Lakota Fire Starting Set

     This fire starting set belonged to the wife of Owns a Yellow Shield.  The trapezoidal buckskin bag has a baby blue beaded edge with white-heart red lightning design.  The front swallow-tail design is green, a woman's color for one of the directions.  Along the bottom is red cloth as a sign of the Thunder Being, associated with starting fires via lightning.  The back of the bag has an added piece for the top flap and another for the carrying strap.

     The  contents of the kit include a brass tobacco case holding pieces of a fungus found on birch trees.  The fungus holds a spark produced by the trade steel striker hitting the edge of a flint chip.  Once the spark was made, it landed on the mussel shell piece next to the birch fungus.  Tinder, usually from a mouse nest or the inner bark of cottonwood, was placed above the shell and the short bone was used the blow the ember into the tinder to start a flame.  The bone has a lightning etching to call on the Thunder for starting a fire.

     A separate cloth houses two small, round stones nested in a bed of bird fluffs.  The cloth is tied using a metallic ribbon with yellow and oxidized black color.  This ribbon was made on hand looms as a cottage industry in Belgium.

This fire starting set indicates early trading to the Lakota with Italian beads, tobacco case and striker made in England and Belgium ribbon.


By Larry Belitz, Plains Indian Material Culture Consultant