Fort Laramie, Wyoming History; Ghosts of Fort Laramie

Ghosts of Fort Laramie Wyoming

As a teenager, and living in Ft. Laramie at the time, it was just a matter of course to work at the old Fort. Back then, the fort was really big on doing what we called the Living History in which we dressed in period costume of the time and were well versed in the history to supply any answers to historical questions to visitors, and the Midnight Tour was our summer highlight.

That was the grand finale of the summer, when several of the buildings such as the jail and bakery, held a small skit in front using employees and volunteers dressed in the period of the time. Tourists and locals alike loved it!

I personally liked walking the grounds at dark, after everyone left, hoping that I’d hear or see a ghost from one of the many buildings that are reported to be haunted. I never did. Not one. Not ever. Today, I”m not 100% sure I even believe in them. Not for any reason other than it doesn’t fit scripture in my opinion, but there are still some fun ghost stories told about the old Ft Laramie grounds and their still well-kept buildings. And, because i lived there, I love hearing a good old Fort Laramie ghost story! They make some wonderful campfire stories and here are just a couple of Ghost’s of Fort Laramie stories….

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The Lady In Green

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Ft Laramie was not always Ft Laramie, but was a trading post of the American Fur company. The agent in charge had a lovely, high spirited daughter (I think we call that headstrong and stubborn today) who was well educated, classy, and used to getting her own way. This sophisticated young woman was brought to the post to visit her rather, although the planned visit was to be brief, for some reason she chose to stay on. Her father allowed this with the proviso that, because of the dangers of the frontier at that time, she was to be with guarded escort at all times when she left the safety of the compound.

As the young woman was an accomplished equestrian, she chose to ride a challenging and magnificent horse that may have been a bit too much for her. Slipping away from her escort guards, she took off on this spirited animal and though the men gave chase, she soon lost them. Though many continued to look for her and spent a considerable amount of time doing so, no trace of her was ever found.

They say that she can be seen every few years just a bit east of Fort Laramie on the Oregon trail, wearing a long green riding dress, still in the company of the spirited black horse she rode away on.

(Having grown up in the area, I’m not sure where she would have disappeared to as it’s open prairie, and there is a river there, the Platte River, but I would imagine had her horse thrown her, she would have been found in the water. However, though the prairie is wide open, there is a lot of land to cover and anything is possible, such as falling into a ravine that no one found.)

Captains Quarters

This building is also said to be haunted/ Built in 1870, and built for the commanding officer, it was divided into half as the officer staying there at the time, and living elsewhere, could offer this to a junior officer. This was called :”rank out the quarters” People visiting, employees cleaning there, have heard footsteps when no one was there, sounds of doors opening and closing, whispers. At night, lights can be seen occasionally. Does this mean there are ghosts? This is a strange phenomenon in itself as I’ve been in all the buddings and none of them, with the exception of the visitors center, has any electricity running to them whatsoever.

The Old Hospital

One of the places I find so intriguing is the Hospital. Noting much of it stands today but a shell, however many bones of interred soldiers are said to be around here. Some have been removed and re-interred with respect to a new location, but there is no doubt, being a hospital, that men probably died there. To my knowledge, I don’t think there was ever a dedicated cemetery on the Fort grounds, but they do say that a surgeon, covered in blood looking annoyed and irritable, has been seen.

Ghost of Fort Laramie?
Ghost Photo of the old Fort Laramie, Wyoming Hospital

Several years ago, my sister and I were there taking photos of a a small Native American Sioux group of dancers at the Fort, but when a nasty storm whipped up turning things dark from impending rain, we decided to leave early and from the parking lot, I took my last photo of the hospital on the hill facing us. To this day, I don’t know what I captured, and while the jury is out on what I believe on ghosts, I know I caught something. Friends think I shot a photo of a bug flying past, but blown up, it looks like no ‘bug’ I’ve ever seen!

Sightings

As I’ve said, I’ve never actually seen anything, other than the above photo (and I only saw it after I downloaded it and viewed it up close and personal). But there has been talk of other things like a young man, for instance, who walks about in an old raincoat talking to people who aren’t there.

There is a tiny creek that runs through the Fort grounds, (it can be seen behind the jail and runs to the west back behind Old Bedlam) where there is said to be a gentleman, headless of course!, with a bad temper throwing rocks into the creek behind the building. It’s said he’s unfriendly and to be avoided, but I’m not sure what he can do if he’s incorporeal? In another area of the fort, closer to the southeast end (past the visitors center area) there is said to be a young solider who acts odd and erratic, and it is said it’s best to avoid him, too.

