baxoje, the ioway nation, resources on the ioway or iowa indian tribe

Ioway Cultural Institute : The Ioway Virtual Library

Sacred Bundles of the Ioway Indians,
By Lance Michael Foster
(© 1994-2001, All Rights Reserved)

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 1924).


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 A large amount of unpublished data (such as those excerpts) regarding the Ioway is found in Dorsey's papers at the Smithsonian.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 Arts.

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 inventory.

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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