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Lewis & Clark Whites | Sacagawea Blue

Lewis and Clark Indian Trade Beads
Available From Mouw Beads
The Bead
That Saved The
Corps of Discovery
It is our intent to make available to our customers, Antique Trade Beads of the period and type that were used by Lewis and Clark and with the Indians or Natives of the North American Continent. These beads were manufactured primarily in Europe and Asia. A few were made in Mexico and by the Mandan/Arikara Indians in the United States. Glass trade beads from Asia probably became available to the Europeans from the time of Marco Polo in the 13th century. This trade would have been greatly inhanced when Portugal established trade with China in the mid 1500's. We feel this needs mentioning because the blue wound bead from China became important world wide from this time until shortly after Lewis and Clark's expedition. The green wound beads, probably from the same area, were very important to Columbus and later to Cortez. I suppose the point we are trying to make is, that a bead can travel many routes and spend time in many places.

The Beads of Lewis and Clark
Original Bead List

Lewis’ original list of requirements showed beads to be of very little importance. He was anticipating taking 5 lb. White Wampum, 5 lb. White Glass Beads mostly small, 20 lb. Red Glass Beads Assorted, and 5 lb. of Yellow or Orange Glass Beads Assorted. This was a little odd because with the same notes he included the following statement: Blue beads. This is a coarse cheap bead imported from China, & costing in England 13 d. the lb. in strands. It is far more valued than the white beads of the same manufacture and answers all the purposes of money, being counted by the fathom. (p.72 & 74, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 2nd ed. Donald Jackson, U of Ill. Press).

His final purchase didn’t show much of a change in attitude. As gifts for the Indians, procured as Supplies from Private Vendors he purchased: From J. and Chas. J. Wister, 2 Cards Beads. From Christian H. Denchla, 3 lb. beads, 6 bunches Red Garnet, 2 bunches of brown, 10 bunches yellow beads, 25 bunches white beads, 10 bunches blue beads smaller, 10 bunches yellow beads smaller, 10 bunches white beads smaller, 8 1/2 lb. red beads. The total cost was $71.81 or less than 11% of the $669.50 spent for Indian Presents. (p. 85 & 86, Letters of the Lewis and Clark Expedition 2nd ed. Donald Jackson, U of Ill. Press) .

All of the Journal quotes are taken, as written, from The Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Gary E. Moulton, Editor. Published by the University of Nebraska Press.
Bailing Invoice of Beads

In the bailing invoice of Sundries for Indian Presents we again see there are no beads in the bundle # 30 and #13 for the chiefs. In bag #33 they placed 2 bead Neck Laces. 10 Maces White Round Beads for girls. (In the Journals’ miscellaneous memoranda, the editor thinks Mace is a phonetic spelling for “mease,” a provincial English word meaning “measure”. The fathom is mentioned a few times and also brace and breth which are all probably 6 feet in length.) 3 Maces Sky Blue Round Beads for girls, 3 Maces yellow, 3 Maces red, 14 Maces Yellow seed, and 5 Maces Mock Garnets all intended for girls. The same amounts of beads were placed in six other bags; #15, 42, 45, 36, 16, and 26. In bags #18 & 14 they placed 3 bead Necklaces, 10 Maces White Rd Beads, 2 Maces Blue, 2 Maces Yellow and 3 Maces Mock garnets. In #24 & 3, 2 Bunches of Blue beads, 2 Bunches of Red, 10 Small Bunches White Seed Beads, and 17 Maces Mock Garnets. 1 extra bunch of beads. 1 card of beads. In #3 they added one Bunch Yellow beads.

Different Sizes, Different Lengths, Different Beads

In the recapitulation of the 14 bags and one box, we can figure out more about the bunches and seed beads. They list 8 bunches or 80 maces of mock garnets. This would mean there are probably 10 fathoms or 10 short measures of beads to each bunch. We also see there is one bunch of green beads and six bunches of red beads not mentioned before. With 8 bunches of mock garnets, we would have to include the 2 bunches of brown mentioned in the purchases. From our research I would suspect those beads to be amber colored. Knowing the size of the blue beads from the journals later on and those being listed as the small beads on the invoice, we can guess that the 3 lb. of beads were probably the seed beads. The seed beads seemed to come in short maces as did some of the white round beads. In the purchase from Denchla, the 10 bunches of larger yellow beads and the 25 bunches of larger white beads actually cost less than the smaller beads so we could assume they probably came in the shorter measures, whatever that was. The two bunches of brown cost respectively 40 and 60 cents a bunch. This probably means there were different sizes, different lengths or different beads in each bunch.

