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Southeastern Bandolier Bags.

The bag is essentially an envelope with a triangular flap suspended by a baldric (shoulder strap) worn over an opposite shoulder from where the bag is worn. The bags were normally edged with either cotton calico, or twilled wool or cotton binding, and when available, silk ribbon. The edging ran around the entire perimeter of the flap, both sides of the bag, and commonly edged the raw edge of the bag's opening. Some bags were also edged along the bottom of the bag, but not universally. Most bags were decorated by the addition of wool tassels suspended from the bottom of the bag. The tassels usually included attachment to the apexes of the baldric tabs as well, completing the overall aesthetics.

This form was used by the Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Seminole, Shawnee, and Lenape. The Shawnee habitually migrated between the Ohio River valley and the Savannah River valley for decades, if not centuries, and often camped among the Creeks. Savannah is a corruption of the name originally given to the Shawano (Shawnee), the river being named for them. Choctaw bags generally had rounded flaps with rounded ends on the baldrics, attaching where the flap overlapped.

There are generalized stylistic differences of attachment between the various cultural groups, but they're not fully diagnostic. Likewise, varied beadwork styles existed, and may be diagnostic, but not always so. Styles were fluid.

There was much interchange, especially after removal to Oklahoma, where much blending of styles occurred especially between the Shawnee and Lenape (Delaware). The Shawnee also produced bags identical in form and style to Creek and Cherokee bags. Some Lenape bags (Figure 5) are virtually identical to Cherokee bags, with the only difference being beadworking style and technique. Likewise, it's often impossible to determine whether a bag is Creek or Cherokee; many design elements were nearly identical, if not so. Both used the ancient diamonds and bars with recurved ends scattered in their work.

The three Seminole Wars occurred off-and-on from 1817 to 1858. The U.S. Army recruited scouts from the Creek, Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Shawnee, Miami, and Lenape to help locate the Seminoles, round them up, and ship them to Oklahoma. Therefore, prior evidence suggests that every soldier returning home with war trophies, had taken them from fallen Seminole warriors--regardless who the fallen warriors really were culturally--even Indian allies. Many bags identified as being Seminole don't quite add up stylistically. Granted, Creek and Seminole bags are basically indistinguishable, since the Seminoles were primarily Creek separatists. However, some of the bags appear more Cherokee in origin especially the bags described as being Seminole in the Bristol, UK and the Ah-Tah-Thiki Museum in Clewiston, Florida.

After removal, all of these peoples were neighbors in Oklahoma territory, albeit often reluctantly. As time progressed, they began to mingle to a degree while maintaining their separate identities and customs. Styles began to merge especially between the Shawnee, Miami, and Lenape, who were crammed into a ridiculously small section of northeast Oklahoma with the Seneca, taken from Cherokee territory on the Missouri border. People were prone to influence each other during inter-tribal events, and consequently, exchanges of ideas occurred. Gifts were exchanged as gestures of good will, which in turn, were vehicles of spreading cultural craft and style.

The main differences of style arise in the manner of attaching the sash (baldric) to the bag. The Creek and Seminole usually attached the baldric to the bag at the border of the sash to the border of the bag where the flap folded over the bag. The forks or fingers of the sash usually aligned with the bottom of the bag. The Cherokee usually attached the bag to the baldric's center near the bifurcations of its terminus, such that about 50% of the baldric overlapped the bag on either side. It must be pointed out that these differences were not universally true in every respect, which can make absolute identification difficult, if not impossible. Older twined bags generally had fingerwoven baldrics that were attached to the bag as a single unit. Some of the late period early beaded bags and baldrics exhibit this feature.

Aside from buckskin, the earliest bags were twined, using dyed plant fibers, yielding to wool as it became available. By the beginning of the 19th century, most twining was done with wool yarn, originally sourced by unraveling wool strouding, with indigo blue, black, and red, as the colors most commonly used, replacing plant fibers. Twining was still prevalent prior to 1820, but was replaced by wool strouding as it became common in trade.

