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INDIAN WAR ERA PRIVATE PURCHASE BUFFALO COAT – AS WORN BY ARMY OFFICERS AND CIVILIANS ON THE FRONTIER – IN VERY GOOD CONDITION:  This commercially manufactured Buffalo Hide Overcoat has survived in very good condition and is of the type worn by Army officers and civilians on the Indian Wars Era frontier.   

As with many other developments in military equipment during the Indian Wars such as cartridge belts and various items of uniforming, the army was often a step behind the civilian population of the West and the various merchants and manufacturers who supplied the western market.  The case of these warm and protective Buffalo Coats is an excellent case in point.  While the army was still relying on the woolen overcoat alone to keep the soldiers warm, the civilian population had long been aware of the excellent insulating properties of buffalo fur in extreme cold - having learned well from the Indians - and buffalo hide coats had been a staple of winter wear on the frontier for many years.  The army’s recognition of the need for a heavier coat was slow in coming.  However, by the winter campaign of 1876-77 led by Gen. Miles which resulted in the capture of Crazy Horse, the temperatures he had recorded of 50 degrees below zero convinced the army of the need for improvements in cold weather protection for the troops, particularly for those serving in the extreme climates of the Western Frontier.  

JANUARY 1877

Gen. Miles (center LEFT) & OFFICERS

Cantonment Tongue River

As early as 1875, General Meigs, Quartermaster General of the Army, had recommended that sheepskin or buffalo coats be issued.  As was often the case, the soldiers were far ahead of the decisions of the uniform and equipment boards of the Quartermaster and Ordnance Departments, and in the case of clothing themselves against the winter on the northern plains, many of the officers and enlisted men had begun to wear buffalo moccasins and coats acquired through their own efforts.  

Whether the soldiers – officers and enlisted alike – or civilians fashioned the buffalo coats themselves from hides they gathered in the course of hunting the great shaggy beasts, or the coats were purchased from furriers who were producing them in the larger cities back east, these heavy thick-haired coats became the iconic winter coat of the frontier west, and certainly saved many lives of those caught out in the weather.   

Once the army decided to formally adopt the buffalo coats as an item of issue, they never provided a formal description or specification for their buffalo coats.  It is most likely that the government issue coats were purchased from civilian contractors who were already engaged in making the coats for the civilian marketplace.  Certainly, as with any other product, the manufacturers offered various grades of coats from the utilitarian pattern the army purchased for the enlisted me to more expensive coats which incorporated special design features such as were included in this coat.      

This period image immediately below shows a gentleman attired in a Buffalo Coat strikingly similar to the coat offered here.   

 

This is a very high quality buffalo coat, produced by a professional furrier, and is certainly of the style which would have appealed to an army officer or civilian of some financial means.  Every bit as heavy and substantial as a US Army Enlisted Man’s Buffalo Coat, this coat is very similar to the Officer’s Buffalo Coat detailed in Randy Stephan’s The Horse Soldier, Volume 2, on page 149, Figure 187, and the Officer’s Buffalo Coat shown in another listing on this site.   

This coat exhibits all the characteristics and finish of a high quality, well manufactured fur coat – definitely a “top shelf” piece of goods.  The body of the coat is fashioned from a select quality hide featuring attractive reddish brown fur with an overall uniform color and dense curly hair.  The collar and cuffs are made of high quality beaver fur, which also has a deep rich color and dense hair.  The coat body is lined with the same kind of quilted polished cotton lining commonly noted in known examples of the Officer’s Buffalo Hide Coats.  And, again like the accepted officer’s pattern, this coat is fitted with four pairs of black wooden toggle buttons anchored with heavy mohair cord closing loops which terminate in trefoils on the front of the coat, applied in pairs to the right and left of each pair of buttons.  There is also a single matching toggle button and loop to close the throat of the coat positioned above the four pairs.  The coat is set with two deep slash pockets – one on each side of the front where the hands would naturally fall when the coat was being worn – and they both retain their full original lining.      

Well cared for and properly stored, this coat has survived obvious use through several winters, and the passage of years in storage, and it presents in very good condition.  The fur has retained a pleasing rich color and soft texture without any remarkable discoloration or fading and the hair is not brittle.  From the coats I have seen in period photos, a certain amount of rub marks and hair parting were common where the fur was folded over on a sharp seam or edge, such as can be seen on the edges of the collar on this coat.  The visible white line of hide which demarks the seam or edge is completely appropriate for these coats and is not evidence of heavy wear or abuse, but rather the character of working with, and wearing, buffalo fur.  Two areas of the beaver fur collar - the front left side and at the inside of the back of the neck - has suffered from some loss of hair, but the hide is still very strong and pliable.  Overall the quality of the fur on this coat is excellent with no other patches of hair loss and thick curly hair throughout.    

All of the seams are intact, the finished edges of the cuffs, front panels, rear vent, and bottom are all present, and the lining of the pockets, sleeves and body is all present with no mothing or discoloration.  There is very minor wear along the inside edges of the sleeve cuff lining and along the bottom inside edge of the body lining – evidence of having been worn, but not severely.  The inside of the left shoulder ridge has a small worn spot, possibly the result of being on a hanger.  There is also a spot of fraying on the inner lining of the body at the center of the back of the waist area – perhaps where the coat wore against a cartridge belt.  All of the toggle buttons and the corresponding corded loops are present, with only minor wear to some of the loops.   Note: Whatever difference in color of the lining you see in the photographs is a function of variances in lighting and shadow resulting when you photograph material. The color of the lining is consistent throughout.  

Once last feature which is worthy of mention is a handwritten note found in one of the pockets of the coat when I purchased it.  The note bears the original notations (in bold text) with some additional notes (in italics) made in a different hand, presumably a subsequent owner.  The note reads:   

Weighs 12 or 15 Pounds

About Turn of the century

From Trading Post

Due North of Okla City

Near Anadarko, OKLA

I assume the notations reflect that this coat was found ca. 1900 at a trading post located near Anadarko, Oklahoma.  The person who wrote the note lacked a full understanding of the geography of Oklahoma, as Anadarko is in reality located along the banks of the Washita River some 50 miles southwest of Oklahoma City.  Still, even with this error, the note provides some interesting history of the coat and this note will accompany the sale.   

This Buffalo Hide Coat is an excellent specimen the type of protective winter clothing worn by civilians in the West and officers serving in the Frontier Army as they endured temperatures and conditions far beyond our ability to imagine or appreciate.  A relatively rare piece of Indian War era clothing which does not appear very often on the market in any condition, particularly since so many of these coats were used to destruction or subjected to the ravages of time in poor storage.  Virtually impossible to upgrade, this Frontier Buffalo Coat would make a dramatic addition to any Western collection.  SOLD

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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