Micmac beaded moccasins. Made out of animal skins, or sometimes plant fiber, moccasins protected men, women, and children's feet from rough terrain. Reproduced by permission of© Christie's Images/CORBIS.
While many Native Americans went barefoot, even in the snow, most tribes developed a favorite style of shoe called a moccasin. Made out of tanned animal skins, or sometimes plant fiber, moccasins protected men, women, and children's feet from rough terrain. Many were plain leather, but others were elaborately decorated with fringe, beadwork, or painted designs. Each tribe created its own distinctive moccasin style, ranging in height from ankle to knee. A sampling of moccasin styles from several tribes gives an idea of the range of moccasins used by Native Americans.
The Northern Paiute of the Great Basin (a desert region in the western United States that comprises parts of many western states) fashioned "hock" moccasins out of buffalo legs. Removing the skin of the animal's hock, or lower leg joint, as an intact tube, the Northern Paiute would stitch one end closed, slip their foot in,
and tie leather thongs, or straps, around their ankle to hold the moccasin on their foot. The Nez Perce Indians of the Plateau made soft leather moccasins by wrapping a piece of leather around their foot and sewing a seam up the top. The Nez Perce beautified their moccasins with intricate beadwork and porcupine quillwork, a process of applying designs to garments by dipping porcupine quills in dye. The Mojave wrapped fibers from the mescal cactus with strings to make moccasins for traveling. Wealthy Tsimshian of the Northwest wore seal or bear skin moccasins, but the less fortunate wrapped their feet in cedar bark. The natives of the Southeast wore "swamp" moccasins to protect their feet from the soggy swamplands throughout Florida and the surrounding areas. Swamp moccasins were made out of a single piece of animal skin that wrapped under the foot and up to cover the ankle. Crude stitching at the front of the shoe and at the heel formed a boot shape.
The Navajo of the Southwest made moccasins with rawhide soles stitched to red stained leather uppers that reached the top of the ankle. Navajo moccasins were often fastened with two or three silver buttons. In the coldest regions of the Subarctic and the Arctic, moccasins evolved into calf-high mukluks, or boots, made of moose skin soles with caribou skin uppers trimmed with beaver fur. As American settlers continued to encroach upon their lives, Native Americans eventually abandoned their everyday moccasins for shoes purchased from whites, although moccasins continue to be worn for ceremonies. In the modern world, moccasins similar to those developed by Native Americans remain a popular form of footwear for informal and indoor use for people throughout the world.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Hofsinde, Robert. Indian Costumes. New York: William Morrow, 1968.
Hungry Wolf, Adolf. Traditional Dress: Knowledge and Methods of Old-Time Clothing. Summertown, TN: Book Publishing Co., 1990.
Paterek, Josephine. Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO, 1994.
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