INDIANS OF PENNSYLVANIA         Lucille Wallower
Penns Valley Publisher, Inc.           State College, Pennsylvania 1956

“Wampum was not used exactly as we use money today. Wampum was a valuable symbol or token; it stood for good will and was thought to bring good fortune. Or, as in the case of black wampum, it was a token of trouble.

The most valuable wampum was made from shell. White wampum was made from the inner part of the whelk shell. The rare purple wampum was made from the inner part of a clam shell.  One purple bead was worth four white beads.

Shell breaks very easily. It took great care and skill to make the beads from shell. Sometimes it took a whole day to make one bead. Older men in the village usually made the wampum.

Strings of wampum were almost as long as a hand can stretch. These strings were put into bundles of ten. They were used in trading.

White and purple strings of wampum were used as name strings. So many white and so many purple beads meant a certain name.

Wampum was also used to send messages. These wampum strings were often tied to little sticks. The sticks were cut or notched to show in how many days and nights an answer was expected.

No Indian received a gift without giving wampum in return as a token of friendship and to keep away evil.

Wampum belts were used for important events. A wampum belt helped a chief to remember the history of his tribe. The beads in these belts were woven into certain patterns or pictures. These pictures might be squares, diamonds, lines, animals, houses, people, hatchets, and other things. Each picture had a meaning well known to the Indians.

Each belt told one story. When a treaty was being talked over, many wampum belts were used to tell about the agreements wanted. One Indian was in charge of one belt; he told about the part of the agreement wanted as it was pictured on his belt. It took a number of belts and a number of Indians to explain everything that was wanted!

At a peace treaty, white wampum belts were exchanged. If war was declared between two tribes that had given each other white belts, the warring tribe would paint the belt red. Then a war runner would take it to the other tribe.

Indians also used wampum in ceremonies. Sometimes great chiefs were given a belt or collar made of wampum beads as an honor.”


WAMPUM ACTIVITIES — use purchased beads and/or dyed macaroni

  1. Design your name on a Wampum belt or string.

  2. Work out a group of symbols for a “wampum code.” Tell a story or send a message by the use of wampum.

  3. Divide the class into two tribes.

    Can these tribes write a treaty that will help you solve one of your school or social problems?
    What is a social problem?

  4. Record the treaty on a wampum belt as the Indians did.

  5. Use the preceding information to help in this activity.


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society