the-corn -bead -basket

The mystery of the corn bead basket

The mystery of the corn bead basket had been in my mind for over eleven years.  I had little information available and was not sure where to find the information I needed to put this puzzle together.

It all began when I visited my parents one day over thirteen years ago. As I was leaving, my mother said she wanted me to have something very special.  She reached down a picked up a small basket on a table in the foyer and handed it to me. She told me to take good care of it because it is very special. She made me promise that I would never let anything happen to it. I assured her I would find a special place for it on my mantle . I asked what it was since it is very unusual looking.

She said. “It is a corn bead basket and was my grandmother’s. She had it sitting on her dressing table for as long as I can remember.”


I told her if it was so special why didn’t she just keep it and she could leave it to me in her will. She quickly answered no that she had to make sure I received it and so I had to take it that day.

My mother had become sick and declining in health at this time. I have wondered if she had more knowledge about the corn bead basket but had just forgotten. My parents planned every aspect of their declining years and had established rules that all their possessions were to remain with them until their death. I have pondered this thought many times since then. This helped me realize the importance my mother’s actions were that day to make sure I had the corn bead basket in my possession.

There were two objects inside the corn bead basket, a ceramic shaving brush holder that was my grandfather’s and a small piece of paper with a list of my great grandparents and their dates of birth and death if known. My mother had little memory of her dad because he  died when she was only seven years old. The shaving brush holder was one of the few things she had that belonged to him. Two clues that I did not know how to fit into this mystery.

Over the past thirteen years I would periodically search on Google for “corn bead basket”but I came me up with nothing. I also searched on eBay but found nothing. A couple of months ago it occurred to me to do a search for “corn beads” BINGO! To my astonishment up came information about the trail of tears and corn beads. As the legend goes, corn beads fell from the plants along the Trail of Tears.  The Trail of Tears is the route the Cherokees, Native Americans, were forced to take when they were driven from their homeland into Oklahoma.  Over 4,000 Cherokees died along the way, succumbing to hunger and exhaustion. The corn beads are grayish brown in color and called Job’s Tears because the resemble tear drops.  The plant grows along the route of the Trail of Tears. My mother had told me on numerous occasions that there was Native American heritage on her side of the family. This must be an important connection.

Although I still don’t have all the answers, I feel there is  a definite connection to this corn bead basket and the native American heritage with my mother’s family.  I think it is why she also included the small piece of paper with the birth and death dates of the ancestors on my grandfather’s side of the family. I am thinking that the importance of this corn bead basket is tied to the person that made the basket. Although there are many images of items made with corn beads, most of them are necklaces. There is no reference to a corn bead basket.

This revelation came to me for the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. She knew of my interest in Native Americans and their heritage. I think it is the reason she wanted me to have it in my possession. Perhaps she felt that I would care for it and pursue the history in honor of our distant relatives. My plan is for more research and to contact the Cherokee Museum. Perhaps it will turn into a book, or at least a story to pass on to the future generations in our family. It would make my mother proud.


The Legend of the Corn Beads
In 1838 the Cherokee people were forcibly removed from their home land and their homes. As the soldiers came to each house hold to gather the Cherokee people for the removal, many cried tears of sadness over the loss of homes and personal belongings. Most were only allowed to take what they could carry. As the people were taken from their homes they would cry out asking the Creator to send a miracle.As they walked along the trail, their tears fell to the ground. At the place where the tears fell, a shoot that looked like a cornstalk grew. As the plant bloomed and opened up, seeds of gray fell to the ground. Creator said, “This will be a sign unto all who pass that my children will always be a part of this land. The cornstalk represents life for my children and the seeds of gray represent suffering and sorrow.”The trail the Cherokee people walked is now known as the Trail of Tears and the seeds are known as corn beads….Auntie Gloria

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Jan Watford
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Jan Watford

Manager at JCW Prism LLC
artist, author, illustrator
Jan Watford
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