Native American Clothing: What Native Americans Wore?

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Native American Clothing: What Native Americans Wore?

Long before the Western Europeans set foot in the vast North America, Native Americans already have their clothing styles that were influenced by utility more than fashion and artistry. Almost every tribe had its own unique style of dress, and usually tribe members could be distinguished by simply looking at their traditional clothing, ornamentation, and headdresses. The clothing style would eventually change with the arrival and influence of Western Europeans.

Native Americans made use of indigenous materials that were available to their tribes. Many tribes used animal hides for their clothing, which they used when hunting. Other tribes like the Iroquois and Cherokee used deerskin. While the Inuit from Alaska used caribou or seal skin, and the Plains Indians wore buffalo skin. Other tribes such as the Apache and Navajo made clothing from weaving thread and plants. They also learned how to weave tunics and blankets. Of course, you don’t expect these woven threads to be as crease-free as the clothes we now have. Obviously, they used crude materials for ‘ironing’ their clothes as there were no steam irons at that time (here’s a link to steaming iron reviews).

Breechcloths, which were a rectangular piece of cloth or hide tucked over a belt, were common clothing worn by men in many Native American tribes. The cloth flaps fell down in front and behind to cover their genitals. During cold climates, men wear leather leggings. In some tribes, men wore fur trousers or short kilt instead the usual breechcloths. Not all Native American tribes used shirts. For instance, Plains Indian warrior had special buckskin war shirts that were decorated with intricate beadwork and quillwork as well as ermine hair and tail.

As with men, Native American women wore clothing for utility and not for fashion. Native Indian women also wore skirts and leggings, but the design, length and material varied depending on the tribe. Women’s shirt was optional for many tribes and used them more like coats. In other tribes, American Indian dresses were one-piece clothing that was worn overhead.

For the footwear, nearly all tribes used mukluk (a heavy boot) or a moccasin (a sturdy leather shoe). The designs and styles of the footwear varied depending on the tribe. There were also additional clothes that were used on certain occasions or climates. For instance, many tribes wore cloaks during cold climates, while some northern tribes used fur parkas. The tribes differ greatly in terms of formal clothing and headgear, which were different in every tribe. Usually, headgear complimented the hairstyles of the natives.

A dramatic evolution in the clothes of Native Americans was seen after colonization. While the colonizers did not bring technologically advanced equipment, such as a flat iron or even a one of Rowenta steam irons, the colonizer’s culture and fashion sense has greatly influenced the Native American’s clothing style. Native Indians started to adapt some European design styles into their own designs. Aside from this, there was also mingling among the different Indian tribes. As they were forcibly evicted from their lands, the natives were also forced to live close to each other resulting in the merging of tribal dress styles. Post-colonial native dresses were reflective of the colonizer’s clothing style. Fashion became the main driver of new clothing styles. Soon, the Native Indian clothes such as headdresses, breechcloths, leggings and dance shawls became decorative, often worn only during religious ceremonies and powwows. Native American Indians used regalia for traditional clothes there were worn only on special, ceremonial occasions.

Using Modern Lighting to Illuminate the Past

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Using Modern Lighting to Illuminate the Past

Light is really a wonderful thing. Though light from the sun is a bit different from the light produced by a LED bar or a similar electronic source, the fact is they are both able to brighten an area and make things more visible. As I journey around checking out various sites across North America to try and find stories of the people who were here before us, I find myself packing light sources all the time. Many of my searches take me into the depths of caves, or into the sides of cliffs, or into other locations which haven’t seen light in centuries.

Actually, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t even carry around those big, bulky flashlights anymore. One of the main ways LED lighting is superior to standard bulbs is in the weight of the device. When comparing a system of LED lights to traditional lights where both systems produce the same amount of light, or lumens, it is a guarantee that the LED system will simply weigh less. It requires less wiring and is designed in such a way as to make it more portable and easier to carry. That’s not to say the LED lights I use are always necessarily better than other types of lights.

led light barFor starters, I’ve noticed that LED bars and other lighting fixtures tend to be unable to produce a great deal of light. They can be bright, but certainly spotlights and other light sources with a good deal of energy flowing into them are still capable of producing more light. On light bars like the ones I use, it can also be a real pain when individual LED cells die, leaving me with a bar which has uneven lighting. These are impossible to replace as far as I know, though I imagine there is a way. I also imagine it would probably just be cheaper to replace the entire bar, as I’ve done several times in the past.

