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dullbeer74100   , 28

from Vida


Late 19th century Kiowa leggings.

I am pleased to offer Whispering Wind's readers some thoughts

on a striking pair of circa 1890s Kiowa "boots". I have used

quotes around the term "boots" here to reflect the fact that

while some people might describe this style of footwear as being a

"pair of boots", Vanessa Jennings, a highly respected Kiowa

woman, uses the term "leggings" to properly describe this type

of footwear. This beautiful pair of young girl-sized leggings was once

in my personal collection, and today can be found in the collection of

Doug and Karen Rahn. This month's article was made possible with

their kind permission.

The construction details of this pair reflect classic Kiowa

preferences from the circa 1890s reservation period, and they would make

a good role model if you wanted to reconstruct a pair from that

timeframe today. Having said that, I think it's important to note

that while the cut and style of these leggings are correct for the 1890s

period, some moccasin https://www.amazon.com/Leggings/b?ie=UTF8&node=1258967011 characteristics continued to evolve over time, and

Kiowa leggings of this type were not always made just precisely this

way. There are some aspects of construction and decoration that have

changed very little over time, but others have varied a great deal and

are certainly worthy of note.


By the late 1890s when Kiowa people were mostly sedentary, and raw

materials like buckskin and other hides were in scarce supply, the

length of legging tops had been shortened from the style in earlier

times when tops were much longer. During the 1890s, just as it is today,

these leggings were fastened to the wearer's leg with a single

thong tied just below the knee. In earlier times when the Southern

Plains tribes were more equestrian oriented and spent a good deal more

time riding horses, the tops of these leggings were made to be much

longer. The legging tops during this period went well above the knee,

and were usually fastened to the wearer's leg with dual tie thongs

located above and below the knee. Leggings of this earlier style could

be drawn upwards around the legs to protect the thighs when riding

horses, and then folded back down over the top tie string to drape over

the legging for greater comfort when the wearer was walking in camp.

This legging construction detail has certainly evolved over time as a

result of real world environmental circumstances. In reality, this

evolution in style is not appreciably different than the changing

fashion in women's skirt lengths over the same time period. Changes

in construction details such as this, which evolve over time, provide

students of history a good deal of help in determining the age of an

artifact under study.


You may have also noticed that there is a striking resemblance

between Comanche and Kiowa leggings of this type. This is true today,

and was equally true during the 1890s and earlier times when these

tribes were allies and lived in close proximity to each other. I am of

the opinion that Kiowa women likely adapted this style of footwear for

their own use as a direct result of their early relationship with the

Comanche. I believe the Comanche in turn evolved this style of footwear

from their relationships with the Apache, and that the Apache probably

copied this style of "boot" from the Conquistador "hip

boots" which they observed on Spanish explorers in the Southwest.

While the Kiowa came south into the Oklahoma Indian Territory from the

North and experienced little contact with Spanish explorers themselves,

the Comanche were exposed to earlier Spanish influence having arrived in

Texas and Oklahoma from the Southwest. When the Comanche and Kiowa

tribes eventually joined forces on the Southern Plains, I believe that

there was a good deal of material culture influence on the dress and

decoration preferences for each tribe, and I think that is why this

class of footwear is so similar today.

While there are indeed similarities in construction details and

decoration preferences for this style of women's footwear for these

two tribes, there are also unmistakable differences. I will try to share

some of these distinguishing differences with you in this article.

In overall construction technique Kiowa and Comanche women's

leggings are basically made in the same manner. One of the most

significant differences can be found in the shape of the moccasin sole.


For Kiowa, the toe shape of the sole is found to be gently rounded as is

clearly shown in the photo. The proper Comanche sole shape on the other

hand is remarkably different in that the moccasin sole comes almost

perfectly to a point at the toe! This is true for both Comanche

men's and women's moccasin shape and I am convinced this

tradition can be traced back to their association with Apache tribes in

the Southwest.

In terms of the decorative treatment of the legging tops, there is

wide variation to be found in the examples of both tribes. For this

pair, the top of the legging has been cut to be level, and then hand

punched to accommodate rolled and twisted buckskin fringe. It is also

common to see the tops of leggings left un-fringed, as well as the


fringe being cut out of blue leggings the existing top material. After the turn of the

century it was not uncommon to see cotton cordage sewn to the legging

top to simulate hand twisted buckskin fringe.

Like the Comanche, before the turn of the end of the 19th century,

the Kiowa usually decorated buckskin clothing with paint of some kind.

The pair of moccasins presented here was constructed out of smoked

brain-tanned buckskin and painted yellow. Commercial chalk, various

dyes, and natural mineral pigments were all used on the Southern Plains

at various times to achieve coloration for yellow and green decoration.

