Emily Fontenelle’s Fancy Handbag

Emily Fontenelle's handbag

History Nebraska 3741

This handbag reflects Emily Fontenelle’s mixed-race Pawnee heritage and her nineteenth- and twentieth-century lifetime. She donated the bag to History Nebraska in 1920. It is fully beaded on both sides and has a metal frame and commercially tanned leather. The red beads are known as white hearts, because they are made of two different colors of glass. The outer layer is red and the inner layer is white. Below, a 1918 portrait shows her holding what looks like the same bag.

Emily’s father was Alexander LaForce Papin, a fur trader of French ancestry; her mother was Pawnee. As a child, Emily attended a school operated by Rev. Samuel Allis, a missionary to the Pawnee. When Allis and his associates moved to Bellevue, Emily was among the group of Pawnee children that went along. She attended school and lived with the Allis family and later moved with them to Mills County, Iowa. In 1855 she married Henry Fontenelle, son of fur trader Lucien Fontenelle and Bright Sun, and brother of Logan Fontenelle. Henry and Emily moved to the Omaha reservation and resided near Decatur.

History Nebraska’s collections include many beautiful examples of Plains beadwork and quillwork. View more examples here.

Emily Fontenelle

History Nebraska, RG1289-14-1

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History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
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