I have no idea if there is any truth to any of them, because I’ve never seen nor heard anyone and I’ve been there when it was dark, the time that most ghosts are said to appear., But there is absolutely no question that this area is full of history and the ground soaked with blood. With the Grattan Massacre occurring only a few miles away in a field that is now farm ground, how could it not be? That is what history is about, albeit actual and factual history or ghostly representations thereof. But if you find yourself in the area, do stop by to view the old Fort. Even if you never find a ghost, you will undoubtedly find the history of the fort and the area fascinating!

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Legend of Devil’s Tower

Devils Tower
courtesy wyomingtourism. org

As with many places, there is usually a story behind the mystery behind the fact. Devil’s Tower is no different.

Like many people in their home states, they travel out of state to visit unusual or scenic places, but never explore the interesting points of interests close to home., I have done the same. And it took me til over 40 years to take the time to travel to northern Wyoming and explore Devil’s Tower. That’s a fact!

It’s truly an incredible and unique place, very unusual, and specific interest was focused on in in the 1977 movie,” Close encounters of the Third Kind.” And probably on any given warm day in the summer, you will find people climbing or repelling down the face of the Tower itself. Since I don’t like heights, I can’t imagine the fascination of this sport, but it doesn’t stop me from watching in awe those who do it :)

The legends surrounding it are many, and each one of equal interest. Many of these stories are older Indian legends told and retold around a campfire to help explain the mystery of an odd rock that springs up out of the middle of nowhere.

Considered sacred by many tribes all over the United States, the name Devil’s Tower was not actually an original name, but instead, was a name a white man gave the formation after misunderstanding the Indian name given, which was actually Bad God’s Tower. It is easy to see how ‘Bad God’ was translated to Devil. The Lakota, from the Pine Ridge, SD area, near where my husband is originally from, have another name for it and call it Mato Tipila, which translated is called Bear Lodge. It has also been called Grey Horn Butte, Bear Rock or Bear Mountain, Tree Rock and even Grizzly Bear Lodge.

One of the legends I had heard centers around and explains the overall general bear themes you hear concerning Devil’s Tower.

One of the legends goes something like this…..

Two young Indian boys, out playing and hunting, got themselves lost on the wide open spaces of the prairie. They had wandered most of the afternoon and were far, far from the safety of their homes. As boys will do, they kept wandering, not really considering the danger. On hearing a small noise, they went to investigate and, on finding a small, beautiful stream, they decided to follow it, see where it led. Coming to a hill, like all children (and some adults alike) they wanted to see what was on the other side and proceeded to climb it. Seeing the wild antelope on the other side, they pretended to sneak up on these wily animals to see how close they could get. As boys do, when they got hungry, then and only then did they think of home, but unfortunately, they had wandered so far from home they didn’t know exactly where they were or how to find their way back.

Guessing where the trail back home might be, they set out for the village, but got even further confused and further away from home until dark fell and they stopped at the base of a tree to get some sleep for the night.

When they awoke in the morning, their situation had not improved, nor would it as they continued to guess where home was but only traveled in the wrong direction. On the way to wherever, they found the odd berry and root to eat to calm their hungry stomachs.

This difficult situation continued for days, trying to find their way home, finding small tings to eat, sleeping out in the open only to start over in the morning. After several days of this, the boys had the strange feeling that something was watching them, stalking them. Turning, in the far distance they saw Mato, the bear, only this one was huge! Not like a normal bear at all! The boys would only make a snack for this monster.

As he came closer, the earth trembled beneath the formidable steps of this enormous bear. Though the boys ran, searching for a place to hide, there was nowhere for them to escape. One of the boys stumbled, slowing them down and allowing Monster Bear to get even closer; so close they could see his dripping fangs, his hungry mouth!

In prayer, the boys begged the creator, Wakan Tanka to save them. “Tunkahila, Grandfather, please save us, please protect us from Monster Bear!” Immediately the ground growled, shook and roared, and began to rise, with the young boys on the top of it. It continued to roar, and groan as it rose to over 1,000 feet tall. Monster Bear, Mato, was furious that his easy meal had disappeared, but Tunkahila had kept them save.

But the monster bear was not done! Unwilling to give up his ‘food’, he reared up toward the tower. Almost as tall the tower, but not quite, he scratched, he gouged, he roared with rage, then dug into the tower, scoring the stone and dirty with his might claws; claws so huge they were almost as large as tree poles.