Therefore we have at a minimum of:

  • 20 Bead necklaces on 2 cards.
  • 3 lb. beads, probably seed beads in short measures. Mostly yellow and white.
  • 6 Bunches of red garnets with 10 measures to a bunch.
  • 2 Bunches of brown which I would guess to be amber and probably shaped the same as the red garnets. Because they are priced differently each bunch of 10 measures would be different sized beads or one had short measures, or they were different beads. My guess would be the different lengths because they packed them all as garnets.
  • 10 Bunches of yellow beads, larger than the Chief’s bead and probably 10 short measures per bunch.
  • 25 Bunches of white beads, larger than the Chief’s bead and probably 10 short measures per bunch. In the recapitulation they said they packed 120 small maces, but it totals 230 by my calculations or 23 bunches.
  • 10 Bunches of blue beads probably 10 fathoms per bunch.
    Some of which were Chief’s beads.
  • 10 Bunches of yellow beads probably 10 fathoms per bunch.
  • 10 Bunches of white beads probably 10 fathoms per bunch.
  • 6 Bunches of red beads probably 10 fathoms per bunch.
  • 1 Bunch of green beads probably 10 fathoms per bunch.
  • 8 and 1/2 lb. of red beads.
  • 2 cards of beads possibly samples of beads new to the market.

Wampum shows up in the recapitulation in the form of 12 moons, one of which was included in a trade offer along with other merchandise for some horses on April 20th, 1806, as recorded in Clark’s journal.

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Chief's Bead
I think we should use the Chief’s Bead as a foundation when we try to figure out exactly what the beads might be. We have by far the most information on that bead. Actually, the value of the Chief’s bead had been established years before Lewis and Clark’s journey.

As noted in “Trade Beads and Sunken Ships” by George I. Quimby, University of Washington: (Beaglehole 1967: III 1418) Thus Captain Cook’s ships are carrying white glass beads of unstated size and shape, and the Russians who had a monopoly on the fur trade north of the Northwest Coast were using sky blue glass beads about the size of a large pea and presumably round. There is some additional information about these beads from the pen of Captain James King who was responsible for the third volume of Cook’s third voyage. He wrote of the natives of Prince William Sound as follows: ’...but the most certain proofs of their having a frequent supply of articles belonging to civiliz’d Nations are their blue beads; these of which they set a very great value, have not the good shape of English beads but are manufactured by some Nation rudder in this art than ourselves, they are a bead about the size of a large currant berry and intended to be (but are not ) round’. That rudder nation is established as China; In a letter to Astor dated January 24, 1811, Canton, Capt. John Ebbets wrote, ’...The Beads that answer Columbia’s River are plenty here. I shall purchase some for theTonquin’ (Porter 1931:I,461}.

We get some indication of size of the bead from the ship Beaver’s barter account (Porter 1931:I,522) traded 2 kegs{gun} powder worth $32.00 to the Brig Lydia Capt. Bennet for 44 lb. Small Blue Beads @ 64/100 ( probably 64 beads for the weight of one piece of eight which was 27 grams, a pennyweight or one ounce at the time) and for ‘Gurrahs’, a kind of cloth.

Thus it seems in 1778 that all of the fur traders of Russian America were using roundish beads of sky blue glass the size of a large pea or currant berry. In 1812, they were still the bead of desire in the Columbia River area.
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President Thomas Jefferson Writes About Blue Beads
In letter #239 in Letters of Lewis & Clark by Jackson, Jefferson to Henry Dearborn (14 February, 1807) He states Captain Lewis has informed him the articles of highest value are; ...1. Blue beads. This is a course cheap bead imported from China, & costing in England 13d. the lb. in strands. It is far more valued by the Indians than the white beads of the same manufacture, & answers all the purposes of money, being counted by the fathom. He says that were his journey to be performed again, one half or 2/3 of his stores in value, should be of these.
Clark's 1806 Journal Entry on Beads

Clark’s entry of Tuesday 14th January 1806 includes: The nativs are extravigantly fond of the most Common Cheap Blue and white beeds, of moderate Size, or Such that from 50 to 70 will way one pennyweight, the blue is usually prefured to the white; those beeds Constitute the principal Circulating medium with all the Indian tribes on this river; for those beeds they will dispose of any article they possess--. the beeds are Strung on Strans of a fathom in length, & in that manner Sold by the breth.
(The English penny at that time weighed one ounce and the American penny of 1792 was 264 grains down to 168 grains by 1795. Again the weight indicated was probably about an ounce. For those who think he is talking about a modern pennyweight, note he mentions they are moderate in size. I doubt that 1,000 to 1,400 beads to an ounce would be moderate in size).