Although some Delaware (Lenni Lenape) bags had triangular flaps, they can be distinguished by their added tabs at either end of the baldric, as opposed to tabs that were cut into the original material as an integral element, as done by the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Creek, and Seminole. The flap was normally squared off, parallel to the bottom edge of the bag, similar to Great Lakes bags, but occasionally triangular. There is no uniform triangular flap shape; some were rounded at the apex, while others continued to a distinct point. The bottom edge of the pouch may or may not be bound by either twilled tape, silk ribbon, or calico. Some of the bottom bag edging was stitched through both the front and back of the bag, some not. There are no absolutes. Some bags were very finely beaded with many colors; some were beaded with very few, or done very poorly by young women with little experience or limited skills. Evidently, it boiled down to the available time and the circumstances surrounding its production, the availability of beads, and the skill of the maker. Keep in mind, that during the Seminole Wars, camps were generally temporary, and on the move, subject to raids by the U.S. Army. By that time time, supplies were non-existent. It was make-do with what you have-if anything.

Generally, the length of the sash or baldric was the width of the strouding from selvage edge-to-selvage edge, about 54 to 60 inches. A larger, taller, individual may require a composite, lengthened baldric. The pouch or bag measured on average about 8 inches square-some larger--some smaller. The triangular flap generally reached from the top edge to the bottom edge, although not always--sometimes it extended lower. It was worn on one hip, with the baldric wrapping over the opposite shoulder.

Occasionally, bags and baldrics were different colors-one red, the other indigo or black. It may be a result of one element having been damaged beyond repair, needing a replacement. One baldric has been observed to be half red and half indigo. One bag shown (Figure 2), has appliqued elements of red sewn over black with white beadwork, which may be a desire to imitate the earlier tradition of multicolored twined bags. A twined bag (Figure 3) is shown in the photographic collection.

Making The Bag

This plan is for a cloth bag only. A twined bag requires a separate set of complicated instructions.

Wool broadcloth will be the material of choice. The original material from Stroud, England, was also known as "Saved Cloth" because the selvage edges were saved from the dye when the entire length of the bolt was dipped into the dye vat, leaving the selvage white. Other terms include "list" and "saved list" cloth. Broadcloth with woven rainbow selvage became available toward the end of the 19th century with 3 to 8 bands of color in the selvage. Depending upon the thickness and quality of the broadcloth, it should be backed with some form of cotton fabric as you do the beadwork, by basting it to the back side of the pieces after cutting. After completion, it should be backed with another layer prior to folding the bag together and adding the edge trim.

>> The first project should be a simple one--2 or 3 colors of beads are fine, and can be quite dramatic-look at the examples provided here. It is better to complete a simple bag than abandon one that's too complex for you to finish.

>> Once the bag is cut out, start the beadwork. The bag cannot be easily beaded after it is assembled. The amount of beadwork planned will demand about 10 to 15 hanks of beads on average. Buy enough beads to do the project. A surplus is always welcome, and usable for other future projects. Many colors seen on old pieces are no longer available, not having been made for decades--especially the old, beautiful white-lined transparent rose. Order bead sample cards to become acquainted with sizes and colors. Keep the colors soft. Avoid the silver lined beads and other modern garish colors. Pay special attention to the French, German, and Italian beads; the colors are more of what you are seeking. Many of the Czech beads are fine, but be wary of bright colors. Work from hanks of beads as much as possible, rather than loose beads. It's faster and far less taxing.

>> The most common bead sizes for the beadwork are 11/0 and 12/0. Larger 8/0 or 10/0 beads were commonly used for the edge beading around the edge trim, requiring 2 to 3 hanks. They were most commonly white, but light blue, pink, and greasy yellow were also common.

Materials to Buy

>> 1 yard of broadcloth (scarlet, dark indigo/navy blue, or black. The surplus allows for mistakes.

>> 4 to 6 yards of edge binding, preferably twilled wool or cotton tape. Any cotton material is suitable, and often seen. Silk satin ribbon, while pretty, is too easily snagged. All of these can be found online, often through revolutionary and colonial era re-enactment suppliers.

>> Sewing thread of any color. Some linen thread is great, and 3 ply crochet thread is great to string the larger edge beads onto when doing the edge beading.

>> Beads-enough to complete the job in sizes 11/0 or 12/0. Edge beading done in 8/0 or 10/0 sizes.