Unable to gain purchase to his meal, Mato tried every different angle, every different side of the tower until the entire rock had been deeply scored by his furious claws. The boys continued to watch while Mato wore himself out, until he finally gave up and wandering away, growling and roaring, the earth trembling as he left. Thanks to the old Grandfather, the boys were safe.

Wanblee, a friend to ‘the people’, saved the frightened and hungry boys, by letting them grab his feet and feathers, and carried them safely back home to their village.

Legends like this started as a way to explain the explainable. And it is hard to understand how a rock burst up out of nowhere with no other formations around it.

Today however, geologists who have studied Devil’s tower and the surrounding terrain, tell us that it was actually formed by an extrusion of molten rock, igneous, pushing up through other formations deep in the earth. (Kind of like a pimple!) There are other geologic explanations out there as well, but I rather like the facial story of the Native American version of Devils Tower…don’t you?

Oregon Trail Ruts

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  I hadn’t been to the Oregon Trail Ruts since I was about 16 and I had actually forgotten what they looked like. I had also forgotten how deep those ruts where as well. It’s impressive to see how deep they reallyOregon Trail are and it brings home to a person how arduous they’re trip was and exhausting and how heavy their loads were when you see how deep the ruts cut into the rock. Just think of it! Wagon after wagon just filled with all that they owned being pulled by oxen, followed by more wagons after wagons, decades after decades…..Almost 160 years later the ruts can be seen today as a testimonial to their bravery and determination to start a new life more than half way across the continent. Few of us today would have that same brand of courage,

The history of the Oregon Trail Ruts is a fascinating one to me whenever I look at the deeply cut ruts in the soft rock and soil of the Guernsey earth. Today, you can view the small town from the banks of the Platter River as you drive out to the ruts just a scant mile out of town. It’s hard to picture, when you stand at the top of the hill, viewing the

Oregon Trail marker sign
Oregon Trail marker sign

ruts, what hardships these people must have actually faced when you see the comforts of a town just a few moments away.

Originally, in the early 1840’s, when the move west was just beginning, the Oregon trail carried hundreds of thousands of people who were unable to pay for the expensive ship-board passage rates. As well, many of them wanted to bring along with them their furniture and equipment that they planned on using to start businesses, much of which was not feasible to transport by ship because of cost.Oregon Trail Map

So, the fascinating Oregon Trail became the ‘highway’ transport for over 20 years and extended into the late 1860’s until the completion of the Union Pacific railroad route in 1869, the new method of transport. You can see their trail on the map at the left and at the right, from a photo I took in Guernsey, some of the ruts remain, a testament to the huge number of oncoming settlers determined to make this difficult trip.

    The deep ruts cut into the rocks still remain after over a century. Some of the ruts wore down into the rock anywhere from 2 to even 6 feet deep!

As their trail passed further and further west, the wagon trains were of necessity, forced to follow close behind each other creating the resultant ruts which today show so deep. I believe this area is considered some of the more impressive places along theOregon Trail Ruts Oregon Trail that show the path the settlers took and gave a hint of some of the challenges that the emigrants would have to face as they continued west.

Re-enacting a period of western history? Looking for a period correct Bonnet? Visit our page, here at www.rawhidestudios.com/bonnets for a great selection!

History of Aprons

historical aprons
historical aprons

I was thinking the other day, when I was sewing aprons, as to how they came to be. Obviously, at some point people saw a need and created something to protect their work clothing. Right?

 

But the materials we have today and what they had to work with centuries ago are clearly two different things. Without a doubt, material was hard to come by and people, say butcher’s for instance, weren’t as lucky at butchers today to buy and wear plastic, or any type of aprons.

And, too, cloth was woven at great expense, involved a considerable amount of time, and I’m suspecting were even woven on small frames, depending on the household, their income and their specific needs.

There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information and history out there about the lowly apron but what we do know of history, and what is seen in paintings, allows us to speculate on how the indispensable apron came into existence. And like any ‘invention’ or ‘idea’, it took shape over time as needs changed and the design changed to fit a new purpose.

Maybe little was written about such a lowly garment because it was just not something considered too important, yet the garment itself has carried quite an impact over the years. I am a child of the 50s and can distinctly remember my mother wearing an apron in the kitchen to protect her clothing from spills and spatters. She often made adorable aprons for church fund raising bazaars as well. Today? Who bakes anymore (I do!!!) with the advent of self email subscribecleaning ovens and microwaves?

