Plateau Basketry: Cornhusk Bags

cornhuskbag01a
Cornhusk bag, Nez Perce? (side one)
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cornhuskbag01b
Cornhusk bag, Nez Perce? (side two)
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cornhuskbag02a
Cornhusk bag, Nez Perce? (side one)
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cornhuskbag02b
Cornhusk bag, Nez Perce? (side two)
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cornhuskbag03a
Cornhusk bag (side one)
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cornhuskbag03b
Later style cornhusk bag (side one)
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cornhuskbag04a
Cornhusk bag (side two)
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cornhuskbag04b
Later style cornhusk bag (side two)
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cornhuskbag06a
Cornhusk wallet, Nez Perce? (side one)
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cornhuskbag06b
Cornhusk wallet, Nez Perce? (side two)
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cornhuskbag07a
Early style cornhusk bag, Cayuse (side one)
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cornhuskbag07b
Early style cornhusk bag, Cayuse (side two)
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cornhuskbag08a
Early style cornhusk bag, Chelan (side one)
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cornhuskbag08b
Early style cornhusk bag, Chelan (side two)
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cornhuskbag09a
Early style cornhusk bag, Wishram (side one)
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cornhuskbag09b
Early style cornhusk bag, Wishram (side two)
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cornhuskbag10a
Cornhusk bag, Cayuse (side one)
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cornhuskbag10b
Cornhusk bag, Cayuse (side two)
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cornhuskbag11a
Cornhusk bag, Umatilla (side one)
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cornhuskbag11b
Cornhusk bag, Umatilla (side two)
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cornhuskbag12a
Cornhusk pouch belt, Bannock
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cornhuskbag12b
Cornhusk pouch belt, Bannock (detail)
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cornhuskbag13a
Cornhusk bag, Cayuse (side one)
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cornhuskbag13b
Cornhusk bag, Cayuse (side two)
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cornhuskbag14a
Cornhusk bag, Yakama? (side one)
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cornhuskbag14b
Cornhusk bag, Yakama? (side two)
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cornhuskbag15a
Cornhusk bag, later style (side one)
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cornhuskbag15b
Cornhusk bag, later style (side two)
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Cornhusk bag, later style (side one)
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cornhuskbag16b
Cornhusk bag, later style (side two)
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View the entire gallery or click on the above images to enlarge.

Seasonal moves to river fishing camps, root gathering fields, mountain berry patches, and winter villages present the problem of transporting and storing food and personal belongings. On the Columbia Plateau, soft twined bags were essential for native peoples like the Nez Perce, Yakama, Umatilla, and others. Because of the labor and skill involved in their construction and design, and the beauty of the finished pieces, these baskets were prized possessions, passed on from tribe to tribe, family to family, and from one generation to the next.

Usually twined from the peeled, cured, and hand spun fibers of dogbane or silkweed (Apocynum cannabinum), the bags were decorated with contrasting-colored plant fibers. As Euroamericans began to settle in the region, new materials became available. As early as the 1830s, husks of corn were used as decorative overlay, and worsted wool yarn was probably introduced in the 1880s, along with aniline dyes to expand the available range of colors. Smaller purses were added to the repertoire.

Shown here is a sample of “cornhusk” bags from the MNCH collections. Both sides are included to show their contrasting designs. Photography by Chris White, text by Pam Endzweig, and web development by Keith Hamm. Images © UO Museum of Natural and Cultural History. Production of this gallery was generously supported by The Ford Family Foundation.