Native Americans


by Brandon Smith

The Cherokees from the Greenville area were of the lower Cherokee nation and were less refined during the mid-to-late eighteenth century than were the middle and upper Cherokee nations. These lower Cherokees had encountered less white interaction and their clothing indicated their primitive ways. The pre-European clothing of Cherokees was quite different to their dress following white trade interaction. Clothing obviously began to change drastically, with Indians losing much of their aboriginal wear. One feature of the Cherokees' original wardrobe that did not alter even after European invasion was the universal moccasin shoe.1 This shoe was made of leather and was described as more "comfortable and practical" than any white man's boot.2 After European interaction, Cherokees began wearing more woven fabrics and European-standard shirts and pants, rather than their simplistic skins.3

In general, Cherokee men's clothing was gaudier than women's were. The men wore breechclouts described as a shirt of buckskin hanging to the knees. This type of garment is often referred to as a "Cherokee hunting shirt." Men also wore deerskin legging and robes of buffalo or other animals in place of the common deerskin.4 Undergarments, if worn, consisted of a "flap" of animal skin beneath the clothing.5 Often a blanket of buffalo skin was draped over the shoulder in a type of "classic Indian" style. Men sometimes wore flowered calico as headwear that many whites described as turban-like.6 Gloves made from animal hides were worn by all in colder weather.7 While the Cherokees were naturally beardless, tattooing and dying the skin was also a regular practice of the eastern band. Ceremonial garb for men consisted of gold-dyed deerskins and leggings with a matching headdress.8

Women usually wore short vests made from deerskin and/or fringed skirts made from the same material. Occasionally they wore deerskin leggings. Clothing common to both the males and females were the leather moccasins and the animal skin gloves for the winter months. A ceremonial woman's garment would include a long skirt woven of feathers with a fringe made from down. Women wore their long hair braided to the knees.9

Children under the age of ten and the elderly often did not wear any clothes at all. Extreme weather would force them to cover in blankets, but generally they were naked. After the approximate age of ten they would begin dressing like their mothers or fathers. Henry Timberlake, a white settler who fought under George Washington, described some of the Cherokees as having bald heads, with some of the elderly having a patch of hair in the back. This patch of hair was decorated with beads, feather, and deer hairs10. Accessories were a necessity in the Cherokee's wardrobe. Jewelry consisted of silver bracelets and necklaces, beads, porcupine quills, shells, and feathers and was worn by both men and women.11

1John Finger, The Eastern Band of Cherokees (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1984), 62.
2Samuel Carter III, Cherokee Sunset: A Nation Betrayed: A Narrative of Travail and Triumph, Persecution and Exile (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1976), 17.
3Theda Perdue, Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change 1700-1835 (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 117.
4Henry Thompson Malone Cherokees of the Old South: A People in Transition, (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1952), 15-16.
5Ibid., 16.
6Marion Starkey, The Cherokee Nation (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1946), 41.
7Thompson, Cherokees of the Old South, 16.
8Carter, Cherokee Sunset, 17.
9Ibid., 17.
10Dale Van Every, ed. The First American Frontier: The Memoirs of Lieutenant Henry Timerlake, (Johnson City, TN: The Watauga Press, 1927), 75-76.
11Carter, Cherokee Sunset, 17.

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