>> Tassel cords can be covered with 6/0, 6 mm, 7 mm, Padre, Crow, or other necklace beads.

>> 1 yard of any cotton material for 1 layer each of backing and lining

Tools Needed

>> Scissors, needles, cloth measuring tape, good lighting, planning skills, perseverance and patience.

>> Artists' pastel pencils in either white or pale blue are good for drawing designs onto the material. Never use ball point pens; you'll regret it. Pastel will wear off as you work; it's chalk.

>> Heavy paper for a bag pattern if this is your first effort, and a ruler or yardstick.

Pay attention to the photos shown here. Southeastern bags habitually have different sets of design motifs on each half of the baldrics, although not uniformly so. This would largely be an exception in the case of fingerwoven baldrics. Although the Bowlegs and Reeves bags shown (Figure I and 2) contradict this, it is a rarity. Rarely are each half remotely similar. Often, a totally dissimilar design element divides the two halves at the center of the baldric where it rests upon the shoulder.

Using the pattern diagram, make a paper pattern for the bag. Note that bag can be any dimension you select; 8 1/2 inches is a good average size; anything between 7 1/2 to 9 inches is fine. The pattern is an unfolded envelope. The squared end (makes the bag opening) would ideally be a selvage edge, but not necessarily. The opposite end is trimmed to a triangular shape, which may be rounded at the apex. You will note the envelope is three segments of roughly equal size. The two adjoining square sections should be about equal in size. They will be the front and back.

>> Once satisfied with your pattern, cut the bag out of the broadcloth.

>> Next, place it over your cotton lining material, and cut it slightly larger, allowing about XA inch excess. This will allow you to stitch the two together using a basting stitch, which is a series of long 1/4 to 1/2 inch running stitches used to tack things together, about 1/4 inch inside the edge of the broadcloth. They will eventually be covered when you apply the edging. This same basting technique will be used around the entire baldric. ??Next, move on to the baldric or sash. Using a tailor's cloth measuring tape, drape it over one shoulder with one end of it resting about half way between your opposite hip joint (head of the femur) and your hip bone (iliac crest). That point will be the approximate top of your bag. Pull the other end of the tape around to match that point, and note the measurement. Add twice to your bag dimension. As an example, if the first measurement is 42 inches, and your bag is 8 inches square, the total baldric length would be 42+16, or 58 inches. If your broadcloth is 60 inches wide, you're good to go. If it's only 54 inches wide or less, you'll need to make a composite baldric of two equal lengths sewn together at the middle. In this case, it would be half the measured 58 inches plus Vi inch (26'/2 inches.) to allow for a V2 inch seam at the joint. The half inch is important to allow enough surplus when the seam is flattened out in both directions underneath. Personal measurements will differ.

>> Once done, cut the calico backing a bit over-sized, as you did with the bag, and baste it to the baldric along both lengths as before, and trim the edges. Don't bother cutting the tabs from the cotton backing yet, but do cut them from the wool broadcloth. This will help establish the limits for beadwork within the baldric tabs and reduce issues with tangled threads as you bead especially with the tabs anchored to a backing that spans the gap(s) between them. You may also find it necessary to piece together the backing. If so, simply overlap it a bit, and don't worry about stitching it together. Your beadwork will probably do that as you work, and it'll be covered with another piece when you begin adding the edging.

>> If you need to splice together two broadcloth pieces to complete the baldric, match two ends together, and begin stitching them together from one side to the other keeping the stitches small, straight, and V2 inch from the matched ends. It is a good idea to make two passes. Once done, fold the two seam allowances apart, and press with an iron to flatten the seam. Flip it over with the raw edges to the inside, and begin basting it to the backing as noted above.

>> Six common baldric terminations are shown. The bottom center shows the process of making tassels. Yarn or unraveled broadcloth can be wrapped around it to produce a bundle of threads 4 to 5 inches in length when cut. Use one of the strands to tie the bundle together in the center, allowing them to fall back into place. Next, tie a larger stronger cord, yarn, or buckskin thong at the center, and fold the ends down & together. The completed tassels are then trimmed to even the bottoms. Next, wrap the bundle together with anything you desire for wrapping as shown in the illustration.

