Women of
             Fur Trade


Look at mink, The mandan girl painted by Caitlin

   Fur trade dresses were decorated with quillwork or
   pound beads which are equivalent in size to the #8
   beads of today. Lumpy money cowrie shells were
   fertility symbols and were widely used. Elk teeth, a
   symbol of long life, were very popular especially among
   the Crow. Brass thimbles are also often seen used as
   dangles, as are dew claws from deer. Dentalium shells
   were sewn in rows on dress bodices. The larger necklace
   size trade beads were strung on thongs that hung from
   dresses. Hawk bells were another popular dangle.

   Some thoughts on fur trade beadwork:
   Actually, there is still some controversy over seed beads.
   What we have to go by is, of course Bodmer who   
   showed the pound beads, sometimes with so much
   detail that you can even count the beads in the rows.
   The Chandler Port collection shows wonderful examples 
   of the transition from pound to seed beads and how the
   designs gradually became more complicated, too. The first
   use of beads was to add color to an article and not
   thought much of as making designs with the beadwork

   Yes, there were seed beads brought out and Fort Hall
   here in Idaho has inventories of seed beads. What we
   have to look at is the quantities of each, and pound beads
   were in much larger quantities than seed. I have thought
   about it and wondered why we don't see them in existing
   articles from the Rocky Mountain fur trade. My thoughts
   are that some use of seed beads in very small quantities
   could be appropriate, or that perhaps seed beads were
   most popular with the Eastern Indians that were out here
   in the trapping brigades in fairly large numbers [Iroquois,
   Delaware], and some of the necklaces that Catlin shows
   on Indians look like seed beads. Look at Mink, the Mandan
   girl he painted. Three of her necklaces look like seed
   beads, and also the trim on the edges of her quilled
   bracelet. There is also a beaded necklace worn by Six
   [another Catlin painting], a Plains Ojibwa, in a style still  

   made by the Shoshone here. These paintings show use
   of seed beads in very small quantities, and not as the
   main design on an article of clothing. Its not that seed
   beads weren't here, they just weren't fashionable among
    the Indians as decoration for clothing.

   Remember I am just talking about the Rocky Mountain fur
   trade here. I have heard that Southern tribes used seed
   beads a bit earlier, and have not done much research
   there. The one thing I remember is the Commanche strike
   a light bag found that caused some excitement because it
   proved that seed beads had been used, it was collected
   by Berlandier, circa 1840. That is still at the very end of the
   fur trade period, though and it was still just on a very small
   article and not on a large clothing piece.

   So, from the paintings and existing artifacts it appears
   that pre 1850 bead ornamentation of the Western Plains
   Indian clothing is limited to the use of pony beads.  
   These beads became available on the plains in the early
   1800's.  By the 1830's they were popular as trims or
   borders for quillwork, and also as the main decoration on
   some pieces.  Colors used were very limited- white, blue
   and black being by far the most common, with pumpkin,
   greasy yellow, reds and dark blue being quite scarce. 
    It is interesting that to make red, a gold compound was
   used as pigment. The early bead colors were softer and
   richer than what we have today.  Many early beadwork
   pieces show the use of several sizes of pony beads on
   one design. I have a few strands of antique pony beads
   and they are not as uniform in size as today's
   reproductions. Seed beads were in use in the East at
   this time, but they did not get West of the Missouri River
   much before the middle 1840's.

   Early beadwork designs were also very simple- boxes,
   triangles, and rectangles. The more complicated designs 
   started  appearing in the seed bead era around 1850.
   These early beads were either opaque or what we
   call "greasy" such as greasy yellow. Transparent beads
   came about 1870 and faceted beads for beadwork about

Pony beadwork designs 1800 to 1840
Very simple designs- boxes, triangles, and rectangles


    Early strike a light Pony Beadwork
Note the simplicity of the design again.


Sioux seed bead design from 1870.
This type of design is not proper

for the fur trade time period.

