Round Twined Root-gathering Bag
Wasco-Wishram; late 18th- to early 19th century
H: 30.5 cm D: 15 cm
The Peale Museum ledger describes "a bag prepared of
grass by the Pishquilpahs on the Columbia River." Willoughby
believed that this twined, cylindrical basket was one that
Lewis and Clark acquired from one of the Penutian-speaking
tribes living along the banks of the Columbia. It may
represent the oldest documented Wasco-Wishram basketry
article in any museum collection.
Along their route to the Pacific, Lewis and Clark often
relied on food obtained from native people. Sometimes,
berries and roots were presented to them in woven baskets.
Soon after they reached the Columbia in 1805, they met with
Yelleppit, the Great Chief of the Walla Walla, who welcomed
them with a large basket of mashed berries. Baskets were
among the most numerous articles in Columbia River
households at this time. They were used for many purposes
including gathering, transportation and storage. The finest
Northwest baskets were passed from one family to another
through memorials, weddings, gifts, and trade.
Mid-Columbia basket makers produced their baskets in the
winter when both food-gathering and food-processing were
over and families had returned to their winter lodges.
Wasco-Wishram women sat on mats facing the sunrise as they
worked soft vegetable fiber into twined circular baskets,
also called "Sally" bags.
In spring and early summer, Mid-Columbia women tied the
soft baskets on the right side of their waists and walked up
into the mountains above the river to dig and gather large
quantities of roots that were then stored for winter
consumption. In early April, women harvested roots for the
Root Feast, a ceremony held to honor and thank the Creator
for the reappearance of nature's bounty. Round twined bags
were also used to gather medicine, acorns, hazelnuts, and
mushrooms, and to store personal belongings. When full of
harvested material, they represented a gift of life from
nature, a symbol of the earth's great capacity to provide
for human beings.
This bag is covered with a design of stylized
diamond-shaped human heads lying on their sides in close
wrap-twining. Each diamond is enclosed within another
diamond connected to its adjacent diamond in a grid-like
pattern. A column of open diamonds contains figures of dogs
with their tails up.
In the Wasco-Wishram belief system, dogs are situated
half-way between humans and animals. The open diamonds that
contain images of dogs arranged vertically on one side of
the basket stress the Wasco-Wishram's belief in a cosmos
organized on a vertical axis with dogs at the center, an
intermediate position that enables them to travel through
different zones of the universe. In that sense, they are
seen as being helpful to humans.
From "Ethnography of Lewis and Clard", Peabody Museum of
Archaeology and Ethnology, Harvard University.