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Lace-Making Among the Indians


By Jane W. Guthrie
HE industries of all peoples are that it may in time assume large pro-

interesting from the ethical point portions.

of view; but an industry which The story of its inception is most interbecomes a great civilizing force should be esting. suggestive not alone to the student of Bishop Whipple, who has labored among scientific and ethnological conditions, but the Indians of Minnesota for more than to women interested in the problems of forty years, has always deplored the evils social advance and industrial developnient of reservation life and faulty governin the home.

mental conditions, has preached and It is generally conceded by sociologists taught the demand for some stimulating, that no real National advancement in elevating work for the women of the America is possible so long as the rights tribes, and the necessity for contact in of red man and black are neglected; and some manner with the great world outthis thought, felt in its deepest significance side of the limited area allotted. by one woman, brought about the lace- Miss Sibyl Carter, who was deeply making industry among the Indians on interested in missionary work among the the reservations in Minnesota.

Indians, was impressed by these views So successful has this been that the and determined to make an effort to art is now taught on many other reserva- ameliorate, if possible, the condition of tions, notably those in Oklahoma, Wyo- these helpless women. ming, and Dakota, and there is a possibility While traveling in Japan, she saw the with the simplest forms of pillow or bobbin lace.


No one, probably, but Miss Carter herself knows how much faith, hope, and energy was required in the effort. There are few who could so persistently struggle through the trials of those first months, for regularity in attendance was something unknown; but patience and example soon induced industry.

The wonderful results of two years' work made possible the opening of schools in the mission houses at Red Lake, Wild Rice Lake, and Leech Lake, in northern Minnesota; and, requests coming from the Sioux, or

Dakotas, of southern MinneA LACE CENTERPIECE

sota, a school was estab

lished at Birch Coolíe among native women working at lace-making; a those Indians, some of whom had known noticeable similarity, in some respects, all the terrible tale of the New Ulm between the Japanese and the North massacre in 1862. Ten short years have American Indian, and the remembrance worked wonders. It is shown that the of the patient industry with which the women are capable of great and sustained Indian woman uses crude materials in her effort, that they have powers of idealizabarbaric arts, suggested to Miss Carter the tion and the gift of inventiveness, proidea of teaching her the work which ducing, in some cases, new stitches and seemed so suited to the energies and originating designs in both lace and capacities of her Japanese sister.

embroidery. Miss Carter taught herself to make lace, These qualities are readily recognized using, as she says, books as guides and by those familiar with the basketry, American perseverance as an aid; when blankets, bead, and porcupine work of the she felt proficient in the art, she started Indian, a study of which shows the presto teach others.

ence of deep artistic feeling and the use Securing permission from Bishop Whip- of what is just at hand in the suggestions ple, she went to White Earth, in the of nature. The women

come now and Ojibway Reservation, in 1890, and there beg for work and teachers; they realize began the work which she felt would be the elevating influence of daily toil and successful, once confidence and attention the dignity of labor for self-support-one were secured.

of the fundamental necessities of the social By nursing in the hospital, teaching in structure. the mission, and visiting among the fami- The work is remunerative. Ten cents lies she soon familiarized the women with an hour is paid for steady labor; the genher ideas and plans.

eral average is a dollar a day, but a very Inducing a few to come for instruction, skillful and rapid needlewoman makes the little log cabin in the wilds of Minne- sometimes as much as twelve or fifteen sota became the scene of a most interest. dollars a week in summer-time. ing experiment, for here Miss Carter Comfort thus becomes a possibility in taught her first twelve Indian pupils, and some of those teepees and log cabins; some of those who afterward became her cleanliness is a necessity, for not only assistants, how to make lace, beginning must the work be kept absolutely spotless


to insure sale, but the surroundings of for the memorial window bearing her the needlewoman must be such as to make name was earned by the sale of frogs' legs this possible.

in the St. Paul market. The beautiful bedspreads made at Birch The lace made on the Ojibway ReservaCoolie are of pillow or bobbin lace. tion is essentially different from that made These have been bought by Mrs. Pierpont at Birch Coolíe, and both are unlike the Morgan, Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt, Mrs. work done in Oklahoma, where the women Bayard Cutting, and other wealthy women make the exquisite old-fashioned cut-work. interested in the work. They sell for two This is put together to form bedspreads hundred and fifty dollars and upward. and other articles with insertions made at There, too, have been made the insertions Birch Coolíe, the designs for which are for tea-cloths and bedspreads, the beau- taken from rare old Italian, Venetian, and tiful empire lamp-shade with Indian figures Flemish laces in the Metropolitan Museum in canoes in design—all of which have of Art in New York City. been sent to the World's Fair at Paris. The needle point and English point are

The Dakota Indians prairie made on the Ojibway Reservation at White Indians, while the Ojibway Indians are Earth, Wild Rice River, Red Lake, and forest Indians. The Dakotas have been Leech Lake. They are known as Honiton, associated with civilized life for a longer Princess, and Battenberg. The lace made period than the forest Indians, and it of the fine braids and threads is Honiton would seem that the arts of civilization and Princess, the heavy braids and coarse might more readily appeal to them; but threads are Battenberg; the various dethis is not demonstrated in the lace-work. signs being known as Russian and BelThe women of each tribe take up the art gian. The price obtained for this lace is with a strenuous desire to help themselves the guarantee of its excellence. It is not and their people which is almost pathetic. alone the fact that there is a sort of There is so much of interest at the Birch romantic interest attached to laces made Coolíe Mission besides the lace-work. by Indian women in rude wigwams which