  Lazy stitch was one of the earliest methods used and the
 most widespread.  A given number of beads up to 12, are 
  strung on the thread or sinew and sewed down in rows,     
  the thread passing only through the top layer of buckskin
so no stitches show on the back.  
   Sioux lazy stitch does not lay flat and each row is sewn on 
  independently of the other rows.  

Cheyenne lazy stitch lays flat and each row is hooked    
   under threads of the rows above.  Wax the thread often to
   make it grab into the leather and hold the beads tight.        
  Real sinew was the most often used, but linen and cotton thread was available from traders.  

    Overlay stitch uses two threads.  One thread is strung
    with beads and the other thread is used  to sew down
    every second bead to the leather or cloth.

    Applique or return stitch is a method of sewing down
    beads and retracing through the last half before adding
    more beads.  This is good for rosettes.

    Loom beadwork was not done among the Western tribes
    during the fur trade era and definitely should not be used!

              LazyStitch            Overlaid                 Applique

    A source for reproduction beads is Crazy Crow. Baby
    Powder Blue #042 is the color blue to buy from them.
    White, or French porcelain white are both acceptable,
    and of course, black, all in number 8. 
They are listed
    as "old time colors."

    For learning quillwork,we  recommend Jean 
    Heinbach's book,      
"A Quillwork Companion."
    This is truly the Quillworker's Bible!

    Recommended books:
    Art of the American Frontier by David Penny
   The Plains Indians by Colin Taylor
   Carl Bodmers America
   The George Catlin Book of American Indians by
    Royal Hassrick

Below are some examples of fur trade style 
   dresses so you can see the type of decorations
   commonly used.

    Nez Pierce dress Decorated with pound beads and  
   Dentalium shells, collected by Reverend Spaulding.

The bottom of Nez Pierce dresses do not have wool

    Please note the Spaulding dress is using size 8 black
but the white beads are definately size 10.

   Jill and I have personally seen and examined this 
   Dress and are positive about the size 10 beads.   


       Quilled rosettes with basket weave down the sleeves.

                             Close ups of the Same Dress



    Sioux dress in the Smithsonian, decorated with blue 
    pound beads. This one is done differently,
 it has a
    separate beaded piece attached at the neck and



               Sioux style circa 1850, blue, white, and red pound 
This shows the transition toward the fuller beaded
                                    popular circa 1870.



 Both of these dresses were collected by Father  De Schmitd,
circa 1850, Blackfoot

Upper Missouri child's dress

    Katy's replica of an 1830 dress in one of the German
    museums. this dress has some interesting variations.
   See how low the colored piece comes down on the  
  dress top. This shows that is made of three hides but
   sewn in the style of the two hide dresses, as we 
    mentioned in "The Two Hide Dress", and was done 
    when large enough hides were not available. 
    plugs are braintan inserts
instead of the usual wool
    and the sides are just laced together with thongs
   spaced several inches apart.

   The lacing stops above the knee, and how practical for
   mounting a horse!

   The rosettes are quilled, with blue pound bead edging.




      Black, white and blue beads on a crow top.

Star dress done in quillwork.


   The bottom of this dress is done with bead work. Note
                       the brass thimbles as dangles.


Blackfoot dress all done with pound beads
note the simplicity of the design in the beadwork.

    Top of dress note the Elk teeth dangles.



   Bottom of dress note the wool inserts.

    Two hide dress from the Cody Museum.
This may be
     the most important
dress we can show! Work dresses 
    were not decorated,
and they were the ones worn
   everyday by Indian women. The other dresses, with all
   their fancy decorations, were for special occasions.
   Any well off woman would have owned their everyday

dress and one ceremonial or special occasion dress. 


    Anyone striving for realism, and especially the WFT    
   women who are always out on thr trail, should make the everyday dress their first priority.

    We hope this has given you some ideas and helped in decorating your two hide dress.


Jill, Sandy and Chris.



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