Bandolier Bags are based on bags carried by European soldiers armed with rifles, who used the bags to store ammunition cartridges. While Bandolier Bags were made by different tribes and First Nations across the Great Lakes and Prairie regions, they differ in appearance. The stylistic differences are the result of personal preference as much contact with Europeans and Euro-Americans, goods acquired in trade, and travel.

Bandolier Bag, Lenape (Delaware tribe, Oklahoma), c. 1850 C.E., hide, cotton cloth, silk ribbon, glass beads, wool yarn, metal cones, 68 x 47 cm (National Museum of the American Indian, New York)
Bandolier Bag, Lenape (Delaware tribe, Oklahoma), c. 1850 C.E., hide, cotton cloth, silk ribbon, glass beads, wool yarn, metal cones, 68 x 47 cm (National Museum of the American Indian, New York)

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York City has a wonderful example of a Bandolier Bag, most likely made by a Lenape artist (the Lenape are part of the Delaware tribe or First Nation, who lived along the Delaware River and parts of what is today New York State).²

Bandolier Bags (like this one) are often large in size and decorated with a wide array of colorful beads and ribbons. They are worn as a cross-body bag, with a thick strap crossing a person’s chest to allow it to rest on the hip.

These bags were especially popular in the late nineteenth century in the Eastern or Woodlands region, which comprised parts of what is today Canada and the United States. The Woodlands area encompasses the Great Lakes Region and terrain east of the Mississippi River. This enormous geographic area has a long, complex history including the production of objects we today recognize as “art,” that date back more than 4,000 years.

The Eastern Woodlands (on the map above "Northeast" and "Southeast") extended roughly from the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern Great Plains, and from the Great Lakes region to the Gulf of Mexico.
The Eastern Woodlands (on the map above “Northeast” and “Southeast”) extended roughly from the Atlantic Ocean to the eastern Great Plains, and from the Great Lakes region to the Gulf of Mexico.

Bandolier Bags were created across this vast expanse of land, and the NMAI has examples from the Upper Great Lakes region and Oklahoma. Due to events and laws like the Indian Removal Act of 1830 (signed by President Andrew Jackson), the Lenape were forcibly removed from these ancestral lands and relocated to areas of Oklahoma, Wisconsin, and Ontario, Canada. Despite these traumatic relocations, tribes like the Lenape continued to create objects as they had in ancestral lands. Bandolier bags are one example of this continued artistic production.

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