Progressive Clothing

(Several of the paintings mentioned in this articles by George Catlin can be located from the Home Page)

The Choctaw people are very proud of their status as "civilized" Indians. They have been a pragmatic people, quick to accept whatever was good from the people who entered their lives. There is a saying that if the European settlers had brought aluminum foil with them the Choctaws would have been cooking with it while the other tribes were still regarding it with suspicion. but too often, in the rush for progress, we lose a sense of our history, our roots. It becomes hard to remember who and what we were before the white man came with his fine clothes, fancy homes and furniture. Perhaps this is nowhere more noticeable than at our annual tribal gathering. We are hosts to people from many other tribes. Wearing modern clothing throughout the day, but when they dance for us they wear the clothing worn by their ancestors many winters before the civilizing influences took hold of their lives. We're not often seen wearing such garments even though it is a part of our heritage.

What did the Choctaw of the 1700's or early 1800's wear: to learn that we have to turn to the documents and paintings of the Europeans who first came into contact with our people.

We know from our of our verbal histories (Anthropologists and historians mockingly call them "myths and legends") that our people first lived a great distance to the West and that under the leadership of Chahtah and Chicsa we came to the East, following the direction a sacred pole or cane leaned each day until it finally remained upright in the region we now know as Mississippi. In jis book Chahta Hapia Hoke, author Charles Worsham quotes a tribal story that says,"...our people lived in the northwest. In time their population became so large that it was difficult to exist there." It may be shoka anompa but it is a story told too often to doubt. We leave it to the Holytopa Hattak to discuss the wisdom of the Nanih Waiya stories of creation. The Choctaw people once lived with the plains or mountain tribes and many of our old customs and the clothing we wore were almost indistinguishable from theirs.

When Philadelphia artiest George Catlin first encountered the Choctaws, he found them a happy and cheerful people, industrious and honest. in two of his most found paintings of our tribe (pre-game and Istaboli contest) he shows warriors on the sidelines dressed in the buckskin leggings similar to those worn by the plains tribes. Instead of a loincloth, which hung across the belt in the front and back, the Choctaw seemed to be wearing ones that simply tucked into the top of the belt, much like bulky "fruit of the looms" as it were. At least one seems to have long hair hanging from his belt in different places. Others wore cloths that had special markings or decorations. Their hair was uniformly black and long, not braided in pigtails in the plains fashion but simply hanging loose. Yet in another painting depicting an individual Ishtaboli player, Catlin shows the man with comparatively short hair. A great number of the men are shown with spears or lances and decorated rawhide shields.

Woman in Catlin's pictures are show wearing mid-calf length buckskin dresses, with sculpted buttons. These dresses, known as "two-hide" dresses, are very similar to those worn by the Blackfoot, Sioux, and Missouri Indians although the former might be longer than those painted by Catlin. The bottoms, arms and yokes are all fringed and some sem to be decorated with strands of material, beads or hair. A few of these are painted with decorations, pictures or stripes. At least one has a turtle painted on the back. Like the men, the women all were wearing their hair unplaited and there seems to be no ornamentation. A curious note must be made of the women pained by the artist at the far side of the ball field. There he seems to depict dresses in various colors including blue, yellow and pink or red. While the details are not clear, it is possible he saw some women in what came to be know as "trade-cloth" dresses, made from wool Stroud Cloth. This material was made similar to hide dresses but had a gusset to make the dress a proper width. They most often were made from red or blue material.

Footwear is more confusing in these paintings. Most men are pictured without any foot coverings at all. The women, on the other hand, are all pictured in moccasins. These appear to be covered with short leggings, or are above the calf moccasins and the tops may have fallen to cause a wrinkled look.

At each end of the ball fields, Catlin shows drummers who appear to be cheerleaders of some sort. They are carrying small hand drums roughly 12 inches in diameter and decorated with small designs. Their drum sticks are simply long pieces of wood that have been curled by some means on the end into little hoops which are then pounded against the skins of the drum.

Source: Permission to use by Choctaw Nation