Tobacco Bag

UnknownLate 19th century

Cincinnati Art Museum

Cincinnati Art Museum

The tobacco bag formed an important personal accessory for the Native American inhabitants of the western Plains. For Indian men, the act of smoking tobacco was a sacred activity, marking an occasion when spiritual guidance was needed. Pipe smoking was a means of communicating with the spirits; tobacco smoke was believed to carry one’s prayers to the Creator. In customary fashion, this tubular bag was designed to hold both tobacco and the stone bowl of the pipe, when not in use.

On the basis of its ornamented decoration we can assign this bag may to the Cheyenne peoples of the southern Plains. The Cheyenne favored triangular designs outlined by stepped contours. The long deerskin fringe is also characteristic of their workmanship.

The bag’s beaded designs feature an hourglass motif alternating with triangles, both common motifs in the Cheyenne artistic repertoire. The crosses within the hourglass are sacred symbols, marking the four cardinal directions. At the top of the front panel are two beaded dragonflies, creatures the Cheyenne admired for their speed, agility, and ability to conceal themselves; these traits formed valued characteristics in Indian warrior society. As is typical for this culture, the beaded color combinations on this bag change from front to back, incorporating the colors white, yellow, blue, and red.

This container belonged to a collection of Indian artifacts assembled in the late nineteenth century by a retired army officer, General Manning Ferguson Force (1824-1899). A practicing attorney and distinguished appellate court judge, M.F. Force also possessed a keen scholarly interest in Indian culture, a subject on which he lectured at the Ohio Historical Society and the Cincinnati Literary Club.

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  • Title: Tobacco Bag
  • Creator: Unknown
  • Date Created: Late 19th century
  • Location: United States, Plains Region (Southern Cheyenne)
  • Physical Dimensions: 18 1/8 x 5 1/16 in. (46 x 12.9 cm)
  • Credit Line: Gift of General M.F. Force
  • Accession Number: 1894.1243
  • Type: Costume and Accessory
  • Medium: Naïve tanned hide, glass beads, porcupine quills, tin cones, sinew thread, and pigment


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