>> Pony, Padre, Crow, or similar beads can be strung on the thong as a separator, which is then attached to the bottom of the bag and baldric. A cross-section of the three layers of broadcloth, cotton backing for anchoring the beadwork, as well as a final layer of cotton to cover the exposed stitches on the back, has been drawn with the edge binding folded over the edge and stitched into place.


Once the bag and baldric are cut from the material and basted the Once you have cut the bag and baldric from your material and basted the linings to them. Be certain that the stitches begin and end through the broadcloth and lining.

>> Sew the edge binding to the squared end of the bag that will be its opening. Be sure to sew all the way through both edges of the binding folded over the edge with short, tight stitches. At this point, fold your bag together as it will be when completed, and baste a line of thread from side-to-side along the bottom fold and the top fold where the flap will fold over. This will mark the limits of any beadwork for the flap. Keep at least Vi inch above it on the front. The thread can be pulled out when you no longer need it.

>> Begin the beadwork by drawing your design outlines onto the fabric with the pastel pencil. It will smudge and wear off as it's handled, but can be re-drawn. It's a good idea to keep the drawn lines inside whatever will be your outlining, or final rows of beads on each design element. Keep all of the design elements at least % inch from any fabric edges. This will allow for the addition your edge binding, and any other edge beading between the binding and the main body of your work.

>> Once the beadwork is completed to your satisfaction, it is time to once again cut new cotton liners for the bag and baldric. These will cover and protect all of the exposed stitches. This time, be certain the fabric print is facing outward, if it's a printed calico. Once again, baste them to the bag and baldric.

>> If you haven't already done so, cut out the tabs at each end of the baldric from the cotton liners, matching the broadcloth outline. You can now begin adding the edge binding. A good place to begin is at a tab. Start by snipping the raw cut end into a triangular point, then folding it under to the point where it meets both edges. This will make a folded end that doesn't leave a lump of material underneath. Begin and end all of your binding this way. Progress along the edge pushing the binding up against the baldric, being certain to sew all the way through, catching both edges of the binding just inside them. You may find it necessary to pin it into place temporarily in short segments as you work. As you go around the tabs, you may need to gather either the inside or outside as you work. The inside and outside curves around them will be your biggest challenge.

>> Moving to the bag, fold the front up against the back, and when satisfied of its placement, stitch it together along each side over the basting stitches done earlier. To attach the binding, cut and fold it as noted above. Beginning at a bottom corner, stitch it onto the bag working up one side, over the binding of the opening, and follow the contour of the flap all the way to the corner opposite of where you began. At this point, you can either terminate the binding in the same way you began, or elect to stitch it onto the bottom edge continuing to the starting point.

>> If edge beading is to be used, use larger 10/0 or 8/0 beads. They will be strung on carpet or linen thread, or even crochet thread. You will want to strip them off the hank strings directly over a big eye needle onto the working cord. You'll need to have it already anchored at whichever point you choose to begin. The cord can be three to five feet in length, or whatever you can manage. Strip off only one string at a time. The inner line of beads will be anchored to the binding selvage edge on the front of the pieces, catching the edge as you work, attaching the line of beads. Keep them snuggled together, and strip off more as you need them. If you edge-bead the outer edge of the binding, you will be attaching them to the binding along the outer fold. You can do this at any time. It may be something you will decide to do much later, but it's far easier to do without the tassels in your way.

>> Next, attach the tassels. How you do it is up to you. Mine are done with thin buckskin thongs covered with faceted Russian Cobalt beads pushed through and knotted in the back.

>> Finally, decide how you want to attach the bag to the baldric. Mine is done with buckskin thongs which can be untied, unattached, and reattached if as needed.

Identifying Southeastern Shoulder Bag Styles

Keep in mind nothing described here is absolute. Items were often gifted during inter-tribal councils when disputes were resolved. Items were often taken as war trophies and worn by the victor, or gifted to someone else such as a son. Therefore items made in 'Group A' could wind up in 'Group B' or ' C', then later identified as being collected from either 'B' or 'C', but not 'A', its true origin. Most American soldiers' war trophies were seemingly always taken from a fallen enemy warrior that was a chief. Most bags were made from black, red, or dark blue stroud. It's not uncommon to find a bag and baldric set of differing colors.