Vanessa Jennings once told me that the Kiowa used the yellow clay

nodules found in Palo Duro Canyon outside Amarillo, Texas to achieve

this yellow coloration. Our non-Spanish speaking readers might not know

this, but Amarillo is the Spanish word for Yellow! In this pair while

the bulk of the legging had been painted yellow, the rectangular flap in

front has been accented with contrasting green pigments, and the design

field decorated with dual rows of small German silver buttons. This

approach to decoration in this frontal flap area is common for both the

Kiowa and the Comanche. It is also not uncommon to see large silver

Conchos in the same design space and sometimes nothing other than the

contrasting paint background. While green is the most common color used

in this design space, the color red was also used.


Perhaps the most significant differences between the Kiowa and

Comanche preferences will be found in their approach to beadwork decoration. The Comanche women's leggings typically have much less

beadwork than their Kiowa neighbors. The same philosophy is applied to

the decoration of baby cradles. While the Kiowa cradle is typically

fully beaded, the traditional Comanche cradle of the same timeframe is

almost entirely devoid of beads! In decorating women's leggings,

while it is common to see beaded lanes of beadwork around the ankle and

outlining the frontal flap area for both tribes, the Comanche women

usually do not place design elements on the top of the moccasin upper,

and seldom if ever bead the perimeter of the moccasin. The Comanche

color palette is also quite limited when compared to their Kiowa

neighbors, generally preferring to use only red and various shades of blue beads on a white background. As evidenced by the photos in this

article, the Kiowa not only typically place beaded designs on the

central part of the moccasin upper and bead the moccasin perimeter, they

also use a much more complete spectrum of color in their beadwork


This pair of moccasins is beautifully beaded with a wide variety of

colors and designs in very small seed beads; dark transparent red, pony

trader blue, opalescent transparent pink, chalk pink, turquoise blue,

navy blue, butterscotch, chalk white and white core rose all in the same


Most importantly draw your attention to two observations which are

very telling about Kiowa preferences. First, notice that each of the

three lanes of beadwork, which outline the rectangular frontal flap is

composed of a totally different beadwork design. The lane of beadwork

around the ankle of the legging is decorated in yet a fourth different

pattern. Combined, these four lanes of beadwork are invariably decorated

differently on most early Kiowa leggings. During one of my many museum

visits, Joe Hays, when he was Curator of the Museum of the Great Plains

Museum in Anadarko, brought this observation to my attention, and

expressed the thought that this attribute of Kiowa leggings was

purposeful, and perhaps associated in some way with the significance of

the number four (directions, seasons, etc)!

Lastly I will draw your attention to the beaded geometric designs

centered on the top of the moccasin uppers. This style of decoration is

traditional for early Kiowa leggings, but one also sees beaded

medallions in the same design space. These geometric designs seem at

first blush to be symmetric, that is precisely the same for each

moccasin, but Kiowa artwork can sometimes be deceptive, and might

require a closer look! While the shape of the

"arrowhead--like" designs are indeed precisely the same shape,

a closer inspection reveals that the colors and in some cases the beads

used within the interior of the "arrowhead-like" designs on

each moccasin are in fact different! While the outline of the basic

design element for each moccasin is the same, pony trader blue over dark

transparent red and light turquoise blue, the internal decoration has

not only been accomplished using different colors, but different sized

beads as well! The right moccasin design element has been accomplished

using alternating rows of navy blue and bright chalk pink in the larger

segment, and navy blue and opalescent pink in the smaller area. The

geometric symbol on the left moccasin uses dark transparent green

alternating with a lighter chalk pink color in the larger area, and dark

transparent green and butterscotch in the smaller area. While to my eye,

and perhaps yours, one would expect the beaded designs to be the same on

each moccasin of a pair; this pair clearly shows that Kiowa traditions

for symmetry are decidedly different.

Referring back to my earlier discussion on cradles, it is also

quite common to see an asymmetrical approach to beadwork decoration on

Kiowa cradles. The two sides of many Kiowa lattice cradles are often

found to be beaded in contrasting colors and differing designs. This

preference for asymmetry in Kiowa beaded decoration is not only striking

in its artistic appeal, but an important discriminator for this

important tribe's artwork.

I have found that lack of symmetry in the decoration of Native

American wearing apparel was relatively common if not the norm during

earlier times before extensive contact with non-Indian influence. I

think over time, this fashion gradually changed as a result of

increasing cultural contact with non-Indian society, as traders and

travelers continued to push further westward. One can readily observe

"pair asymmetry" in moccasin pairs, and also in the decoration

of pairs of men's leggings in the early paintings and collections

of artists such as Catlin. This edition of the MoccasinCorner celebrates

the talents of 19th century Kiowa women and their contributions to

Native American art. Enjoy!

Photos by Doug & Karen Rahn