The pretty little church of St. Cornelia insures sale, but the exquisite quality would is built upon the site of the massacre of command a price anywhere. 1862, on land earned by the daily toil of The narrowest laces made cost fifty Good Thunder, the patriarch and coun- cents a yard ; lace six inches wide is anyselor of the tribe, and donated by him where from twelve to twenty dollars a yard ; for this purpose. It is named for the first doilies are a dollar and a dollar and a wife of Bishop Whipple, and the money half; handkerchiefs from three dollars

up; centerpieces for the table, ten to twenty dollars and up.

Some of the most beautiful laces are those made for ecclesiastical purposes, for though the Christian Indian has a simple faith and knows the great truths of Christianity untouched by twentieth century subtleties, he has a vein of mysticism in him, a deep love of symbo

lism which demands the 600

outward form of an inner faith.

This work, then, carries a spiritual as well as an artistic suggestion, and, appealing to the



power of idealization as the awakening break; but while all the Chippewa Indians consciousness of the race, makes such felt the injustice of their treatment, the lace beautifully perfect in handiwork. Pillager tribe were instrumental in fomentThe lace is disposed of entirely through ing strife. These Indians are real savMiss Carter's personal efforts to patrons ages yet, being exceedingly suspicious and who have ordered it, or her committees conservative. They are called “blanket sell it under the auspices of churches Indians ” because they refuse to give up in New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, their savage dress or conform in any de Cincinnati, and the smaller cities.

gree to the habits of civilized life. They In a box of finished work sent out one succeeded in ambushing General Bacon's can find the tiniest edges for daintiest troops on Bear's Island, in Leech Lake, baby-clothes, wide laces costing eight and where Major Wilkinson and some of his ten dollars a yard for decorative purposes, men were killed. It was altogether a and that to put upon“ my lady's "apparel, most deplorable affair. Here, too, is the filmy and fine as a cobweb.

tract which is desired for a forest reserve, There, too, are boleros, lace jackets, insuring, should the Government grant berthas, fichus, vest-fronts, table and tea the petition, a perpetual home for the red cloths—all the lovely, exquisitely fine and man, where he will be untroubled by the beautiful things into which common linen grasping demands of the lumber speculator. thread can be fashioned by hands of skill- Many of the young men and women on ful needlewomen.

this reservation have been educated either The lace now pays for itself, but the at the reservation or Government schools, money for fuel in the schools, the salaries but it is not the young woman alone who of teachers, etc., is all raised by Miss excels in lace-making. Many an old Carter.

squaw, bent with age and the cares of When one realizes that last autumn wild life, to whom existence is a struggle, Miss Carter sent a box of lace, made on can show the most deft and dainty handithe Chippewa Reservation in Minnesota, work. She who has learned and practiced to Honolulu, and sold it there, the sig- the arts of basketry, bead-work, porcupinenificance of the charity may be better quill dyeing, and weaving can produce understood.

lace equal to that made by the most skilled After the pupil has thoroughly mastered Flemish worker. pillow or bobbin lace, she is taught point Miss Carter says: “ Have we gravely lace; and when she becomes proficient, or considered the necessity of work for daily has a family to care for, she is allowed to wages for these poor people ? On one take the work home. Some of the skill- occasion an Ojibway woman walked eightful workers live many miles away from een miles to White Earth to beg for a the Sa-sha ba-se-que, or lace-making wo- lace teacher, saying: “There are many man. Through the forest, over frozen widows where I live, many little chillakes in winter, the lace-maker trudges to dren. We no work, we have no bread, the Rhor-do-ke-gan, or workroom, carry- nobody buy bead-work any more. Give ing her precious bundle of finished work us your white work, so all white sisters next her heart, with fond anticipations of buy, pay us money, then we take care well-earned money. One of the most all little children, buy bread, buy clean interesting of the northern schools is at clothes.' I asked her where her husband Leech Lake, where Miss Pauline Colby She said : “He cut wood, tree fall is stationed. She is one of Miss Carter's on him, kill him. You give work, I take most efficient aids. During the insurrec- care children.' I did give her the work tion in October, 1898, she was urged to she craved, and she made good her offer leave, but stayed bravely at her post to care for her children. I know it is through all the trouble, and tells with good to give garments to the needy, and pride that no mission Indian took part in that it is well to educate young Indians; the insurrection.

but one foundation-stone of society is daily One must go into United States history work. It brings daily bread, and I often to get at the causes which induced the out- feel it should precede education."


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No flaunting rose, howe'er gaudy her gala dress,

Crimson, or perfect in pink or in white,
Shall e'er supplant thee, or cause me to love thee less,

Sturdy wee blossom, so fair to my sight.
Photograph by J. Horace McFarland.

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