Still, it’s a curiosity as to how it came to be. When I think of each fiber they used for weaving coming from a sheep that had to be sheared, the wool washed, cleaned, combed and then spun before even weaving, it takes no great mental leap to see that the fibers were precious indeed and that the more wealthy would either have someone in their employ to do the dirty work and they would have the better materials to work with. The poor, in comparison, would have worked with items not quite as high end, but the result would have been just as serviceable. Plant fibers, such as flax, took time to gather, beat, separate and work into threads for weaving thereby dramatically increasing the cost and value of the final product.

I figured that possibly aprons were, of necessity in cost and time production, probably pretty small to start. Just enough to cover the basic part of clothing from splatters, spills and stains.

Not knowing how far back they go, I can only guess how they were made. Sewing machines and needles are things I grew up with and am familiar with, but if there were no needles millennium ago, possible bone needles were

historical aprons
historical aprons

used? It gives one pause for thought that an apron made then would be far more work than it would be now, and would certainly be treated with great care to increase it’s longevity.

Seeing a lot of photos of paintings, it appears that around the 1500’s is when the little lap apron evolved into something fashion changed into a more elaborate style. Pinafores began showing up bit later where an apron was designed to be an apron with a pinafore on top. These were ‘pinned’ to the bodice. (Not sure how they ‘pinned’ them, but the few history books I’ve found say that’s what they did.)

When I make aprons for period costumes, most people want ties on the waist of the apron and they want ties on the bodice, but if you are staying with the re-enactment part of being period correct, they didn’t have ties. However, in photos of some period paintings, you’ll notice that at times aprons became elaborate and detailed part of clothing that were finely decorated. This was more of a status symbol rather than a serviceable piece of clothing.

In the fifties, when I was born, I grew up seeing these cute, serviceable AND decorative items that my mom wore in the kitchen. How the apron has changed!

And now, they are coming back into fashion….ahhhh…..the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Welcome back lowly, yet beloved apron!

Western Holsters Origins

Where Did the Western Holster Come From?
A History of the Western Leather Gun Holster Origins

Madeleine Jacobs
(source P. Spangenberger, True West Magazine 2008)

email subscribeThere is still, undeniably, a fascination with western culture and memorabilia. As a young lady in high school, I read dozens of accounts of stories like the Hole in the Wall Gang, Jesse James, and Wyatt Earp. Every story made the old west more romantic than ever.

Along with their stories, there was a curiosity about their guns, their clothing and even their horses. In my mind, I  created elaborate and detailed pictures of what the old west looked like. Photos of these ‘evil’ men and their deeds, both dead and alive, weren’t even close to what I had pictured. But growing up with and learning to shoot with my dad made me curious about the weaponry used in this time period….especially the hand guns.

The old six shooters sported much smaller hand grips and some were slimmer and longer in design than what we see an use today. But these pistols and rifles were their tools of trade, so to speak, and were very important. And worth taking exceptional care of.

Some of the holsters and rifle scabbards were a detailed study in excellent craftsmanship, showing detailed and finely worked leather tooling. Originally created with an efficient and functional purpose in mind but by the mid 1850’s, that had changed. Care was now given to protecting pistols from dirt and dust from binding the mechanism in the pistol rendering it useless when needed in immediate situations. To that end, flap covers became a part of holster design.

As prohibited and illegal activities increased, the need for immediate access to a pistol increased. The protective flap became a hindrance and thus was eliminated. Eventually, enterprising businesses, saddlers and leather workers, saw an evolving need for quality and functional gun holsters. Some of these, such as Main and Winchester and L.D Stone Company, filled the gap resulting in what we now see today as a definitive western holster, giving birth to the ‘California Pattern’. (Just a personal note; too bad it wasn’t the ‘Wyoming Pattern’ or the ‘Texas Pattern’!)

These scabbards and holsters were custom created for particular revolvers and rifles, conforming tightly to shape, some of which featured either the full or partial flap.  Belt loops were usually stitched to the reverse side and in some cases riveted and occasionally included detailing and was uniquely ornamental as well as functional.

Eventually the pattern for this West Coast Holster became very popular and spread everywhere through the western territories. Actually by the Civil War, the pattern used in for these holsters became a standard design used commonly by many.

In the mid 1870’s, as the six gun progressed to the metallic style cartridge, the Mexican Loop Holster pattern began to take precedence over the California style holster pattern which readily fitted over wider belts.