CHEROKEE: Most Cherokee bags closely resemble Creek and Chickasaw bags in form. Many of their floral elements more closely resemble designs from European and imported East Indian fabrics, but many are still determined to be native in origin. Many Cherokee bags have baldrics that overlap the bags on either side by 25% to 50%, with most attached along the center line of the baldric to the upper corner where the flap turns downward. Also, the baldrics tend to terminate higher on Cherokee bags, often being attached where the lobes or bifurcations branch.

CHICKASAW: Only one example is known, and is virtually identical to Creek bags. It may even be a Creek bag.

CHOCTAW: Very few examples are known. Most are rather plain, with semi-circular or rectangular flaps. Baldrics generally had rounded ends.

CREEK: Creek and Seminole bags are virtually indistinguishable. The vast majority of Creek bags are attached to the outer edge of the baldric at the upper corners where the flap begins its downward turn . The baldric is usually positioned such that the bottoms of the lobes are flush with the bottom of the bag. Most Creek baldrics have differing design elements on either half. One half being male, the the other female. The bag may or may not cany some of the same design elements as seen on the baldric.

LENAPE (DELAWARE): Included here because many of them have similar form to Cherokee bags. Their beadwork style is distinct, and easily recognized. Whereas most other Southeastern bead workers are outline contour followers, following the outer contour inward until the design element is filled in. Lenape bead workers generally didn't follow the outline contours; they generally filled design elements with rather straight parallel rows within the design outline, which was usually a single row. Orientation of the fill rows is generally consistent from element to element. Background fill between design elements generally occurred at slightly opposing angles to them. Design elements were often organic, abstract geometric patterns, most commonly with bilateral symmetry. Surfaces were usually fully beaded, with the parallel rows of fill oriented in differing directions among the differing design elements and background. Baldric tabs weren't generally integral, but commonly added later, and were often squared terminally. Ribbons were commonly used on them. Most flaps were cut straight across, and rarely covered more than a quarter of the bag's front. Some flaps were triangular akin to those of their Oklahoma Cherokee neighbors. Lenape baldrics tend to be much wider than Southeastern baldrics, often up to 7 or 8 inches in width.

SEMINOLE: Virtually indistinguishable from Creek bags, the vast majority are labeled as Creek/Seminole. Many of them have been labeled as being Seminole, then listed as something else elsewhere. Many bags attributed as being Seminole are suspiciously Cherokee in appearance especially bags in the Bristol, UK, and Ah-Tah-Thiki Museum in Clewiston, Florida.

SHAWNEE: The Shawnee were a very mobile people, the snow birds of their time; they mingled with the Lenape, Seneca, Miami, Potawatomie, Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Catawba, Yuchi, Chickasaw, and Sauk-Fox, to name a few. The Savannah (fka Shawano) River bears their name. Bags attributed to them incorporate styles of the Creek, Cherokee, and Lenape. Most of the existing bags were made after removal to Oklahoma, and exhibit outside influences both in style and form.

Fabric Layering & Binding

The beadwork is sewn to the top 2 layers A & B (the 3rd laye, C, protects the stitches from snagging).

A: Wool broadcloth front

B: Calico backing for beadwork

C: Calico stitching cover (applied after beadwork)

D: One inch edge binding wrapped and stitched through ALL layers.

Closing the bag after completing the beadwork:

1: Sew binding around the edge that will form the lip of the bag. All 3 layers (A, B, C) of fabric must be enclosed.

2: Match the freshly completed edge to point 'A' on both sides. Stitch both sides together between 'A' & 'B'.

3: Beginning at either bottom corner, sew the edging to the perimeter of the opened bag all the way around back to where you began.

Joining the 2 baldric halves in the center

Beadwork backing

Stitch protector *

Attached edge beading shown on right edge

Making tassels from yarn or Unraveled wool cloth in 4 to 5 inch lengths.

1: Gather strands together.

2: Tie all together in the center.

3: Attach whatever cord or thong you plan in use for hanging.

