Coded Beadwork On A Deerskin Pouch


Junior Doughty

In the midst of a running gun battle with a tree-scampering squirrel, I couldn't remember if I had loaded my little .32 caliber Traditions Crockett Rifle. So I shoved the ramrod in the barrel, all the way down in order to see if it stopped at the "loaded" mark about 1 1/2" below the tip. It hit bottom with maybe 1/2" of the tip sticking out. Empty. I grabbed it to pull it from the barrel, but it wouldn't budge because I couldn't get a good grip on it. I had to shoot it out with caps, about 1/8" to the pop.

Right then and there—with the squirrel escaping I'm positive and laughing I'm almost positive—I decided to put a small pair of pliers in my possibles bag. Next trip to Walmart, I bought a little multi-tool with built-in pliers. It came with a black nylon sheath. Now, everything in or attached to or hanging from this buckskinner's possibles bag looks homemade or is homemade, so that black nylon sheath had to go.

Nothing for me to do but to kill a deer, tan the hide, and make a little sheath for the multi-tool. But, alas, the deer won the running gun battles last deer season. However, for many years I've hoarded two deer hides tanned by Jena, Louisiana, Choctaw shaman Anderson Lewis, deceased some 10 years now. I didn't figure Anderson would mind, so I cut a 10" x 2 1/2" strip from one of the hides.

Starting a sheath
  (Click image for full size version.) Flap part on left. Pouch part on right. Note pencil lines for sewing guides. The pouch is basically a leather copy of the original black nylon sheath.
That's it in the photo on the right and in the beginning of the sewing process, using the sewing awl you see in the photo. After sewing the two sides I oiled it with vegetable oil so (1) the resulting pouch would be waterproof and (2) so a beadworking needle could better penetrate the hide. I put it in a zip sandwich bag along with perhaps a tablespoon of oil, actually Crisco Canola Oil because that's what I had on hand. I kneaded the zip bag for a few minutes, then let it sit on the counter for a few minutes. Then I removed the pouch and blotted it dry with paper towels.

Sewing the pouch together with the awl was easy. The hard part came when I started the beadwork using a needle and thread. I had never done beadwork before. I sewed for a while, looked in disgust at the results for a while, then ripped out beads for a while.

Finished sheath
  Flap part now on right. Pouch part now on left.
The results you see in the photo on the right are try #3. The pouch is finished, attached to the strap of my possibles bag, and ready to be tied with the leather lace.

Not shown in the photo is the fact that 3 of the 4 rows of beads are held straight by epoxy. I inserted a needle through each of the 3 crooked rows to make them straight, and then I glued the wayward beads in place. (Sorry, Anderson.)

Pay particular attention to the bead pattern. What you see, in code, is:

(top left)       JUNIOR(top right)       0814
(bottom left) DOUGHTY(bottom right) 2001

That translates as: Junior Doughty; August 14, 2001. Here's how I did that:

The beads are in pairs. Each pair represents either a letter of the alphabet or a number from 0 to 9. The pouch is read like a book, from left to right. Each side is like a page of a book—JUNIOR DOUGHTY on the left page/side, 0814 2001 on the right page/side.

From my package of assorted beads, I picked 6 different colors of beads and each color picked began with a different letter of the alphabet. They were, in alphabetical order, Blue, Green, Orange, Red, White, and Yellow.

On a sheet of paper, I then made a matrix with those letters in alphabetical order and labeling rows across the top and down the left side. I then filled in the data cells with the letters of the alphabet and the numbers 0 through 9. Thus:

  Blue  GreenOrangeRedWhiteYellow

So to code a B, I pair, in order, Blue and Green. To code a G, I pair Green and Blue. To code a Q, I pair Orange and White. To code a 4, I pair Yellow and Blue.

Here's the pouch again.

Top left:
Green/Red =     J
Red/Orange = U
Orange/Green = N
Green/Orange = I
Orange/Orange = O
Orange/Yellow = R
Top right:
White/Orange = 0
Yellow/White = 8
White/Red = 1
Yellow/Blue = 4
Finished sheath

Reckon I can prove I own my possibles bag if it's stolen and I find it in the possession of some dirty *#$%^& low-life? He'd have no idea that the colorful beads on the little pouch have meaning. In his case, they would mean GO TO JAIL

To label the rows of my matrix, I put my bead colors in alphabetical order because that is easy to remember. You could combine the letters to make a code word, but are you sure you'll remember the word in a couple of years? Do it alphabetically.

To make your own coded beadwork, pick beads whose colors are easily distinguishable from each other. Note that my Green and Blue beads look very much alike. Also, the beads can't have the same first letter, i.e., you can't use Blue and Black.

Use 6 different colors so that your matrix will contain 36 cells. A 6 x 6 = 36 matrix perfectly fills with the 26 letters of the alphabet and the numbers 0 through 9. You could use 7 different colors and produce a 7 x 7 = 49 cell matrix, but there's no reason to do so. We're trying to foil common thieves here, not the FBI.

If you really want to get fancy with bead color combinations, you can use 6 different bead colors and combine 3 beads instead of 2. You'll then have a permutation, not a matrix, with 216 possible combinations.

Some of my anthropologist cohorts may disagree with me, but I'll bet that early native Americans used a combination of 2 and even 3 beads to convey messages. They didn't have colored glass beads until the white man came, but they had many different colored and shaped natural and man-made objects that were used as beads. Their bead combinations would have represented spoken sounds and words, not letters. Note that an entire language can be recreated with combinations of 216 different spoken sounds.


I wish my old friend Anderson Lewis was alive so I could ask him many questions, including a question about coded beadwork and necklaces. He'd probably take one look at my coded beadwork and tell me that it says: JUNIOR CAN'T DO BEADWORK


Copyright 2001 by Junior Doughty

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