The elaborate and beautifully detailed leather pieces we see today are thanks to the California Holster for being the frontrunner for what constitutes holsters today

Legend of the Rawhide, Rawhide Buttes-Lusk, Wyoming

Dickson, Arthur Jerome: “Covered wagon days, a journey across the plains in the sixties, and Pioneer days in the northwest: from the private journals of Albert Jerome Dickson”, Cleveland, The Arthur H. Clark Co. 1929.

‘About midway between Columbus and Grand Island we camped for the night on a small stream called the Rawhide. The story was then current that during the California gold rush, an emigrant party once camped there. Among them was a young fellow, thirsting for glory, who has vowed that he was going to shoot the first Indian he saw. Against the protests of the others he got his Indian – a defenseless squaw. When her people heard of the death they surrounded the camp in great numbers and demanded the guilty one, threatening to annihilate the whole party unless he was produced. He was promptly delivered into their hands. Then, before the eyes of the horror-struck white men, the Indians skinned their victim alive. This stream was ever since been known as Rawhide Creek.’

Laut, Agnes C.: “The overland trail, the epic path of the pioneers to Oregon”, New York, Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1929 p. 50

‘Five miles out on Elkhorn River, between the site of General Dodge’s first cabin and the modern city of Omaha, you will find the name on rail maps commerating an almost unknown episode. In 1854 the flood tide of Westward Ho was at its height to Utah and California. A brutal blacksmith on his way to California had sworn he world shoot the first Indian he saw just to have the nick on his gun. He did. His victim was a Shawnee boy. Now when the Mormons began moving across from Kanesville (Council Bluffs) to Omaha (Florence) they had made a treaty with Big Elk for a lease of land during five years till they could move the people gradually westward and both parties respected and observed that treaty: but there was a frightful crime unprovoked against the Pawnees. The Mormons did not want to stain their hands by becoming hangmen. Neither did any of the other pioneers, though crimes later along the Trail compelled them to overcome that reluctance. They handed the white murderer over to the Pawnees for punishment. The Pawnees tied him to a wagon wheel and shinned him alive. For years this gruesome spot was know as Rawhide.’

Spring, Agnes Wright: “The Cheyenne and Black Hills Stage and Express Routes”, Glendale, California the Arthur H. Clarke Company, 1949 p. 118

‘As to the Origin of the name Rawhide Buttes, H. Kelly said “A young man from Pike County, Missouri, had boasted that he would shoot the first Indian he saw on the plains. The young fellow had forgotten about it for the first month from the Missouri River. Upon his attention being called to his boast one day, about the first of June 1849, near the mouth of Rawhide Creek, he saw a camp of a few Indians on the Platte River and the fool shot one of them. That caused a lot of trouble as the Indians demanded the young man be turned over to them at once; else they would attack the train consisting of some thirty wagons of California gold hunters.

The man, who surrendered to the Indians, who, in broad daylight, tied and skinned him alive. It seems that the poor fellow fainted a number of times but lived till they had him nearly skinned. That was what originated the name Rawhide.’

Trenholm, Virginia Cole, and Carley, Maurine: “Wyoming Pageant, Casper, Wyoming”, Prairie Publishing Co., 1946, p. 126

‘On the soft, chalkstone bluff, now known as Register Cliff, may still be found the names of about five hundred of the emigrants who followed the trail. Many and varied are the stories back of these names. Let us take for instance, the name John Phillips. This was not John (Portugee) Phillips, who made a sensational ride from Fort Kearney in northern Wyoming to Fort Laramie in 1866.

This Phillips was a member of the ill-fated emigrant train that witnessed the incident giving rise to the name Rawhide Buttes. According to the story left in his diaries, a reckless young man vowed that he would shoot the first Indian he saw. It happened to be a squaw. The Indians furiously demanded that the young man be turned over to them. Fearing an attack upon the entire train the emigrants were forced to comply. The Indians proceeded to skin him alive. His mother, a horrified witness, died several days later along the trail.’

From our vertical files in the historical department:

“Rawhide Buttes – The Sioux for these buttes is ‘Tahalo Paha’. ‘Tahalo’ means rawhide, and ‘Paha’ is the Sioux word for ‘buttes’ or ‘hills’. The Indians had at one time killed a great number of buffalo, skinned them, and left a great pile of rawhides at the foot of one of the buttes, and when they returned the rawhides were gone, evidently stolen by white trappers.”

