ca. 1870-1890 NORTHERN PLAINS FULLY BEADED
MOCCASINS – SINEW SEWN - VERY ATTRACTIVE PAIR:
This is a beautiful set of
moccasins judged to date from the
last three decades of the 19th Century.
The moccasins measure a full 10” long and are 3 Ľ” wide
at the ball of the foot, certainly made for an adult.
This pair has a definite narrow profile, a feature that
is often seen in Cheyenne moccasins. Coupled with the
color combination and the extremely small size of the
beads, I am inclined to hazard the guess that these are
indeed Cheyenne moccasins. Due to the crushing defeats
experienced by the Cheyenne and the loss of so much of
their material culture, very little survives today as
compared to the larger amounts of material which has
survived from many of the other tribes such as the
Lakota and Crow.
The beadwork features full coverage in a pleasant
combination of colors, incorporating the well known
“buffalo track” design element on the insteps,
surrounded with mountain or lodge pattern elements.
The beadwork is in very
good condition overall, with some minor loss in
scattered areas as can be seen in the photographs
below. The points of bead loss are isolated to single
strands and in no way affect the presentation or
continuity of the designs – for a pair of this age and
showing period use, the loss is negligible.
The colors of beads include
a dark bottle glass green, rose-white lined, and dark
blue. The simplicity of the design elements, the colors
of the beads and the tiny Italian seed beads all argue
for this pair being made before the later reservation
period when the design elements became more complex.
The beadwork was executed in animal sinew, as was the
assembly of the moccasins.
Around the ankle of each moccasin is attached a separate
band of light weight native tanned leather to which is
sewn a series of brass trade bells, also known as “hawk”
bells. While all the rest of the bells are of the
standard pattern obtained through the trading posts, the
bell on the right front corner of the foot opening on
the right moccasin is fashioned from a Connecticut State
Militia button. The decoration with the bells is unique
feature not often seen on these moccasins and the
militia button turned into a bell is a interesting
example of how the Native Americans adapted various
items of European culture to their own use.
These moccasins both show some minor wear, indicating
this pair was worn on a regular basis for some time
before being acquired as a keepsake.
The rawhide soles of both
moccasins show evidence of wear and the imprint of the
owner’s feet. The sole of the left moccasin is in
excellent condition, completely intact with no holes.
The sole of the right moccasin has a wear spot across
the heel, indicating the original owner may have had an
injured leg which caused their heel to drag. There is
an old repair to this wear spot, executed in old rawhide
and sinew, perhaps done contemporary to the time this
pair was still being worn. Otherwise, the remainder of
this right sole is in excellent condition, completely
intact with no other holes.
The native tanned hide uppers are in very good
condition, still soft and supple, and show the same wear
consistent with the condition of the soles. There is an
old repair to the upper cuff of the right moccasin, on
the inside of the foot just above the heel. This repair
was executed after the moccasin was collected and the
wear was likely caused by the same affliction which
caused the wear to the heel of the sole. The repair is
well done and is not particularly noticeable being on
the inside of the moccasin. Other than this one wear
point, there are no split seams or weak points.
I purchased this pair long ago and they have been a
treasured part of my permanent collection for many
years; however they no longer fit in the collection as
it has changed emphasis and direction. This is a very
nice pair of early Cheyenne moccasins, made for a family
member - not produced for commercial trade, and in spite
of obvious signs which indicate regular daily wear, they
have survived in very nice condition.