This splendid, polychrome basket is 12 inches high and probably was made around 1920. Most Apache baskets were made by the women of the San Carlos and White Mountain bands, but the jicarilla, Mescalero, and Chiricahua Apaches also did basketry.
The Lipans, the most Plains-oriented of all the Apaches, apparently did not. While Plains riverine tribes such as the Mandans made burden baskets and the like, of the nomadic Plains tribes, only the Cheyennes did basketry.
This Apache Grain Storage Basket stands 20 inches tall. After an olla was filled to the brim with wild grass seeds such as chia or amaranth, or domesticated plant products, like corn or beans, a basketry lid or cover was put on top to protect the food inside. Some experts believe that the use of human and animal figures on baskets began around 1875. This basket was made around the turn of the century.
This Jicarilla Apache Water Bottle is 10 inches tall and probably was made around 1880, but the pattern and materials are almost timeless.
The lugs, both on one side, are made of horse hair. On the opposite side are two buckskin thongs, possibly for attachment to a burden strap to pass around the forehead. This arrangement would leave both of the user’s hands free when the basket was being carried. To make the basket waterproof, the whole jar was coated ~- inside with pinon pine pitch, which, in some places, is up to half an inch thick. Often such baskets were rubbed with powdered Juniper needles mixed with red ochre, both to help waterproof them and to impart a pleasing color. This example has a round, canvas patch stuck to the, bottom with pitch to protect that critical point from abrasion. This interesting basketry bottle, called a tus in Apache, was collected by Taos artist Joseph Henry Sharp.
Although the figure at the bottom may represent a supernatural being, the designs on Apache baskets are purely decorative and have no religious significance. They usually depict events or people in the basket maker’s world. For example, I recall a lovely olla with decoration showing early balloon ascension in Arizona.
This Apache Basket, made around 1900, stands 20 inches tall and is 22 inches wide. These wide-mouthed baskets, simply referred to as utility baskets, were used to hold food items such as cactus fruit, beans, and whole ears of corn being processed either for immediate use for for storage in the vase-shaped ollas.
This bag is a type believed to have been developed by the Canadian Métis. During the War of 1812, British infantry troops wore crossed leather belts, one to hold the cartridge 1box on the right side and one to hold the bayonet in its sheath on the left. These beaded bags first appeared just after that time; the oldest collected example known was obtained in 1833.
Most of them have a second strap for the powder horn, beaded in a complementary but non-matching pattern (I have seen only one outfit that does match). However, in its westernmost dispersion, the Yukon River of Alaska, hunters used the bag for bullets and caps and wore it alone and in front. This example was made around 1880 in northwestern Canada or the interior of Alaska.
BAG 1259, is known today as an octopus bag because of the four pairs of long tabs at the bottom. In the nineteenth century, such bags were called fire bags since they were used to store flint, steel, and tinder. The bag style apparently originated around the Canadian side of the Great Lakes and was probably developed by the mixed-blood Métis. It is remotely possible that the tabs have some connection to the old, whole-skin tobacco bags used by the French Canadian voyagers, as well as the Indians, in the eighteenth century.
This style spread across the continent. Late nineteenth century photographs show the octopus bag in use among the Tlingits on the Pacific. It also enjoyed favor as far north as the Sub arctic. This example, with its asymmetrical beaded design, was probably made around the Great Slave Lake by a Slavey woman about 1900. The bag itself is the coarse wool flannel called stroud.
By the 1870’s the plains Indians found themselves in the predicament of being overwhelmed by a technologically and numerically superior tribe, the white man. Some tribes resisted to the end. Others, like the Crows and Pawnees, threw in their lot with the whites, and some tribes literally disintegrated over the issue of whether to oppose or accept the advance of Euro America.
Although the stories of starvation in early reservation days may be exaggerated, the period was definitely characterized by active government efforts to wipe out the Indians’ existing political, religious, and education systems. Their military and economic systems had already been destroyed.
The arrests of religious practitioners, the denigration of traditional values, and the arrogance of agency personnel toward chiefs and councilors all were demoralizing. In addition, the forced dependence upon the bureaucrats for sustenance and the resulting boredom of doing nothing but waiting for rations, bred powerful resentments in the hearts of the Indians. Since the whites had already demonstrated their might, the only apparent way to change the stultifying situation seemed to be through divine intervention.
One response to these conditions was the Ghost Dance religion. Its practitioners preached nonviolence and grafted elements of nostalgia for the past onto the new Christian teaching about the Messiah’s second coming. Ghost Dance regalia on the Southern Plains showed a real fluorescence of artistry. On the Northern Plains, Ghost Dance shirts and dresses were made of muslin and flour sacks. The Sioux even believed their shirts were bullet-proof. That misguided notion helped lead to the horrors of Wounded Knee.
This spectacular canvas dress is made in Southern Plains style. While many dresses have painted stars in their design, as does this one, the yoke in this garment is made from the field of an actual flag. Stripes and traditional bird designs representing the eagle are painted on the body of the dress. It measures 57 inches from hem to yoke. While the Sioux were finished with the Ghost Dance by early 1891, it continued in Oklahoma for a few more years. When the Messiah failed to appear, most of the shirts and dresses were sold to collectors.
This soft, buckskin dance apron is from Tesuque Pueblo just north of Santa Fe. Worn by a man on ceremonial occasions, the panel offers a strong prayer for rain. The upper design is a bank of clouds with lightning shooting from the tops and rain streaking to earth below them. At the bottom is a row of circles, thought to represent the stars on a clear night after a welcome rain. The snake dividing the sky is Avanyu, a common Southwestern motif used by those asking for rain.