‘The historical Rawhide Buttes’ by Betty Harness

“In the wooded range of hills southeast of Lance Creek and south of Lusk, Wyoming, are the beautiful Rawhide Buttes. Most prominent are the two wooded, granite peaks that tower above the smaller hills.

Through this section winds the old Mormon Trail. Here, in the 1830’s, the Hudson Bay Fur Co. established a trading post. Indians brought their buffalo and beaver hides to trade for dry goods, beads, tobacco and whiskey. By 1840 the fashion for beaver hats waned and fur caravans no longer moved west.

To their place the lurching wagons of the emigrants streamed by the hundreds. It was here that a wagon train headed for the California gold rush, via Ft. Laramie, stopped to camp. Here a white man was skinned alive by the Indians because he killed an Indian woman in cold blood. Is was from this incident the name Rawhide originated.

When the Cheyenne-Black Hills stage line was established in 1876, the Rawhide Stage Station was situated near Rawhide Creek.

When land was opened for homesteading more wagon caravans came. Among them, in 1884, were grandparents of W. J. Wolfe of the Ohio’s pipe line department. It was they who homesteaded the Rawhide Buttes. Mr. Wolfe’s father homesteaded adjoining land and Wes, land that adjoined his fathers.

Mrs. Wolfe relates of a time before she and ‘Wes’ were married when they rode horseback to the foot of the Buttes and climbed to the top. ‘Wes’ pointing to the surrounding territory, said, “This is the Wolfe Den”.

After Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe were married they made their home in the Rawhides. In 1936 our pipe line department laid the trunk line to Ft. Laramie, under the supervision of Earl Mardis, now Bridgeport division superintendent. The pipe line follows along the old Mormon Trail. After completion of the lines, Wes took the job of line patrolman. He covered the 39 miles by walking from his home in the Buttes to Ft. Laramie one day, back the next, then to Lusk, next day, returning home the following day.

Mr. and Mrs. Wolfe have two children. Betty, who attends the university in Laramie, and Edward, who is in the Government service in China Lake, California. They own their home and live in Lusk where Wes is delivery gauger.

Relics of Indian and pioneer history of the Rawhide still remain. Wes has in his possession a bill of sale, dated 1892, where a former owner of some land, later bought by Mr. Wolfe’s father, purchased a log stable for $40 from the Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota Stage Company. He has an old filing cabinet, made of native lumber from the Buttes that came out of the old stage station.

Ambitious searchers may still find arrowheads and Indian relics by climbing the jagged rocks and digging and sifting the dirt. These were the natural strongholds wherein white man and Indian barricaded during battle.

The story of how the Rawhide got its name has been annually narrated and produced into a pageant since 1946. It is a nonprofit enterprise presented at county fairs and rodeos, with proceeds used for community improvements.

“The Legend of the Rawhide” has gained wide acclaim. Its authentic covered wagons, trained ox teams, cast of 100 people, realistic make-up and enactment of the attack upon the wagon train, burning of a wagon in mock death, and the sensational gruesome climax, when the “Indians” skin the white man alive, make this spectacle on Wyoming’s outstanding and entertaining shows.

“Ohio Oil Co.”
The Beacon, Dec. 1949
p. 19-20

Leather Jackets, Fringes, and Fashion, oh my!

Where Did the Fringe on Leather Jackets Come From?
A History of Fringe Jackets, Fringes, Leather Jacket Fringes and Fashion
  Madeleine Jacobs
Leather Jackets, Fringes, and Fashion, oh my!

 I have a beautiful light blue leather jacket with fringe along the shoulder and on the under seams of the sleeves. Growing up in Wyoming, I have to admit that I’ve always been a bit partial to these kinds of jackets. Although you don’t see many of them worn today, since it is no longer currently the ‘in’ style, these jackets are still around, as are vests, chaps and gloves.

    But I wondered…where did this particular style come from? I decided to do some digging……

    I started out my research with the assumption that leather fringing began with our nation’s western era. If you thought that as well, you’d be wrong! You and I need to go back much farther than that….

    Fringe on clothing to show style and class was actually popular in Mesopotamia (1). It didn’t matter what economic status you were, what ‘class’ you were. You showed style if your clothing was embellished with  leather fringes.

   While you don’t see fringes on clothing, or the fancy, expensive leather jackets like you used to, the fact remains that a few decades ago, fringes on leather was a definite style. Western movies and western tv shows were in abundance, with the hero or heroine wearing fringes.

   Actually, in the 1600’s and further back east, fringed coats and gloves were found on woodsmen, having adopted similar clothing that many Indians in their surrounding area wore. But why the fringes?