4: Fold over halves and wrap near top.

5: Trim and hang.

* The stitch protector is a second layer of calico backing to cover the exposed stitches on the rear of the finished beadwork. Many old pieces lacked them, contributing to conservation issues. Pieces with them have remained intact with better success rates.


Coker, William S. And Watson, Thomas D. (1986). Indian Traders of the Southeastern Spanish Borderlands. Gainesville, Florida: Panton, Leslie, & Co., and John Forbes Co., 1783-1847.

Goggin, John M. Beaded Shoulder Pouches of the Florida Seminole. Florida Anthropologist, May, J 951 Vol. IV, Nos. 1-2, pp. 2-15, Gainesville, Fl.

Sturtevant, William C. Essays on Verbal and Visual Arts. Proceedings 1966 Annual Spring Meeting American Ethnological Society, pp. 160-174;. Seattle:, University of Washington Press, 1967

Photographs from the author's collection.

Caption: Figure 1: This bag was presented to Cdr. Anthony Breath by Billy Bowlegs on October 18, 1859, as he boarded the steamer that took him away from Florida. Made by one of Billy's wives, the simple applique beadwork of diamonds with recurved terminal bars is repeated throughout all elements. It consists of only three colors-white, transparent bottle green, and a translucent turquoise color on red strouding. The bags were designed as dress versions of the plain buckskin shot pouches used during everyday wear. These were reserved for warfare or formal occasions, depicting magic charms, medicine, or clan affiliation in their design elements.

Caption: Figure 4: The opened "Bowlegs" bag and baldric, from the photo above, is edged in black twilled wool tape known as 'military edging' or today, as 'Fox Braid'. Both the bag and back side of the baldric are lined with calico. The tassel cords are covered with hand faceted Russian Cobalt beads, difficult and expensive to find today. The tassels are made from unraveled strouding. Other than the flap and opening, the bag itself has no contrasting border. Photograph in the author's collection.

Caption: Figure 2: Bag from the Reeves collection featuring red strouding applique over black, then outlined with white.

Caption: Figure 3 (above): Twined bag of indigo and red wool overlaid with white bead applique, c. 1815. The fingerwoven sash of red and black incorporates white as an integral part of the fingerweaving.

Caption: Figure 4 (below): Cherokee bag c. 1825. Note how the baldric overlaps the bag.

Caption: Figure 5: Lenape (Delaware) bag, c. 1850.

Caption: Figure 6 (above): Chickasaw bag c. 1820s, with an overlapping baldric.

Caption: Figure 7 (below): Creek, c. 1830. The bag has a fully-beaded half yellow and half black background baldric with medium blue zigzags on either side of the central stripes in the tabs.

Caption: Figure 8 (above): Shawnee bag, c. 1840. It has open pink diamonds on the tabs of one baldric end, medium blue on the other.

Caption: Figure 9 (below): Creek bag, c. 1820s has two different lining colors on the baldric joined at its center.

Caption: Figure 10: Seminole bag with a red baldric.

Caption: Figure 11: Seminole bag with a black baldric and with a seam in the liner at its center.

Caption: Figure 12 (below): Seminole bag attributed to Neamathla, c. 1820-1840. The bag is black, the baldric navy blue.

Caption: Figure 13: Creek bag showing limited color use, c. 1820. The bag features only three-colors used in the beadwork-pink, white, and green. The edging on the bag may have been pink or rose that has altered to a salmon color. The baldric was edged in golden yellow. Of curious note are the pompoms in place of tassels at the apices of bifurcated tabs, and the use of buttons at the baldric's attachment points. The tassels are red and blue unraveled strouding.

Caption: Figure 14: Creek bag, c. 1830. features bars with recurved ends. The black edging on the baldric has been cut and folded to produce serrated edges which are in turn bordered with blue and white beads. Only two bead colors were used on this bag-blue and white. Most of the black silk edging on the bag has either been eaten by moths, or rotted away giving the appearance of having little more than white edge beading. The tassels are red and blue yarn, perhaps replacements.

Caption: Six Most Common Baldric Terminations by Percentage of Distribution
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Author:Thompson, M.E.
Publication:Whispering Wind
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2017
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