If the Shoe Fits

While the DHS artifact collection is primarily centered around metro Detroit objects, there is a significant collection of Native American material from throughout the Great Lakes region. As the ancestral home to more than a dozen different tribes, the Great Lakes were a source of food, transportation, clothing, shelter, and trade for thousands of years. With the establishment of Detroit came manufactured trade goods. One of the more common trade items among American Indians were glass beads. These beads were used in a variety of ways to adorn every day objects such as containers, tools, and clothing.

The one article of clothing that is most unique among American Indians is footwear—commonly known as moccasins. Each tribe had very distinct ways of constructing and decorating their moccasins to identify who they were. While the collection contains several pairs of moccasins, we have picked these three distinctive pairs from different tribes to share.

Anishinabe: Also known as the Chippewa or Ojibwa, this tribe was common throughout central and northern Michigan as well as northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. These moccasins have a large inset vamp on the top and side cuffs made of red wool. The beadwork design includes more realistic elements indicating flowers, leaves, and vines. These Moccasins date to the 1830s.

Potawatomie: The Potawatomie were the last tribe to have occupied the Detroit area. The range of the Potawatomie extended south and west through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri and later into Kansas. Like the Anishinabe moccasins, this pair also has an inset vamp on the top but they do not have side cuffs. The ties and beaded tassels with yarn balls are made in a diagonal weave technique that was quite prolific among the Potawatomie. The beadwork decoration is more abstract in both design and color and is outlined by white beads to make the designs stand out. These are indeed a fine and somewhat rare style of circa 1900 Potawatomie moccasins.

Ho-Chunk: Also Known as the Winnebago, the Ho-Chunk people lived throughout Wisconsin and parts of Minnesota and Nebraska. These moccasins are strikingly different from the previous two pair, and likely so as the Ho-Chunk speak an entirely different language than the Algonquin-speaking Anishinabe and Potawatomie. One thing that makes this slipper-like pair of moccasins so exceptional is that they are constructed out of one solid piece of deer hide. Notice the seam starting at the toe and running the length of the sole to the heel where the front flap is folded over the top and then sewn along the instep. Very ingenious construction. The decoration of cut and sewn silk ribbons is simple yet appealing and is nicely bordered with a row of white beads. These moccasins also date from around 1900.

2 thoughts on “If the Shoe Fits

  1. Hi,
    The first pair of moccasins on the above page are super nice ! They look like somewhat a pair in the Chandler Pohrt collection at the Detroit Institute of Arts, pair that was collected at Cross Village, MI, and have an Ottawa ID (and an earlier date than your mocs). But at the same time your mocs also have some Iroquois traits (kind of raised beadwork, cut…) so I was wondering wether this kind of shoe could be Iroquois ? or Southern Michigan/Ontario Chippewa ? or Ottawa ? or a mix of all and a regional style ?
    any more info or comments will be posted I hope !
    Lionel Lacaze
    (Alrance, France).

    • Thanks for the comment Lionel. The moccasins you refer to were also collected by Milford Chandler but in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, among the Anishinabe people. These early style mocccasins are quite similar to Iroquois examples at the time but the beadwork is significantly different. While there is slight evidence of some raised beadwork on our pair, it isn’t enough to place a positive Iroquois attribution to them. The collection data, however, is the ultimate indicator in this case. Good observations.

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