Wyandot Clothing

by Charles Aubrey Buser

For the matter of clothing. It is necessary to freeze your subject in time because the clothing changed quite rapidly after mid-eighteenth century. I will try to describe what an “unspoiled” Wyandot as he might have gazed accross the Detroit River about 1777. Even so, the costume varied with the season and changed somewhat from the ceremonial to the day-to-day dress and also had to be adjusted for the hunt or the war path.

Physically, the Wyandot was typically slender and wiry, capable of traveling great distances but was not usually of the great stature or muscular physique of the Andastes for example. Not many Wyandots were outside the 5’ 9” to 6’ height range. Contrary to some reports, Walk-in-the-Water was well under 6’. The only Wyandot well documented at 6’4” in those days was Chief Tarhe. Both Wyandot men and Wyandot women usually had long black hair, sometimes braided, sometimes not. However, on the war path every style imaginable could be found. Some removed all the hair except a scalplock. Some Wyandots and Hurons from earlier days plucked the hair on one side and not on the other. Some used the “Mohawk” cut. It was a matter of personal choice.

I know there is no danger in your using a Plains Indian headdress. Those were handsome war bonnets, but were not Wyandot. Wyandots and other Iroquoians used feathers from the wild turkey, with now and then a hawk or eagle feather. On ceremonial or other dress-up occasions, the Wyandots and Hurons and most other Iroquoians wear now and wore the finger woven sashes. Dress moccasins, tunics, breech clouts, kilts and leggings were quite often made of blackened buckskin. Borders were often in red, especially after black cloth began to replace black buckskin. Clan symbols and other figures were rather larger on Wyandot clothing than some other tribes, were often painted in red and stood out well against the black background. Dyed porcupine quillwork was widely used as well as dyed moosehair embroidery. Canadian Hurons are still noted for moosehair decorations, rosettes, etc.

Quite common in eastern woodland cultures was the use of some version of a double curve design and care must be taken in that regard. Wyandots and other Iroquoians used )(. Algonquians used ( ).

Just as it was often possible to determine a tribe by the way a pot was hung over a fire, it was also possible to determine the tribe of a discarded piece of clothing. If you choose the traditional warrior headdress, use no more than one upright feather although the Wyandots sometimes had a similar, but trailing feather as well as a dozen or so small “nest” feathers. The Iroquoian headdress was called “GUS-TO-WEH”. The Mohawks used three upright feathers. The Onondagas used two. The Tuscaroras, Cayugas, Oneidas and Senecas used one. The Wyandots used one or two, usually with one upright and one trailing. The Mohawks used a cap with open sections. The Wyandots and others used a closed cap.

In warm weather, the Wyandot warrior wore either a breech-clout (A-TE-NI-ON-TA) or kilt (O-FA-SA). Fringes were cut at the bottom either if made of buckskin and a sewn border when made of cloth. The kilt extended from the waist to just above the knee. A drawstring type belt made of a buckskin thong secured the kilt at the waist and tied at the side. I regret to say that I don’t know if it tied on the left side or right. The breech-clout was normally about twelve inches or a bit less in width and hung almost to the knee both front and back.

In cool weather, both men and women wore a sleevless tunic. It was usually made of two deer skins sewn together with fringes cut at top and bottom. The tunic normally extended to about the knees. In cold weather, sleeves were added but were not sewn to the tunic. They were joined by straps that ran accross the back of the shoulders. Both men and women wore leather belts under the tunic on which separate leg coverings could be hung. The same belt was used by the women to secure their skirts. The top of the skirt was folded over to hide the belt. The skirt was a wrap-around garment that overlapped on the left.

In the very cold weather, robes were worn, usually with the hair left on. Some were worn with the hair inside and some with the hair outside. It is likely that early descriptions of such robes without hair were actually fur robes with the hair side worn inside. Wyandots were particularly fond of black fox robes. The pelts were sewn together with the tails hanging down to form an attractive border. Wyandots used the bull-nose or gathered toe type moccasin. They often, but not always, had

flaps. Dress moccasins were beautifully decorated with moosehair rosettes and embroidery, plus quill-work of outstanding quality.

In winter, Wyandot men wore the GUS-TO-WEH but in summer they usually wore no cap and usually no more than one feather.

In snow or in muddy conditions, men and women wore overshoes made of cornhusks. For travel over snow, snowshoes were used and Hurons in Canada continue to make very fine snowshoes to this day.

When not working in the fields or hunting or whatever, Wyandot men often carried beautifully decorated shoulder purses or pouches. Such pouch was always worn over the left shoulder with the pouch at the man’s right hand. A version of this pouch was also used to carry food or bullets. Such pouches were common in the eastern woodlands, but the Wyandot was distinguished by a flap or envelope type construction. Most other tribes’ pouches did not have the flap. Leg coverings were usually tied to the belt but decorated garters were common and garters were always used when leggings were worn.

Finally, floral patterns for the most part reflect white influence. Geometric patterns or simple curves were more “Indian”.

As a race they were attractive. Perhaps that is one reason there have been no full-blood Wyandot in a long, long time. Other tribes as well as whites married freely into the tribe. That black hair, white teeth, dark sparking eyes and light copper tan skin tone combination was, in a sense, the tribal downfall.

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