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19TH CENTURY NATIVE TANNED BUCKSKIN WINTER MITTENS – LINED WITH PATTERN 1876 US ARMY BEDDING BLANKET MATERIAL AND DECORATED ON THE CUFFS WITH VERY FINE BEADWORK - A VERY RARE PAIR OF SOLDIER USED MITTENS TO DISPLAY WITH A FRONTIER INDIAN WAR GROUPING:  Occasionally, pieces of frontier used equipment and clothing come along which were fashioned with skills, styles and materials that crossed the cultural lines between the European and Native Americans.  They are very special not only in that they survived the harsh environment in which they were used, but more importantly they provide a view to the way of life and the interaction between those people on the western frontier during the 19Th Century.   

Such is the case with this very evocative pair of 19TH Century Native American made brain tanned buckskin or elkskin winter mittens, decorated with finely executed beadwork on the cuffs, but also lined with pieces of a US Army Pattern 1876 Bedding Blanket.   The rarity of such pieces cannot be overstated, as these cross-cultural pieces seldom, if ever, appear on the open market.    

In light of the severity of the winters across the northern plains, mittens were favored by frontiersmen, soldiers, and Indians alike on the northern plains.  The fingers were kept together in the pocket of the mitten where they served to conserve body heat, as opposed to gloves or gauntlets where the fingers were separate, and more prone to frostbite.   

Two likely scenarios explain the combination of native materials and design with the US Army blanket material lining.  Either a Native American came into possession of a US Army blanket which was used to line these mittens, or what I think is more likely, a soldier or officer serving on the frontier arranged with an Indian woman to make the mittens and provided her with the wool material, salvaged from a damaged blanket.  

This pair is full sized - measuring 13 ˝” long and 9” wide at the cuff - large enough to fit a grown male hand.  The buckskin has a mellow, smoky color and it is soft and pliable.  The hide is of substantial weight, certainly made for use and not the lightweight tourist grade leather you often see.  The mittens are hand sewn with cotton thread, and the seams are all.  The beadwork is tight and still firmly attached with only very minor loss in isolated spots as would be expected from use and age.   

As stated above, these cross cultural pieces are almost impossible to find on the open market.  Rare in their own right, such pieces are closely held by the collectors who recognize the importance of their historical context and are seldom offered for sale.  Given their utilitarian nature, and the regular use they were exposed to in a harsh environment, it’s a wonder any of this material survived at all.  This unique pair of frontier made mittens was well cared for through the years since their last use, and present in very good condition to be a great addition to display with a soldier’s equipment grouping or along side a Sharps or Remington Buffalo Rifle and cartridge belt. (0903)  $1850

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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