Rymer is the Growdon Collections Intern for spring 2014. She is currently working towards a master’s in Historical Archaeology at the University of Massachusetts, Boston, where she uses clay tobacco pipes to study smoking behavior in the 17th and 18th centuries. Her thesis uses smoking behavior to explore the interactions between English landowners, enslaved Africans, and local Native Americans on Shelter Island, New York.