'Native American Braintanning at the Time of Contact', seven pages describing various hide tanning methods, tools, etc.
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Native American Deerskin Dressing: page 1

inuit woman working on braintanning a hide
Inuit tanner takes a break
INTRO
        My original purpose with researching 100 first hand accounts of Native American tanning was to find easier, more direct techniques to accomplish that goal: velvet soft buckskin. I knew (or at least hoped, prayed and begged) there would be a way to get wet-scraped hides to brain and soften more easily than what I currently knew. There was! And it has revolutionized the way we and other tanners brain tan deerskins (and resulted in the book Deerskins into Buckskins).
        The secondary purpose was to learn how to efficiently tan with only stone-age tools -- methods that could be used in a wilderness survival situation. Where better to look, than at the experts?

        I was highly surprised by many of the other patterns that emerged. There are several common 'myths' about Native American tanning and stone tool tanning that simply don't hold up to any scrutiny. For instance, the idea that 'white buckskin was only used ceremonially'. The written record clearly shows that many tribes never smoked any of their hides and most only smoked hides for particular uses!
        It is also important to point out that not only did different tribes use different tools and methods, but so even did different people within different tribes! The plethora of different techniques, tools and substances used in the process boggles the brain (ever tried using mashed Saguaro cactus seeds instead of brains?). In modern days, we often say there are as many techniques as there are tanners, and the same seems true of the past. Despite this, there are many definite patterns that we can learn from.

        One of the challenges of researching tanning on the Plains is the obsession early anthropologists had with buffalo hide tanning. There is typically a long description of this process and then a cursory mention of deer if any at all. The result has been the assumption that deer and buffalo were tanned the same way, which is not at all true! One advantage that an experienced tanner has over an anthropologist, is that we understand a lot more about the practical side of tanning. You read some of these reports and laugh at the conclusions drawn by the anthropologist, things they'd never say, if they had ever brain tanned even one hide...

        In this article, I will describe and illustrate most of the recorded approaches to each step in the process. Sometimes a technique is dependant upon other techniques being done or not being done on the very same hide. My purpose here is not to teach you a process, but to show you the many options that were traditionally practiced by Native Americans, and to varying degrees why, so that you may experiment and adopt ones that work for you.
        This article will be limited to the dressing of deerskins. Because of their durability, softness and availability, they were the most commonly tanned, worn and utilized skin in North America; the most widely used "fabric" of pre-historic times. While many of these techniques can and were applied to the dressing of other skins (caribou, elk and antelope especially) each skin type has its own structure that requires specialized methods. All information presented here-in is based on the materials I was able to find. There are many tribes for whom I have not been able to find any detailed information (particularly on the east coast). If you know of any reports that would shed a different light on certain details, please contact me.


 
 
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