Historic Bandolier Bags and a Belt from the Ojibwe




The Bandolier bag was first created in the mid-1800's by the Ojibwe people of Northern Minnesota. They are also known as the Chippewa or “Anishinaabe” in their language.

Anthropologists believe they settled in Minnesota in the 1500's and by the 1600's had been in contact with fur trappers who were discovering the rich trapping areas in the Northern Midwest.

Trade was the important opening to creating a working relationship with the Indians of the area and one of the important trade goods was the European bead which was used to decorate and embellish the clothing, cradleboards, moccasins and other items of wear.




The Bandolier bag is the most distinctive article of decoration that was created by these Northern Woodlands people. It consists of a wide strap, decorated by loom beaded designs, primarily on cloth, which is worn over one shoulder, crossing to the other side of the body where a large loom beaded bad is hanging. The bottom of the bag is almost always decorated with loom beaded tassels with yarn decoration on the ends. In some cases, there was no bag at the bottom, but it was simple a large decorative panel.

Loom beading refers to beadwork that is created on a loom and then attached to the item it decorates. Stitch beading is the technique of attaching the beads to the decorated items, either one or a few at a time, to create the design.

These were made exclusively by the women of the tribe for their men and I think it is really interesting that, like Navajo weavings, these became coveted trade items. During the long winters, the women of the tribe would make these beautiful bags and in the summer, the men would travel and trade them to Plains tribes, such as the Sioux who reportedly would trade a horse for a single bag!

The term "Bandolier Bag" appears to have come about because the wide straps resembled the white soldiers ammunition bags. Some historians claim the idea came from early doctor's bags

We have been given a couple of these beautiful pieces to share with you. The first is absolutely beautiful, in great condition with loomed floral designs covering the straps and the bag and stitched floral beading surrounding the bag. It measures 39" from the top of the collar to the bottom of the tassels and the bag portion is 11" x 13". The straps are 5 1/2" wide.



This one is a fabulous example of a Bandolier bag and was probably made between 1890 and 1900.



The second bag has some missing beads in the center of the pouch. The pouch is different than those found on most Bandolier bags as it only has a small opening in the top, just large enough to put your hand inside. It could easily be mounted in a shadow box to create a very nice, historic decorative piece. I have asked several bead restoration people if they would be able to bring it back to top form, and while the answer is yes, we have made a decision to offer that option to the purchaser if they so decide.

This bag is from the same time frame but the fringes are on larger beads rather than loom beaded fabric. It measures 42” from the top of the strap to the bottom of the tassels and the bag is 17” across by 16” top to bottom. The design is a leaf pattern and the stitch beading around the bag is a simple zig-zag of white beads.


In addition to the missing beads in the center of the pouch, there is also some damage to the tassels.



From the same family, and Ojibwe, we have a beautiful belt that is loom beaded in a leaf design and attached to a fabric backing. It is in near perfect condition with only a few beads missing on the buckle which we could easily have restored.

These bags are great display items and can be mounted on walls, framed in shadow boxes or even hung on a simple hanger.


The belt, including the buckle, is 4 1/2" wide and 34 1/2" inches long. The buckle is decorated with two chickens and is 5 1/2" x 4 1/2". It is a very nice example of Ojibwe beadwork.


We seldom get nice examples of Woodlands beadwork and wanted to pass the opportunity on to you!

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