Beads - Small
spheres or cylinders with a hole, which were strung on threads or attached
to fabrics. Before the colonists brought over glass and porcelain
beads, almost every tribe of Indians used some form of this decoration.
Beads were made from many kinds of mineral substances, including quartz,
turquoise, soapstone, and copper; from the stems and roots of plants; from
nuts and berries; shell, bone, horn, teeth, and claws of animals; and even
the beaks of some birds, and claws of eagles and hawks. The Eskimo
used walrus ivory and teeth of various animals. In Virginia a cheap
kind of bead, called roanoke, was made from the clamshell.
The claws of the bear and teeth of the elk were highly prized.
Beads were worn in the hair as a decoration
or hung in strings from the ears, on the neck, arms, wrists, waist, and
lower limbs. They were attached to bark, wood, or buckskin; were
woven into belts; and were used to cover leggings, headdresses, moccasins,
and other articles of dress. As ceremonial pledges, or wampum, they
were used in councils of war and peace, also as money. In many instances
vast quantities were buried with the dead.
In the early part of the last century a
large china bead call the "pony bead" was popular among the Plains Indians.
It was made in Venice, italy, and was known as the pony bead because it
was brought overland by pony pack trains. This bead was about twice
the size of the "seed bead" which was introduced later, in 1840.
The pony beads were first used on bands to decorate skin robes, shirts,
pipe bags, cradles, saddlebags, moccasins, and the headbands on war bonnets.
The seed bead was used for finer work and soon the pony bead disappeared
from use. About 1870 the translucent beads became popular with the
Indians, and fifteen years later they worked with glass beads. which were
colored silver or gilt and cut with facets.
The great period of Indian beadwork flourished
between 1860 and 1900. Experts on beadwork can tell the date when
an article was made by the type of beads used as well as by the coloring
of some of the beads. many Plains Indians made a long tubular bone
bead which was used on breastplates, and which traders duplicated and termed
within this Site
and Pouches ][ Breastplate ][ Costume
Sheath ][ Moccasin ][ Papoose
][ Porcupine ][ Quillwork
][ Roanoke ][ Sinew
][ Wampum ][ Women ]