Native American Moccasins: Basic Footwear of the Southern Indians

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Cheyenne moccasins

Moccasins are one of the more distinctive pieces of the Native American clothes. Still in use today this footwear has many different styles ranging from a basic leather bag, rawhide soled moccasins, and artistic wonders. These styles came about due to the different terrain, fashion and ceremonies of the many diverse Indian tribes. Native Americans used paints, dyes, quillwork, beads and fringes to make their handcrafted moccasins unique.

Southern Native Americans and Moccasins

Amongst many of the Southern Indian tribes moccasins were seldom used except in winter and in rough territory. When footwear was worn, it was typically easily made swamp moccasins and hock moccasins. These moccasins could be found in other Native American tribes, but they were typically worn by poor people as they were very simple to make and had little style. As part of the Native American costume these were considered practical and cheap.

There were several reasons the Southern Indian tribes didn’t wear footwear, and when they did kept it as simple as possible.

The first and most obvious reason was the relatively warm winters made moccasins unnecessary most of the year. Moccasins are hard to make using stone and bone tools, it made little sense to spend days making a moccasin when it would only be worn for a few days.

Second, the deserts, prairies and light forests of the south could be walked for short distances at least, without the need of footwear, as long as it wasn’t a long journey there was little worry of injury from sticks, stones and plants. If the person was travelling farther then they would make simple moccasins that could be damaged, torn or lost without worrying about the effort put into the footwear.

Third, in the Southeast the land was wet and swampy. Leather moccasins tended to shrink, wrinkle and harden when wet, making the footwear very uncomfortable. Spending a lot of time and effort in making complicated moccasins was seen as a waste of time for everyday use when they would have to be thrown away after a short time.

Swamp Moccasins of the Southeast Indian Tribes

Swamp moccasins were easy to create footwear, typically worn for travelling in particularly thick swamps. These moccasins were made of one piece of leather cut in the basic shape of the foot. Occasionally a second piece of leather was sewn onto the sole to provide extra protection.

This moccasin was typically ankle high, although some would be a little higher for extra warmth or protection. The footwear was tied with a leather thong along the back and the toes. Typically the thongs at the back to provide laces that were tied to ensure the moccasin didn’t slip off.

These swamp moccasins were typically not decorated, as they were not meant for style or show, but merely protection. This purely utilitarian footwear was occasionally made so quickly that they were little more than bags covering the feet.
Easy to Make Native American Hock Moccasins

The hock moccasin was one of the easiest types of footwear for American Indian tribes to make, it was also fairly clumsy and uncomfortable. This type of moccasin could be found throughout the South and were sometimes worn by more northern Indian tribes, particularly in the Northeast.

The hock moccasin was made from the hind leg of an animal, usually a deer, called the hock. When skinning a deer the hock was carefully cut from the hoof and the upper leg, and peeled off in on piece like a sock. After drying the hock, the bottom half was sewn together forming a simple boot.

This moccasin while uncomfortable, was warm and was often stuffed with cattail fluff or fur for extra protection from the cold. To secure the footwear thongs would be tied around the outside. Some American Indian tribes would cut the front of the moccasin and thread a leather thong along the slit forming laces and making them a little more comfortable.

Simple but Effective Native American Footwear

The swamp moccasin and the hock moccasin were not the most stylish of Native American costumes , but they were effective for the job of protecting the feet from rough ground and cold. For the Southern Native Americans footwear wasn’t often necessary, so they used their time, energy and resources for other more important parts of Native American c. The more northerly American Indian tribes who needed moccasins for everyday footwear would create the more complicated and artistic styles of Native American footwear.

Source:

  1. Josephine Paterek, Encyclopedia of American Indian Costume, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, New York, N.Y. 1994
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