While Native Americans
have been decorating their articles (clothing, moccasins, bags, cradles) with quills for centuries, they switched to using
beads after their contact with Europeans because beads came in more
colors, were easier to work with, and lasted longer.
Where did the glass beads
Glass beads were
introduced to the Plains Peoples by the European settlers
who came out west for the fur trade. In exchange for animal
furs, they "paid" the Native Americans with glass
Were glass beads the only
Native Americans in
different parts of the North American continent had been using beads
for many centuries. Before glass beads became available from Europe,
they carved beads out of shells, animal bones, tusks, horns or
Why were the glass beads
The beads were valued by
the Native peoples because they reminded them of many things in their
natural world. Their shapes made them think of seeds and berries.
Their hardness made them think of rocks. Their shininess made them
think of water, and their colors were brilliant. Beads became very
important to the peoples of the Plains. Beaded items very highly
prized and were worn on special ceremonies. Beads were also used as
What kind of designs were
made with the beads?
At first the
designs made with the beads were mostly geometrical, in
simple shapes and symmetry, like the quill designs that they
replaced. Later, as beads became more common, there were
more floral (flower) and realistic patterns.
How were the beads
Beads have holes in the
middle and are meant to be strung together on a thread. The Native
Americans used a very strong cord made of animal sinew or of plant fibers. Four common
methods were used to attach the beads. Beadwork is
still practiced by people all over the world today.