Blue Beads For Sea Otter Skins

Clark’s entry of Saturday 22nd November 1805 gives us some indication they were low on the Chief’s Beads even before they started to return: in the evening Seven Indians of the Clot Sop Nation Came over in a Canoe, they brought with them 2 Sea otter Skins for which they asked blue beads &c. and such high prices that we were unable to purchase them without reducing our Small Stock of merchendize, on which we depended for Subcistance on our return up this river-- mearly to try the Indian who had one of those Skins, I offered him my Watch, handkerchief a bunch of red beads and a dollar of the American Coin, all which he refused and demanded “ti-a,co-mo-shack{”} which is Chief beads and the most common blue beads, but few of which we (happen to) have at this time.

Lewis’ entry of January 17th 1806: ...one of the party was dressed in t[h]ree very eligant Sea Otter skins which we much wanted; for these we offered him many articles but he would not dispose of them for any other consideration but blue beads, of these we had only six fathoms left, which being 4 less than his price for each skin he would not exchange nor would a knife or an equivalent in beads’ of any other colour answer his purposes, these coarse blue beads are their f[av]orite merchandiz, and are called by them tia Commashuck’ or Chiefs beads. the best wampum is not so much esteemed by them as the most inferior beads. (If the Corps had as many as 100 fathoms of blue beads when they started out, six is a very slim supply for the trip home.)

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Indian Woman (Sacagawea)
Joseph Whitehouse’s entry of November 21st 1805: ...The Indians here, set a high value on the Sea Otter skins. Our officers were very anxious to purchase {an} a Robe made out of the Skins of two of these animals. They offered the Indians a great price in Cloths & trinkets for it; but they refused their offer, & would take nothing but beads for them. They at last offered to let them have it for 5 New blankets, which our Officers would not give them. They at last purchas’d it from them for a Belt which had a number of beads on it, which our officers procured from the Indian woman our Interpreter, which we got at the Mandan Nation, as Interpreter to the Snake nation; who is still with us. I mention this in Order to show the high value that they set on these Skins, which were very beautiful.--I also mention this circumstance, in order, to show the very high value, they also set on Beads.
Clark’s entry of November 21st 1805: ...we gave the Squar a Coate of Blue Cloth for the belt of Blue Beeds we gave for the Sea otter Skins purchased of an Indian.
The Corps Traded Items To Get Beads Back

By April 1806, the Corps was in a difficult situation. On more than one occasion they were trading items to get some beads back.

Ordway’s entry Sunday 20th April 1806: ...we Sold old Robes Elk Skins &C. for white beeds.

Ordway’s entry Thursday 24th of April: ...we hired 2 more of Some of the flat heads who are going with us. the Indians would not purchace our canoes, as they find we are going to leave them. but when we went to Split them they gave us 6 fathem of white beeds for them...

Beads For Food

By June, food had become a real problem. Lewis’ entry Sunday June 22nd 1806: ...we dispatched Whitehouse to the Kooskooske near our old encampment above Collin’s Creek in order to procure some Salmon which we have understood the natives are now taking in considerable quantities near that place. we gave Whitehouse a few beads which Capt. C. had unexpectedly found in one of his waistcoat pockets to purchase the fish.

Total Weight of the Beads

This might be a good time to discuss the total weight of the beads that the Corps carried. In the recapitulation by the Purveyor (Letter 57 in Jackson) the 78 bunches of beads are listed as 20 under the weight listing. The six fathoms of Chief’s beads they had left would have weighed from 6 to 8 ounces apiece. If we are right on which beads are the mock garnets, the 10 bunches would have weighed over 20 lb. by themselves. Even if all 78 bunches had been seed beads, I’m sure they would have weighed well over 20 lb. Each bunch of Chinese wound beads would have weighed from 4 to 5 lb. If any of the measures were the Czech Vaselines, they would have weighed even more. A few times in the journals they mention the large blue beads as being the ones desired. Which we could guess would be in comparison to blue seed beads. Clark also referred to them as moderate in size. At any rate, I find one mention of 20, being ounces, pounds or tons, does not in my mind overcome all of the other information which we have.

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Chinese Wound Blue Beads
The sky blue opaque or nearly opaque wound bead which is 5 to 7 mm in length and 6 to 8 mm in diameter was considered very rough in construction and shape for a reason: (Historical Archaeology Vol. 19 ,#2 1985; 93, Roderick Sprague, Glass Trade Beads; According to Liu (1975;14) the process for making wound Chinese beads as explained by Chu and Chu (1973) would explain the presence of clay inclusions within the actual glass of the bead.

Chu and Chu (1973:138) state: One man who remembers watching his aunts at work in South China not far from Canton {Guangzhou} (for glass beads were made in many locations throughout China) told us that long bamboo reeds were dipped into troughs of wet clay slip, then taken out and dried. When the reeds were ready-- and it is assumed that large piles of them were prepared in advance--two people would hold one reed as a third poured threads of molten glass at intervals on it. The two end people twirled the reed, making the glass form into beads. When the glass had hardened but not yet cooled, the reed was laid on a bed of dry clay. When completely cool, the beads were shaken off into water to be washed.
Other Color Beads

In the journals, the white beads are often mentioned as second in value to the blue beads. They don’t seem to refer to them as being different in any way other than color. It wouldn’t be a great leap to guess that some of the other colors including white, yellow, green, dark blue, red and even including transparent beads of these colors could have been part of the inventory. The Chinese made them all. The natives were turning down entire bunches of red beads in the winter of 1805-06 and braces of yellow beads as late as April 1806. Always they wanted blue beads.

