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ca. 1860’S – 1870’S  EARLY SOUTHERN PLAINS – POSSIBLY COMANCHE OR EASTERN APACHE – PAINTED BUFFALO HIDE SHOULDER BAG – PARFLECHE STYLE WITH VIVID HEAVILY PAINTED PANELS – BEAUTIFULLY AGED PIECE IN EXCELLENT CONDITION:  Discovered hanging in an out of the way forgotten corner of a very old collection, this early Southern Plains Shoulder Bag is a spectacular example of the native painted art which was executed on buffalo hide.   

The very subtle differences in the tribal designs and colors incorporated in painted hide pieces make identifying a piece to a particular tribe a challenge.  That the origin of so many of these pieces was not recorded at the time of acquisition has further frustrated attempts to attribute surviving pieces to a specific tribe.   

Still, certain constants of characteristics, design elements, and combinations of colors have been gleaned from the artifacts for which acquisition records do exist, and through comparison to these known specimens, tentative identification of pieces such as this bag can be made.  Gaylord Torrance has provided an excellent reference with the publication of his seminal work, The American Indian Parfleche which provides numerous examples of painted hide pieces from a wide spectrum of the western tribes.   

This Shoulder Bag appears to have originated with either the Comanche or the Eastern Apache.  The style of the painting on this bag seems most consistent with known specimens from both of these tribes.  In particular, the green claw-like stripes which accent the edges of the elements emanating from the central red star on the flap of this bag (see detail photo below) are very much like similar claw-like elements on Comanche rawhide cases featured in Torrance’s work.  These claw-like elements seem to be unique to Comanche pieces, and in some cases they appear in Eastern Apache pieces, especially those of the Jicarilla, Mescalero, and Lipan who were regularly present on the Southern Plains and shared many cultural traits with the Comanche.   

From all appearances of the weight and grain of the hide used to fashion this bag, I am quite certain it is native tanned buffalo hide.  The hide is as thick as you would expect buffalo hide to be, and it is fairly stiff – more so than the soft hides used for beaded tipi bags, but not quite as hard as a classic parfleche.  I suspect that some of this stiffness is the result of the normal aging process, but it is also possible that the hide was never tanned “buckskin soft” in order that it provide a heartier carrier to protect the contents from the weather.   

As you view the photographs below, you will note that duplicate views of the entire length of the strap and bag, and the isolated view of the body and flap of the bag have been provided – one view of each which highlights the colors of the paint, and a second view which shows the bag as having a darkened brown hue.  The photos of the bag showing this darkened hue is how the bag appears in natural light with no enhancement.  This darkening is the natural result of exposure to the environmental affects of wood smoke, weather, and storage.  When viewed in person, the colors are plainly visible, but in order for the photographs to show the color and pattern of the hide painting I had to enhance the light and contrast.  So, in addition to the enhanced photos, I included the two views which show the bag as it appears in ambient light, and without any enhancement in natural light, the painted design is plainly legible.   

This is a large bag, having an overall length of 38” (including the strap) and the body of the bag - measuring over 11” wide and 9” deep - was certainly intended to carry a substantial load while away from the home lodge or encampment.  Perhaps a bag a warrior would use for dried meat, extra moccasins or other necessities when leaving on a hunting or raiding expedition.   

The components of the bag consist of the carrying strap, a two piece body – front and back, the covering flap sewn to the top of the back panel, and a bottom trim panel sewn into the bottom seam of the body.  All of the sewing is executed with thick sinew.   

The painted sections include the outer surface of the entire strap, the entire solid panel of the flap, and the top of the decorative panel sewn into the bottom seam of the body.  The front and back panels of the body of the bag are unpainted.    

The strap is 21 ¼” long on each side of the top bend, is ¾” wide, and the two fringed decorative pieces on the strap are 7” long.   

The body of the bag is 11 ½” wide and 9” deep, is fashioned from two pieces of hide, and is stitched together on both sides and across the bottom.     

Inserted into the bottom seam of the body is a painted and fringed hide panel – the painted section is arched to match the arch on the flap trim and measures 2” long at the center and 3” long at the edges.  The integral fringe on this panel is 5” long at the center and 6” long at the edges. 

The cover flap is 12” wide, and consists of an upper solid painted section and a lower integral fringed section.  The division between the solid panel and the fringe is arched in the same manner as the panel below the body of the bag.  The painted section of the flap is 5” long at the center and 6” long at the edges and the fringed section of the flap is likewise 5” in the center and 6” long on the edges

Overall, the entire bag, strap and fringe included, is in excellent condition with no excessive wear, no damage, and no holes from use or wear.  There is one hole on the back panel of the bag which appears to have been original to the skinning and tanning process and which was plugged at the time the bag was made, as is so often seen in other pieces requiring large sections of hide.   

Due to the normal wear and tear of daily living, the nomadic life style led by the Plains Tribes, and the devastatingly violent encounters with the U.S. Army and the European settlers, the majority of the pre-reservation material simply did not survive.  While some of these pre-reservation pieces were collected by the early explorers and some was salvaged from captured villages by officers and soldiers prior to putting the remainder to the torch in accordance with the political will of the country at that time, the majority of those pieces now reside in museum collections and are not available to the private collecting community.   

At the same time, the buffalo herds were being hunted to extinction by the commercial hunters, and eventually this most necessary and basic of material – buffalo hide – was no longer available to the Southern Plains Peoples, eliminating their ability to replace those pieces which wore out or were destroyed.  Eventually, this coincidence of circumstances resulted in making early pieces such as this bag very rare on the collector’s market.   

This is a very special painted bag from the tribes who inhabited the mid-19TH Century Southern Plains and one that would be difficult to improve upon.  (0502)  $9500

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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