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WESTERN APACHE HIGH TOPPED MOCCASINS – LIKELY CHIRICAHUA OR MESCALERO – A VERY NICE PAIR SHOWING PERIOD USE AND WEAR:  This is a stunning pair of 19th Century Apache High Topped Moccasins of the style worn by Western Apache men, in particular the Chiricahuas and Mescalero.  A pair that was made expressly for the man of the family and not for the tourist or souvenir trade, these moccasins show the honest use that would only come through regular daily wear.    

Thomas Mails’ seminal reference The People Called Apache, provides considerable references to these uniquely styled moccasins.  On page 38 of there are two 19TH Century cabinet card images which show three Apache men wearing high topped moccasins of this very same pattern, with the folded high tops and the distinctive “cactus kicker” round rawhide accents on the toes.  The captions identify the men as “San Carlos Warriors”, indicating the reservation in southern Arizona where they lived.  Mails included an article written by Dr. George Dorsey, Curator of Anthropology for the Chicago Field Museum, wherein Dorsey observed: “The moccasins have a hard sole, curving upward above the toe for protection against thorns and cacti.  The better moccasins have exceedingly long “uppers”, reaching the thighs, and thus serve as a protection to the legs.  Commonly, however, they are worn in three or four folds, reaching only to the knee….The moccasins are often sparingly decorated with painted designs and beadwork.  Those entirely covered with beads are made merely for trade….”  Mails goes on to comment regarding the footwear of the Western Apache, “…men wore….moccasins of a pattern slightly different from those of the women, being hip length when first made.  These were soled with bull hide and cowhide and most had the traditional turned-up, rounded toe piece.”   

To place these moccasins in the proper context of the time, it is important to acknowledge that the US Government attempted to settle the Apaches on reservations beginning in earnest in the 1870’s.  In spite of the myriad of documented incidents of open warfare which occurred during the following twenty years when various groups left the reservations, more often than not with just cause, the majority of the Apaches remained on the reservations and began the difficult process of assimilation.  During this era there was no bright line of demarcation where the native clothing was replaced by the European-American style clothing manufactured in the East, rather a mixture of clothing from both sources were worn concurrently, as evidenced in period photographs.  Likewise, the method and materials used in the making of the native clothing gradually changed, for example the use of commercial thread replacing sinew in the assembly of the clothing - in this case, the upper legs of this pair of moccasins.   

Further, based on the conversations I, and others, have had through the years, I have no doubt that most collectors would find it surprising that the late 19TH Century tribes not only had access to, but were also capable of using, sewing machines.  It is well documented that the old treadle operated machines were one of the conduits through which the agency and mission teachers attempted to encourage the native peoples to assimilate the white culture.  If you doubt this, simply do an online search for “Native American use of sewing machines”.  One photograph you’ll find is that of a Blackfoot woman, wearing native dress, seated on a crate at her treadle sewing machine which is positioned in front of her tipi…a very evocative photo, indeed.  Just as the men incorporated the firearm, so too, the women recognized the benefit of machinery as it came available.   

These moccasins, measuring 9 ½” the length of the foot, and 3 ½” wide at the ball of the foot, stand 24” tall.  There is an additional 14” of buckskin folded down at the top, arranged in a double upper cuff which is edged in a hand cut saw tooth pattern.  They are fashioned from native tanned buckskin and still retain a soft, supple texture with no hard or brittle spots.  The foot section and the upper folded cuff on both moccasins are colored with powdered red ocher paint, somewhat faded with age and wear, but still very apparent.  Both moccasins retain the original buckskin ties which are anchored with small hide loops around the ankle for securing the moccasin on the foot.  The round toe tabs are both present and fully intact, and still stand proud of the foot as they should.   

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 having been worn and show the imprint of the owner’s feet.  The sole of the right moccasin is in excellent condition, completely intact with no holes.  The sole of the left moccasin is worn through at the heel, as if the original owner may have had an injured leg which caused his heel to drag.    

The native tanned hide uppers are in very good to excellent condition, still soft and supple.  The right upper has four small holes which were original to the taking and the tanning of the hide, not the result of wear or damage.  These holes were simply too small, and too insignificant in their location, to bother with repairing them, especially on a pair of utilitarian moccasins such as these.  The left upper has a hole on the back of the leg approximately six inches above the heel which was probably the result of wear.  There is a second small hole immediately below the outside ankle which could be, as with those on the right upper, simply a hole that was original to the hide and not worth repairing as it does not appear to have any wear around it.  Otherwise, the uppers are fully intact and present very nicely.   

The uppers are stitched to the heavy soles with sinew.  The only other stitching used to assemble these moccasins is the single seam which runs up the inside edges of the backs of the legs.  Both of these vertical seams are machine sewn with cotton thread, very well executed and no doubt original to the assembly of these moccasins.  Having examined and handled this pair, I have no doubt they are from the late 19TH Century and were made by the Apache for use within the family.   

This pair was recently obtained from an old collection which was built over the last 70 years, and only recently became available to the collector’s market.  After acquiring these, I spent considerable thought wrestling with whether to sell them or not.  Too often I run the risk of becoming my own best customer.  Pieces such as these, being part of an Apache man’s daily wardrobe and prone to being worn out to the point of destruction and eventually discarded or cut up to salvage whatever usable leather remained, just did not survive in great numbers to enter the collector’s market, and frankly they are relatively scarce.  Dating back to the earliest explorers, the collector attention has long been focused on the heavily decorated ceremonial or dress clothing, which is certainly understandable.  However, that focus ignored the foundation pieces of the material culture, and those pieces such as these moccasins which maintained the Apaches, and all the other tribes, in their day to day struggle to survive their harsh environment.  The buckskin from which this pair is made, the style, and the evidence of wear, all testify to the many miles these moccasins traveled, and the history which was witnessed by the warrior who wore them.  In short, a spectacular pair to add to your collection.  SOLD


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