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Native American Deerskin Dressing:   Page 7
TANNIN DYES
"... yellow and red, some black and russet, and every man according to his own fancy."
Spark, one of the explorer De Soto's companions, describing the deerskin clothing of the Florida Indians.
        It is often stated that pre-contact Indians did not know of the use of tannins on hides. This is clearly not true. The very earliest reports, from nearly all sections of this continent, describe the natives coloring their deerskins with various bark dyes. They do not seem to have used them to create a full bark-tan, but even a short soak in tannins will change a hides nature to some degree. Tannins make skins less stretchy and a bit thicker, great for moccasins. They color skins. They may also make them slightly less water absorbant, long soaks do. I do not know how they effect their ability to go from wet to dry repeatedly.
        Dyes were specifically used on white unsmoked hides. The art, and range of color were highly developed in the southwest and the southeast. There use was as widespread as smoking, though not always as commonly used. In some areas, tanners clearly had a choice whether to dye, smoke or leave a hide white, depending on the intended use, and the preference of the tanner. Like smoking, dyeing was particularly mentioned in connection with moccasins.
        Tannin dyes used: alder, oak, paper birch, douglas fir, canaigre, ferns, sumach, hemlock, ironwood, willow, elm, elder, white maple, mtn. mahogany, indigo bush(dalea emorii), ephedra, lemonade berry (rhus trilobata), oregon grape, honey mesquite, leather root, mistletoe.

PARTING THOUGHTS
"Once the buffalo became virtually extict, and deer and elk scarce, hide preparations and use came to an end, and so abruptly that it has not been possible for scholars to reconstruct in complete detail all of the old ways of dealing with hides."
Thomas E. Mails, referring to the plains cultures.

        For the previous generation of brain-tanners, studying old accounts was a hard way to relearn the art of brain-tanning. Thanks to them, we can learn the basics in a week-end class anywhere in the country. And once we have some hands-on experience, the ethnographies, european leather technology, and experimentation, can teach us how to recreate processes that are efficient, authentic, in sync with our bioregion and fun. They may also help us understand how different techniques create different types of buckskin, best suited for specific uses. Whatever its future, brain-tan will forever en-deer you to its sumptuous softness, and primitive strength...
 

Feel free to email us any of your thoughts and comments on what you just read!
 
A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF SOURCES DIRECTLY CITED
the entire bibliography of over a 100 works is now online...
Catlin, George
1913     North American Indians. Leary, Stuart and Co., Philadelphia.

Geronimo
1906     Geronimo: His own Story. Edited by S.M. Barrett. Newly edited by Frederic W. Turner III, E. P. Dutton and Co., New York.

King, Arden Ross
1947     Aboriginal Skin Dressing in Western North America. Unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, University of California, Berkeley.

Lawson, John
1709     A New Voyage To Carolina. Reprinted 1967 by University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.

Mails, Thomas E.
1972     The Mystic Warriors of the Plains. Doubleday and Co., Garden City.

Price, John A.
1962     Washo Economy. Unpublished master's thesis, University of Utah, Salt Lake City.

Reed, R.
        Ancient Skins, Parchments and Leathers.

Swanton, John R.
1946     Indians of the Southeastern United States. Bulletin of the Bureau of American Ethnology, vol. 137, Government Printing Office, Washington D.C..

Teit, James
1900     The Shuswap. Memoirs of the American Museum of Natural History, vol II, pt. VII. G. E. Steckert Publishing, New York.

Wissler, Clark
1910     Material Culture of the Blackfoot Indians. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, vol. V, pt I, New York.


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