The bottom line is, when I’m going for my treks, climbs and hikes to check out various areas with a strong Native presence here in North America, I need to be able to move quickly and easily. I can’t afford to be tied down by heavy equipment, or burdened with items that are unwieldy or difficult to maneuver in an enclosed environment. In a great number of different ways, LED lighting is better than other types of lighting for the things I want to do. I’ve already outlined how it isn’t perfect here, but remember nothing is perfect, right?

In my experience, it’s the best kind of lighting there is. But everyone has different needs, you know? I need to be able to spot things like bits of pottery, arrowheads, tools and other remains left behind when I’m rooting through dark places. This means I usually need at least a free hand to dig through dirt or other roughage while my other hand holds onto the light. Comfortable clothing is also important here, but I think I already mentioned that.

Tools Then and Now

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Tools Then and Now

Technology has made leaps and bounds in the world of computers over just the last ten years. But computers and other electronics are not the only place where major technological improvements have led to better, faster or stronger machines. If you want a quick, clear example of this, just look to tools, along with power tools.

Today we have things like drills that work as screwdrivers and take all the work out of fastening one thing to another. We have machines that roll around on floors and sweep them for us, even. But what about the tools and technology of the past; how does it stand up today?

Well, sometimes the simplest solutions to a problem are really the best. Some old, literally ancient tools, are still in use today. They may have changed a little over the last several hundred or even thousand years, but they are essentially the same thing. The hammer is a good example of this.

simple-toolsA bar of some length with a weighted end crafted for the purpose of pounding other objects is one of the simplest tools mankind has in its repertoire, but it always has and probably always will be one of the most useful. Another good example is the wheel – these are things which are pretty much impossible to improve.

There are certainly tools today which are better than anything even remotely similar from the past though. You really have to hand it to people, always innovating and coming up with new ways for machines or tools to do their work for them. While it isn’t exactly mind-blowing, have a look if you will at the common pole saw.

This is basically a saw attached to a long pole to increase the user’s reach and allow him or her to saw through something at a greater distance. It’s perfect for chopping branches from trees without risking your safety by climbing up a ladder.

Just thinking about it, it’s hard to imagine how many people may have been injured or even killed in a situation similar to the one outlined above. Thankfully we have pole saws so people don’t need to go risking life and limb just to clear some branches before they can become a serious nuisance.

Unfettered growth could lead to issues like branching busting through windows, or touching power lines and giving the electricity a way to the ground, which is almost guaranteed to cause a fire. So that pole saw really is useful.

Looking at tools from the past and present, there are some improvements which have been made, that’s a fact. There are also a handful of tools which will probably never be improved, simply because they are more or less perfect as they are.

In either case, necessity is what pushed people to come up with new designs and items to help them tackle difficult problems and projects. Therefore, if you want to try and guess about what tools might appear in the future, just look at what people believe is necessary today and are yet unable to do. Those gaps will be filled by the right tools sooner or later.

Woodworking Tools used by Native Americans

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Woodworking Tools used by Native Americans

The various traditional woodworks used by Native Americans are a subject of intense interest to me and many other cultural enthusiasts. Of the various tribes, those who inhabited the Northwest coast exhibit spectacular woodworking trends.

The Northwest coast is home to several Indian nations that flourished due to the river resources and utilization of seacoast. This region stretches from Tlingit homelands situated in Alaska to Tolowa Homelands present in northern part of California.  All the Native American people who have lived along this coast have developed an advanced woodworking tradition that includes canoes, houses, totem poles, household utensils, and bent boxes.

Cedar is the most important tree for the people here. The tree has diverse uses, and it is linked to various aspects of Native American culture in this region. The tree catered to various necessities of life of the people. Before the Europeans invaded, the people in this region inhabited in multifamily residing large houses that were built on beam frame and posts. The trees were arranged in a line all facing water.

