Star Quilts on the Northern Plains of Montana: Part 1 - A Brief History

Star Quilts on the Northern Plains of Montana

Spend about 5 seconds scrolling through my Instagram feed or quilt patterns and my love of the Star quilt is quickly made apparent. This is not a recent love, it goes way back. So let's start at the beginning.... (And by beginning I mean before Montana was even a state.)

 

A very brief history of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation

Map of Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana

As I said in my Big Sky Star blog post, I grew up north of Wolf Point, Montana which is the largest town located on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation on the Plains of northeast Montana (shown in red on the map). The reservation, which is approximately 80 miles long and 40 miles wide, was established in 1871 as the home to the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes. In 1908, the Fort Peck Allotment Act was passed. This Act allotted eligible Indians 320 acres of grazing land, as well as set aside land for school and church use and the Burlington Northern railroad. A few years later, unallotted land was made available for settlement by non-Indian homesteaders. [This is where my family history in this area begins.] Three out of four sets of my great-grandparents were homesteaders in this area. The Homestead Act of 1862 offered 160 acres to US citizens on the condition that they live on, cultivate, and improve it. After 5 years, they could then "prove up" and obtain a deed for the land. 

Montana Homestead
My great-grandparents' homestead in 1923 north of Frazer, Montana.

 

Where Star Quilts Come In

In the late 1800s/early 1900s, missionaries from the Dakota Presbytery introduced the art of quilt-making to the tribes on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Native women eventually made the Star quilts their own by using colors and designs that were traditional to them. According to tribal historians, star quilts were used as a cultural replacement of the buffalo robes which were quickly disappearing due to over-hunting. Just as buffalo robes were valuable gifts of honor, the star quilt became the honored gifts in Indian culture.

 

Today, the star quilt remains one of the most honorable items a family can give or receive. Giveaways of star quilts are held at pow-wows, basketball tournaments, memorials, and other events. I was exposed to these give-aways at high school basketball tournaments where Indian basketball team members would honor players or coaches on other teams, referees, teachers, and others by giving them a Star quilt.

Poplar Star Quilt Give Aways
Photo credit: Poplar Star Quilt Give Aways' Facebook page

As you can see in the photo above, no two quilts are alike. It is rare that a Star quilter makes the exact same quilt twice.

For more on the current day Star Quilter, stay tuned for Part 2 of this series: Star Quilts on the Northern Plains of Montana

4 comments

Linda

I appreciated finding and reading the history you shared. My family lived in Poplar about 50 years ago. My mother Virginia was a social worker who spent her life dedicated to serving and advocating for people. She worked closely with the Indian women in Poplar and recognized the beauty of their spirits and their quilts. She assisted them with learning to sell their quilts for much needed income and I wondered if there was a connection. Thank you to all those women for embracing her and to all artisans who bring forth their beautiful creations.

Morgan Schulz

Thank you for sharing the history behind your star quilts. What a beautiful gift to honor someone with. I look forward to learning more about the history of quilting and of course making one of these beauties.

Giselle

This is so amazing! I’m forever drawn to Lone Star quilts and I’ve bought the Big Sky pattern + all the Warp and Weft yardage, wanting to join the QAL but I was a bit too late. Can’t wait to make my own!

Jamie Dallas

Thank you for this!!! Indian country often gets over looked of where our creations come from and why we do it and you explained it so nicely…thank you again

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