   It was a lot of work to get leather. Hunting was a forgone given since meat was needed to feed families and hunters’ themselves. After hunting and skinning, the hide was tanned. This was quite a process involving many steps and a lot of time. Given the expenditure in energy, it made complete sense to waste as little as possible….of anything. Meat or leather.

    Extra leather was cut into strips and worked into the seams of the jacket to make the seams as flexible as possible as well as to increase needed insulation and to protect the wearer from rain, snow and wind. Old timers today, and I’ve actually heard them state this!, swear by the fringes acting as a ‘wick’ to draw off rain and snow allowing easier and more efficient run off. Who knows? It may actually be true. And it does actually make sense.

   If you’ve ever used or worked with leather, you understand how flexible, yet strong and tough, the smallest piece of rawhide or buckskin leather can be. In our current culture, with our ready made homes, cars, near by lumberyard or hardware store, we can get whatever supplies we need in an emergency. But on the frontier, these tiny scraps of leather could be just thing you needed in a pinch, or worse, an emergency. These extras strips were often found on saddles, in saddle packs or in frontier homes. In a REAL emergency out in the wild, the fringes on your jacket could do just fine.

Depletion of the Meat Supply

Over-hunting has it’s effects and the east coast in the 1600’s was no exception. Hunting for meat and clothing was one thing, but a demand for anything can produce a shortage of supply. Noticing that the deer were being over-hunted to provide not only meat, but the fashionable fringed jackets, the first law was introduced to protect deer that were being over-hunted. Endangered deer were protected beginning 1646 and there would no longer be hunting between the months of May and November so that the deer population could again replenish itself. The demand for these jackets, though, continued. But where to get the hides??? Obviously if the deer were not as plentiful in the east, they must be so in the west and thus began the shipments from the Western frontier to supply the demand for fashion. 

Practicality in the West

While many men in the west wore cloth shirts, leather coats and pants, they changed their clothing style showing a preference for leather wear because of it’s practicality.  It’s a given that cloth shirts and pants wear out rather quickly and given the expense and the long time involved in ordering items from the east coast, it made much more sense, and it was more financially feasible, to wear clothing made from materials at hand. Local Indian tribes wore these types of clothing and had for many generations. Why not adopt the same mode of garb? Even better than saving the shipping and product costs from back east was the fact that leather clothing goods would stand up to heavy wear for years. The buckskin fringes held the added benefit that pieces could repair tack or saddles in an emergency, or repair their own clothing. Who knows what other uses they made of it? But if it was needed, it was certainly handy as they wore their emergency supplies on them. Far from being a fashion statement, these items of apparel with their fancy fringes might even be a case of  ‘life or death.’

Where Are They Now?

You don’t see as many leather jackets as you once did. Fashion come in style, and just as quickly at public whim, it goes out. What you do see carries a heavy price tag. I still have my own fringed jacket, baby blue leather, but even I don’t wear it as much. Thought I love the jacket and it’s warm, I’ve given it up in favor of things much easier to wash and wear. But when the occasion demands it, that lovely jacket comes back out of the closet to shine on even the tiniest occasions. (2)
 

(1) I found several references to Mesopotamian fringed clothing, but no other citations giving actual proof such as carvings, drawings etc. I have no reason to disbelieve this being true, though, as any idea a person might have had has usually been thought of or implemented in one way or another at an earlier time. “Great minds think alike.” I guess!

(2) You might find it interesting to see one of Custer’s jackets, which was donated to the Smithsonian Museum in 1912 by his widow. He was a flashy sort of fellow, and he wore the dress he adopted (frontiersman clothing) very well. I have not checked if his gloves are in the museum but you can find photos of him wearing fringed gear. I have never been to the Smithsonian, but it’s very possible that many of their items are on display online as well.

Christmas Love story….a bit unusual …

I found this in a magazine that was printed for Christmas. I loved it so much I wanted to share it in it’s entirety. It makes one think about what Christmas really is, what LOVE really is and how unimportant ‘things’ ultimately are. For those of us who have lived on ranches and farms, this resonates with us, and indeed, all who have and love animals!

BECAUSE OF LOVE

     A brother and sister had made their usual hurried, obligatory pre-Christmas visit to the little farm where dwelt their elderly parents with their small herd of horses. The farm was where they had grown up and had been named Lone Pine Farm because of the huge pine, which topped the hill behind the farm. Through the years, the tree had become a talisman to the old man and his wife, and a landmark in the country side. The young siblings had fond memories of their childhood here, but the city hustle and bustle added more excitement to their lives, and called them away to a different life.

