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Thaw Catalog Entry: Shirt, Leggings Plains Cree type (possibly Assiniboine - R. Coe) Alberta, Canada ca. 1830-40 Shirt and Leggings: caribou hide, porcupine quills Moccasins: deer hide, porcupine quills, cotton Shirt: 38 1/2" l. x 25" w. at shoulders Leggings: 47" l. Moccasins: 10 1/2" l. x 4" w. Garter: 8 3/4" l x 4 1/2" This costume is a classic and early northern Plains type in many respects, but in addition presents some remarkable features. The brilliant quillwork is in pristine condition, despite its considerable age. Also remarkable is the nature of the skin used in its construction. Instead of traditional antelope skin the costume is made of caribou skin, identifiable by the many warblefly scars. Presumably this is skin of a Woodland Caribou, which ranged south into the Parkland margins of the northern Plains. Finally, the black and red ochre decorative painting combines Plains cultural influence with guns and spears pictured on the front, and small circles and lines on the back, simple patterns reminiscent of those used in the northeastern boreal forests. These motifs suggest that this costume was probably produced by one of the Cree bands that in the early 19th century had assimilated a Plains focus in its culture, without completely giving up its former ties with the Parklands. It should be mentioned that the term "Plains Cree" does not relate to one single political unit or "tribe." The Plains Cree consisted of a number of such tribes, distributed from Manitoba to the Rocky Mountains, and representing a range of cultural adjustments from Parklands to Plains. This cultural diversity explains the variety of regional art styles identified as Plains Cree. Supporting this identification are a number of specific features of the shirt and leggings: an horizontal band of fringe along a seam over the front of the shirt; the many small elements in the geometric designs of the rosettes, the use of pure black-dyed porcupine quills; the alternating blocks of yellow and red created by the quill wrappings of the legging fringe; and thin borderlines which surround the rosettes created by the wrapping of quills around a quill filler. In addition to these generalized Plains Cree traditions, there are several details that may allow a more regional identification. The cross-in-broken-circle design on the large rosettes is a northern variant of an Upper Missouri River art style, while the long narrow lozenges predominating in the quillwork strips of shirt and leggings reveal influence from the Yanktonai or Eastern Lakota. (c.f. Feder 1980:43) Such details may have been distinctive for the Cree in southeastern Saskatchewan, who had assimilated a considerable number of Assiniboine Indians by intermarriage. Moccasins, an armband and a headdress (now destroyed) were presented with the shirt and leggings. The moccasins have soft soles which come together around the U-shaped apron or vamp, and an ankle wrap with serrated edges has been sewn on around the instep. (c.f. Shirt and Leggings, Rijksmuseum Voor Volkenkunde (524-2/3), Leiden, Netherlands; Shirt, Museum fur Volkerkunde (8602), Berlin, Germany; Crupper, National Museum of the American Indian (018/5498), New York; Moccasins, Hartman 1973, fig.17; "Blackfeet Chief and Subordinates," Brasser 1976, p.200) The vamp has a cotton lining. The delicate quillwork on this vamp shows a combination of rectangular and curvilinear elements, including forms that suggest leaves or petals. These elements are formed by fine outlines, filled in with red, yellow, blue and black quills. Beyond the border of plaited quillwork, quill-piping covers the seam around the vamp. Beginning in the 1820s, moccasins conforming to this description were produced by Ojibwa and M‚tis in southeastern Manitoba and traded throughout the northeastern Plains. By 1840 the art style on these moccasins had become fully floral, suggesting that this pair of moccasins, and the aforementioned costume, were acquired at an earlier date. Vincent 1995a, p.36.
height 47 in