Chapter 2: Literature and Museum Search
Literature Search: Sacred bundles
Sacred bundles, also called medicine bundles or sacred packs, are important
elements of material culture in the belief systems of many Native American
tribes, especially those of the Prairie-Plains and the Eastern Woodlands. Here,
it is important to define what is meant by a sacred bundle or a medicine bundle.
I will use Hanson's definition as an appropriate one:
A medicine bundle is defined as an object or set of objects which (1) is
kept in wrappings when not in use; (2) serves as a repository for the transfer
of supernatural power; (3) has its origin in individual visions or complex
myths, either of which imposes rules of ritual use and care; (4) is acquired
through visions or other institutionalized means; and (5) may or may not be
transferable (Hanson 1980: 200).
It is also important to realize that the very terms "sacred" or "medicine" or
"bundle" (etc.) are non-Native American concepts. The Ioway terms for these
"sacred bundles" will gradually be illuminated. For now, we shall content
ourselves with the alien terms.
A lot has been written about sacred bundles, especially those bundle systems
associated with tribes of the Plains, Prairie, and western Great Lakes areas.
General treatments include Hultkrantz (1973), Richert (1969), Sidoff (1977), and
Hanson (1977, 1980), while a few of the many tribal-specific treatments include
examples from the Arikara (Howard 1974), the Crow (Wildschut 1960), the
Blackfeet (Wissler 1912), and the "Sac and Fox" (Harrington 1914). Most of the
early ethnographies of the tribes of the Midwest include descriptions of bundle
systems, including works on the Omaha (Fletcher and La Flesche 1972), the
Winnebago (Radin 1990), the Pawnee (Murie 1914), and the Potawatomi (Skinner
The Ioway in the literature
Most of the material on the Ioway in Dorsey's "Siouan Cults" (1894: 423-430)
was taken from the earlier work of missionary William Hamilton (Dorsey 1894:
423), primarily excerpts from Hamilton's diary in the 1840s. A large amount of
unpublished data (such as those excerpts) regarding the Ioway is found in
Dorsey's papers at the Smithsonian.
Alanson Skinner is the major ethnographer of the Ioway. The bundle system of
the Ioway is discussed in Skinner (1915, 1925, 1926) and mentioned by Dorsey,
who derived much of his information from the diaries of a missionary to the
Ioway in the mid-1800s, William Hamilton.
Hamilton and his co-missionary Samuel Irvin also wrote a few articles on the
Ioway in the late 1800s, including one on Ioway bundles (Irvin 1871). M. R.
Harrington also wrote articles on some of the Ioway objects he collected, and
his unpublished notes include invaluable data (Harrington n.d.). Early historic
accounts of travellers contain some incidental references to Ioway bundles and
their ideological context. The most useful of these include the accounts by
Rudolph Kurz (Hewitt 1936), George Catlin (Donaldson 1886), Lewis Henry Morgan
(White 1959), and Paul Wilhelm of Württemberg (Lottinville 1973).
Some scholars of Indian arts have used Ioway examples in their studies, most
of which are descriptive or pictorial rather than analytical. These scholars
include John Ewers (1981, 1986), Norman Feder (1965, 1971), William Orchard
(1971), David Penney (1992), and Harold Peterson (1971).
Extensive archaeological work on the Oneota culture (an archaeological
manifestation tied to the protohistoric Ioway) and its material expressions has
been a popular theme in midwestern archaeology since the 1930s. Citations of
Oneota literature are given in chapter three. Recently, a major conference on
the Oneota was held (March 1994); some thoughts resulting from that discussion
will be given in this paper's conclusion.
The major recent ethnohistoric work on the Ioway, by Martha Royce Blaine
(1979), includes some of the work done by Skinner as well as earlier work by
Dorsey and accounts of early travellers. Other ethnohistorical accounts are
given by Anderson (1973a, 1973b), Meyer (1962), and Miner (1911).
Recently, a renewed interest in material culture as text and symbol has
caused some scholars to attempt to work with old museum collections. Hall
examined the symbolism of the calumet and the club, using Ioway examples among
others (1977, 1982, 1983, 1989).
Museum Search: Museums with Ioway collections
The literature search also supplied the museums which were reported to have
Ioway material in their collections, such as Skinner (1926) on the Milwaukee
Public Museum, Skinner (1926), Feder (1971), and others on the Museum of the
American Indian (Heye Foundation), and Penney (1992) on the Detroit Institute of
Other museums in the midwest were contacted on the chance that geographic
association with the Ioway homeland might have resulted in Ioway artifacts in
their collections. Some of these did pay off, like the Saint Joseph Museum (St.
Joseph, Missouri), while others did not. Of course it is true that some items
have probably been misattributed; some unidentified artifacts may be Ioway,
someattributed to other tribes may be Ioway, and some items attributed as Ioway
may not be Ioway. It was decided to proceed on the basis of the attribution
supplied by museums.
The original goal was to do the study on the entire range of Ioway material
culture, including the bundles, but the amount of data compelled a narrowing of
the focus to sacred bundles only. Bundles were selected because they best embody
the material representation of the old-time Ioway religious system. Written
inquiries to the various museums suggested by the literature search resulted in
the following replies.
The American Museum of Natural History (New York, New York) reported that the
museum had 25 Iowa specimens collected by Skinner in 1914, and 2 given to them
by Lt. Emmons in 1906. The museum did not list the types of specimens in their
collection, and did not reply to further inquiries.
Only one Ioway artifact was reported to be at the Denver Art Museum, a
celtiform-bladed "otter" club, pictured in Conn (1979: 116).
The Detroit Institute of Arts had 18 Ioway artifacts, among them a pipe and a
woven bag, but no bundles. Some of their Ioway items, mostly from the collection
of Milford Chandler, are described in Penney (1992).
The Milwaukee Public Museum had approximately 300 Ioway items (some of which
were actually bundle components), ranging from items of clothing and implements
to religious articles, including 23 bundles.
The Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, has the largest
collection of Ioway material culture, with about 307 artifacts reported. The
artifacts include a wide range of artifacts, including clothing, bundles, pipes,
and various implements. There were 35 bundles listed in their computer
Surprisingly, the National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian
Institution, Washington, D.C.) had only six artifacts attributed to the Ioway,
but none of them were bundles.
The Saint Joseph Museum (St. Joseph, Missouri) listed eight Ioway objects,
including two bundles, a "snake lodge bundle" and a "beaver lodge bundle."
After the museum search, I decided that, based on limited funding (my meager
savings), my proximity to Milwaukee, and its large Ioway collection, that it
would be the most appropriate and useful museum to visit. Two visits were made
in the spring of 1993.
The first visit was videotaped, and a quick inventory was made. The second
visit concentrated on resolving contradictions uncovered in reviewing the first
visit, through examination of Skinner's correspondence and the original
accession catalog. It was later found that at least one bundle had not been
sufficiently described, but limitations of time and funding prevented my return
to the museum.
The Museum of the American Indian would also have been a good collection to
visit. Unfortunately, due to financial and time constraints, as well as other
factors like the reorganization of the museum, its move to new facilities in the
Bronx (New York City), and its linkage with the Smithsonian, I was unable to
personally examine the collection at the Heye Foundation.
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