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American Indian Hides & Pelts

For the American Indians, whose tribal cultures were tied to the products of the land, animal hides and pelts were an essential aspect of everyday life. Because of this integral nature, American Indians developed a reputation for their expert handling of tanned hides and pelts, which eventually became coveted by outside cultures.

Throughout their shared histories, American Indians tribes all relied on animal hides and pelts as crucial components for dress, dwelling, and protection. Tanned hides proved invaluable for the creation of clothing, while fur-lined pelts were requisite for warmth, particularly during winter. As a result, American Indian perfected the art of hide and pelt preservation, becoming renowned among early fur-trappers and traders around the Great Lake for the quality of their pelts. This acclaim among traders continued well into the 18th century and, arguably, even to today.

Quick Facts

  • One of the oldest documented hides to survive today was that used to create a shoe. Discovered in 2008 in a cave in Armenia, the shoe is believed to date to 3,500 B.C.
  • Tanning, the process by which an animal’s skin was preserved before use, was an essential practice for American Indians. In some instance, they employed the method of brain tanning, which involved an emulsion of the animal’s brain with water to cure the hide
  • Beyond the mandatory needs for clothing and shelter, pelts and hides played a vital role in American Indian decorative arts, from headdresses to drums

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