The ABCs of Lowell History: Q is for Quill

The Lowell Area Historical Museum is offering a weekly feature to explore local history. The ABCs of Lowell History continues with a look at the quill boxes that were made by local Native Americans in the early to mid-19th Century. To learn more about Lowell history, visit the museum website to explore its collection of local artifacts and records.

The art of decorating items with dyed porcupine quills is unique to North American native people, and was a skill used by the Lowell area Odawa. It is a very meticulous and time consuming process with beautiful results. One porcupine has thirty to forty thousand quills, and the quill natural color is strongest in the coldest months. Sometimes the artwork uses the color varieties of the natural quill, other times they are dyed.

John Hooker came to the Lowell area in 1846. He worked for and eventually owned Daniel Marsac’s fur trading post. He was good friends with the local Odawa and also served as the U.S. Indian Agent in the area. Before the native removal as a result of the 1836 and 1855 treaties, he would visit all the area native villages each year to keep count of births and deaths for the allotments. He employed local Odawa to make things to sell in his post. Negonce was one of his employees and also his friend. She was the granddaughter of Chief Cobmoosa and well known for her artistry in making quill baskets such as these. The Negonce block of buildings on East Main Street was named as a lasting honor to her.

The art of creating quill boxes has been handed down through the generations and beautiful pieces are still made and sold by Odawa descendants. They are beautiful pieces of workmanship and are sold for hundreds and even thousands of dollars.

All images courtesy of the Lowell Area Historical Museum.

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