In our research on the beads used West of the Mississippi, we noticed the only place we found one small red faceted bead was the Nez Perce museum in northern Idaho. Knowing that Lewis and Clark thought very highly of this tribe, our thinking is that rather than carry any of the beads they had left on their return trip, they might have given them those beads. After scouring the archives at the museum, no more than the few they had on public display showed up. Then we went to some of the small museums of the Flathead, north of Missoula, Montana. Nearly all of them had antique clothes with these small faceted red and amber beads hanging from them. As I recall, this is the only area that we found these particular beads in the Western U.S.

Peter Francis Jr., founder of the Center for Bead Research in upstate New York, stated that this type of bead was made until about 1780. There is a good possibility these helpers of Lewis and Clark were given whatever the Corps didn’t want to carry home. Much more research will have to be done.

Czech Beads

Peter Francis Jr. informed me that after 1780, the faceted Czech beads had tapered holes. The reason being it took two people to handle the mold equipment which produced the faceted beads with the straight holes. The tapered hole mold could be manipulated by one person. This might give us some insight into the modern beads which Lewis and Clark might have considered. I’m sure that the merchants were glad to unload the garnets if they were brought into the States in the late 1700’s. Especially if they had laid around for a few years without selling.

Peter Francis Jr. also distinguishes between the Czech blue wound beads made after 1810 and the earlier Chinese beads. The Czech beads were a little more uniform and I’m sure, upon testing, we will be able to find some difference in their composition.

One bead that would have been interesting at that period was a transparent red bead with eight sides and five rows with a tapered hole. Also another bead, the red so-called Vaseline with tapered holes, 8 facets and 3 rows, the middle row being more narrow. At that time the actual Vaseline colored beads of the same construction could have easily been included with the yellow beads. I guess that the two cards with bead necklaces would probably be a more fancy bead than the rough Chinese. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2 cards of beads had beads that they wanted to use to see what type of interest they created for future trips. It wouldn’t even be out of the question that this was the first introduction of the so-called Russian Cobalt Blue bead. This bead seems to show up as a major trade item after 1810.

We need more research on the mock garnets and the other Czech beads which they might have carried.

Cobalt Beads

It was interesting to travel southeast Alaska and find that most of the natives and people there called the Cut Cobalt Blues the Chief’s bead. I talked to one native from Queen Charlotte Island who told me his family had coffee cans full of this gorgeous bead. When he was small he said he used to take a handful and throw them one at a time into the river just to see the splash.

Also in the Nez Perce museum after the Lewis and Clark period, most of the clothes are covered with these cobalt beads. There is the possibility that in the Northwest and up the Columbia that the sky blue bead became less important in the period after Lewis and Clark and that the cobalt bead did actually become the Chief’s bead. This would account for all of the early confusion as to what the Chief’s bead that Lewis and Clark referred to really looked like.

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Lewis and Clark's Chief's Bead

I think we can be quite sure of what constitutes Lewis and Clark’s Chief’s Bead and the similar white bead. The other colored beads of the same type would be quite logical.

Thank You

A special thanks to Ron Laycock of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation Board
for his help and access to his library on Lewis and Clark.

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Bead Grades / Suggested Retail Pricing
Size: 2.5 to 4.5 Carats
Construction: Reed Wound
Origin: China
Authentication: Lewis and Clark's Original Journals / Museums
Primary Period of Use: Mid 1500's to Mid 1800's
Grade / Discription
Catalog #
Price Per Carat
Grade 1 / Part of bead with or without hole
Grade 2 / Bead with crack full length of hole
Grade 3 / Full bead with large chip or many small chips
Grade 4 / Decent body with few medium chips or heavily pitted surface
Grade 5 / Decent body with some pitting or very small chips and dull surface
Grade 6 / Nice body, some glossy surface; few small pits or slight flecks; Or dull surface with a pit or two
Grade 7 / Very nice body and surface; very few flecks or tiny dark pits; Or dull surface with no pits or flecks
Grade 8 / Very nice body; little wear; only a couple tiny flecks or dark spots
Grade 9 / Very nice body; nearly new looking surface; no notable dark specks.*
Grade 10 / Like new bead

( *Investment Grade )

Antique Beads ~ more rare than diamonds©

On Grades 8 and 9, please contact us for carat size availability.

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