      The old folks no longer showed their horses, for the years had taken their toll, and getting out to the barn on those frosty mornings was getting harder, but it gave them a reason to get up in the mornings and a reason to live. They sold a few foals a year, and the horses were their reason for joy in the morning and contentment at the day’s end.

     Angry, as they prepared to leave, the young couple confronted the old folks asking “Why do you not at least dispose of ‘The Old One.’ She is of no use to you. It’s been years since you’ve had foals from her. You should cut corners and save so you can have more for yourselves. How can this old worn out horse bring you anything by expense and work. Why do you keep her anyway?”

     The old man looked down at his worn boots, holes in the toes, scuffed at the barn floor and replied”Yes, I could use a new pair of boots.”

     His arm slid defensively about The Old One’s neck as he drew her near with gentle caressing  and he rubbed her softly behind the ears. He replied softly, “We keep her because of love. Nothing else, just love.”

     Baffled and irritated, the young folks wished the old man and his wife a Merry Christmas and headed back toward the city as darkness stole through the valley.

     The old couple shook their heads in sorrow that it had not been a happy visit. A tear fell upon their cheeks. How was it that these young folks did not understand the peace of the love that filled their hearts?

     So it was, that because of the unhappy leave-taking, no one noticed the insulation of the old barn smoldering on the frayed wires of the barn. None saw the first spark fall. None, but the “Old One”.

     In a matter of minutes, the whole barn was ablaze and the hungry flames were licking at the loft full of hay. With a cry of horror and despair, the old man shouted to his wife to call for help as he raced to the barn to save their beloved horses. But the flames were roaring now, and the blazing heat drove him back, He sank sobbing to the ground, helpless before the fire’s fury. His wife, back from calling for help, cradled him in her arms, and clinging to each other, they wept over their loss.

     By the time the fire department arrived, only smoking, glowing ruins were left, and the old man and his wife, exhausted from their grief, huddled together bfeore the barn,. They were speechless as they rose from the cold snow covered ground. They nodded thanks to the firemen as there was nothing anyone could do now. The old man turned to his wife, resting her white head upon his shoulders as his shaking old hands clumsily dried her tears with a frayed bandana. Brokenly he whispered, “We have lost much, but God has spared our home on this eve of Christmas. Let us gather strength and climb the hill to the old pine where we have sought comfort in times of despair. We will look down upon our home and give thanks to God that it has been spared and pray for our beloved most precious gifts that have been taken from us.”

     And so, he took her by the hand and slowly helped her up the snowy hill as he brushed aside his own tears with the back of his withered hand.

     The journey up the hill was hard for their old bodies in the steep snow. As they stepped over the little knoll at the crest of the hill, they paused to rest, and, looking up to the top of the hill, the old couple gasped and fell to their knees in amazement at the incredible beauty before them.

     Seemingly, every glorious, brilliant star in the heavens was caught up in the glittering, snow-frosted branches of their beloved pin, and it was aglow with heavenly candles. And poised on it’s top most bough, a crystal crescent moon glistened like spun glass. Never had a mere mortal created a Christmas tree such as this. They were breathless as the old man held his wife tighter in his arms.

     Suddenly, the old man gave a cry of wonder and incredible joy. Amazed and mystified, he took his wife by the hand and pulled her forward. There, beneath the tree, in resplendent glory, a mist hovering over the glowing darkness was their Christmas gift.  Shadows glistening in the night light.

     Bedded down about the “Old One” close to the trunk of the tree, was the entire herd, safe.

     At the first hint of smoke, she had pushed the door ajar with her nose and had led the horses through it. Slowly and with great dignity, never looking back, she had led them up the hill, stepping cautiously through the snow. The foals were frightened and dashed about. The skittish yearling looked back at the crackling, hungry flames, and tucked their tails under them as they licked their lips and hopped like rabbits. The mares that were in foal with a new year’s crop of babies, pressed uneasily against the “Old One’ as she moved calmly up the hill and to safety beneath the pine. And now she lay among them and gazed at the faces of the the old man and his wife.

     Those she loved she had not disappointed.  Her body was brittle with years, tired from the climb, but the golden eyes were filled with devotion as she offered her gift—-

     Because of Love. Only Because of Love……

     Tears flowed as the old couple shouted their praise and joy….Again the peace of love filled their hearts.

(Labeled a true story as told by Willy Eagle)