Adze for woodworking

Adze for woodworkingAdze is one of the most important tools used in woodworking. The people in the Northwest coastal region created several different models of adzes. For instance, the elbow adze has the blade inserted into long wooden handle.  The straight adze has a blade inserted into the haft of an antler. Then there are the D and U adzes. The blades made of jade used in chisels and adzes came from the Native Americans present in the interior parts. These were then traded to the people inhabiting the coastal region. To increase the hardness the blades were heat-treated.

Mauls and stone hammers

Nowadays woodworking has become easier with many modernized and electric tools such as the beltsanders, electric saws and many others. But the Native Americans had to use manual force in all stages from splitting wood to finishing it to perfection. For splitting cedar wood into planks that can be used for making boxes or building houses, initially a small cut was made for inserting wedges made of antler and bone. The wedge was then pounded using a maul. Various grades of wedges were used to split the log into planks. Pile driver was used for driving wooden posts to the ground. Hammers were of two basic types namely, hand maul where the grip or handle was carved directly into stone, and stone hammer, which comes with a wooden handle.

Kerfed boxes

These are unique boxes made of wood. The box sides are created by scoring a single board and bending it for forming the sides. The box is then fitted with just one side seam, which is sewn with spruce root. The bottom part of the box is also fitted carefully and sewn together. The boxes are mostly waterproof and some were even used for cooking. Water is filled in the boxes and is brought to boil by throwing hot stones into the water.

Stone celts, which appear, as modern day steel axe were also one of the woodworking tools used.  These tools were used by several generations of Native Americans to work on wood and create articles of immense day-to-day use, and for making artistic works too.

Native American war habits

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Native American war habits

I’ve since my childhood days been fascinated by Native Americans, especially the way they fight. We used to play Indian warfare games wearing the feather headbands, painting our faces (with lipstick stolen from my mother’s purse) and other accessories threatening our supposed enemies with scalping, if they did not comply with our wishes. Now that I’ve done a more detailed study of their habits, I’m even more intrigued. The Indian Warfare includes the weapons, methods and the attitude the different tribes of Native Indians had towards war.

War paint, for instance, was a vital part of Indian warfare. The paint had protective and spiritual meaning, and it was often used to intimidate and terrify the enemies. The images painted on the warriors’ faces denoted symbolically the victories and achievements they had done.

Fierce warriors

Indian warfare is mostly associated with intimidating, merciless and fierce warriors who were not cowed by intimidation or fear. They were ready to use bloodthirsty strategies and deadly weapons to assuage their sense of victory and honor.

Valor to them meant killing their enemies and this was the main way for advancing socially among the tribes. But the ultimate purpose of battle was to inflict harm upon enemies without receiving any harm. Most of the battles were of short duration.

The famed Battle of Little Bighorn was over in just an hour. The Native Americans used shell trumpets to encourage their warriors or to ward off evil. The modern day trumpet is a highly refined acoustic instrument, which I have firsthand experience using, ever since I purchased it from and it is far more sophisticated than its earlier conch shell counterparts are. I suppose the shell trumpets were used to warn the enemies of the impending doom too.

While the Native Americans may look war crazy, the battles ensure that they had enough food and shelter to survive.

Reasons for warfare

The reasons for Native American warfare were numerous. But mostly the battles were because of some urgent need. Some important reasons include

  • Taking revenge for the murder of close kin
  • Battles were waged, if a tribe’s livelihood was threatened by the raids done by another tribe
  • Sometimes the chiefs or the shamans have visions that compel the tribe to fight
  • Warriors use the warfare to gain honor, status and recognition
  • To expand the lands held by a tribe
  • To buy captives and sell them as slaves
  • For acquiring horses
  • To defend against the invasion of property and lifestyle by European settlers


The practice of scalping was a common one in several Indian tribes. The scalp was first cut and later torn from, the wounded or mostly dead, enemies during battle. The scalp was than cleaned well and stretched over a hoop, which was mounted on sticks and carried along. The inner side of the skin was painted in red color and hair arranged on it. If the scalp belonged to a brave warrior, feathers were mounted too. While many think that the one who had taken the scalp was the brave one, the one who gave the initial blow to the enemy (known as counting coup) is honored best in Native American tradition.

And the greatest honor was awarded to the warrior who had come in close contact with the enemy but escaped and returned safely home.  Termed as coup or war count these were used to signify the braveness of a warrior and feathers or notches in a coup stick were used to signify the feat of the warrior.

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