Iman family notes




Larger detail (83k)


Round Twined Root-gathering Bag

Wasco-Wishram; late 18th- to early 19th century
Vegetable fiber
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.