CHAPTER VI. Navaho and Pueblo Squaw Dresses


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IT IS natural to assume that the earliest products of the Navaho woman's loom were used for the clothing of herself and her children—especially the girls, who were more often left to her care, while the boys would go off hunting with the father.

The first squaw dresses that were woven were undoubtedly of the native wool of the sheep, undyed, hence must have been either white, black, brown, or gray. Tradition bears out this statement. The Pueblo Indians had been weaving their blankets for centuries, doubtless, from cotton, and still continued to do so, though they also introduced wool as soon as the Spaniards taught them its value. Hence it is quite possible that, for a time at least, the Pueblo and Navaho squaw dresses were somewhat similar in color and weave.

Then some one introduced variations of color in their most simple form, viz., by alternating bands of black and white, or black, white, and gray, which latter is an admixture of the two former. When dyes were introduced by the Mexicans or Spaniards among the Pueblo Indians, or became common, color began to appear even in Navaho weaving, and at about this time the Navaho squaw dress (perhaps as early as 250 years ago) took on the distinguishing and marked characteristics which it has borne up to the present. It is now, unfortunately, about to disappear from the world. For let me here anticipate somewhat and state that the strikingly individualistic, exquisitely well-woven, and attractive squaw dresses that for a century or more have delighted the eye of every white man who has ever carefully observed them, are no longer woven, no longer worn, and are absolutely not obtainable anywhere, at any price, save from the collectors and dealers who were fortunate enough to secure a few before they finally disappeared. They are now almost as rare as fine old bayetas, and less often seen, for there seems to be fewer of them, those that were woven having been worn until they fell to pieces.

The red bayeta was undoubtedly the first touch of color introduced into these dresses. It is a part of the romance of commercialism that the development of the art of dyeing and consequent enlargement of the artistic faculty in designing and weaving blankets of extraordinary patterns


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among the Navahos should have sprung from the introduction of a peculiarly woven and finished red cloth (bayeta) from the mills of the north of England.

When by theft, barter, or purchase the Navahos secured their first bayeta we do not know, and it would be interesting could we penetrate the secrets of the past and discover by what mental processes, or by what accident, the Navaho weaver was first led to unravel a piece of bayeta, respin it, and reweave it into her own fabric. This respinning was done for two purposes. Sometimes in unraveling the yarn became somewhat untwisted, and it was essential to respin it to give it proper strength for weaving. Again, the weaver desired a finer thread and a tighter texture than the piece of English woven ‘‘„baize,„’’ hence she respun the yarn to give her the desired results.

In time a third idea sprang up. A coarser thread was sometimes desired, so the bayeta yarn was doubled, or even trebled, to produce the thicker yarn.

Now the Navaho woman was ready to introduce red—the symbolic color of the blessed sunshine—into her dresses. At first it is very possible this was done in alternate stripes. Indeed, by my side, on the floor in my library, as I now write, I have a squaw dress (of a later date, however), which is made of alternate stripes of red, black, and gray. And in the hall close by is another squaw dress, of Hopi weave, 63x44 inches in size (hence made for a very rotund-formed woman), of black, gray, red, and deep blue stripes of irregular width. And I also find in my collection of Navaho squaw dresses an old one of this very type.

Then the creating genius was found who designed, or accidentally hit upon the exact combination that took the Navaho fancy, so that it established a fashion which has met with but slight changes during a full century or more. Broadly speaking, this fortuitous combination is a body of black—the blacker the better—with a broad red band at top and bottom, into which some geometrical design in black or deepest blue is worked, the red border finally edged with a narrow strip of deepest blue or black.

Fig. 10 is of a rare old specimen of this character from the private collection of John Lorenzo Hubbell, of Ganado. He tells me that for a dozen years or more scarcely an old piece of this character has passed through his hands. It is beautifully woven and the red is a rich bayeta, dyed in the best fashion of the England of a century or more ago. It is fully described on page 33.

In my own collection I have many somewhat similar specimens, though not quite so fine, in which the design is a little different. This, and the difference in size are practically the only variants. These are all

FIG. 26. A Beautiful Soft Piece of Weaving. (Author's Collection.) [PAGE 38]


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woven in two pieces, which are then sewed together, and worn as elsewhere described and pictured.

A little later, however, a few weavers made their dresses in one piece, and I have several specimens of this type. In the last one I purchased, too, there was a variation in color. Instead of the body color being black, it was of a deep maroon, almost brown, and the red bands each contain a Greek key design in striking green, while the terminal border, much wider than in the usual type, is of deep blue, indented into the red with a step (or rain-cloud) design. (Fig. 29.)

Of somewhat established type as the one I have described as so popular with the Navahos is the one prevalent among the Zunis, though there is much greater variation existing among the specimens made by this tribe than I have seen, or been able to secure.

Mrs. Matilda Coxe Stevenson says of the Zunis that ‘‘„the men's shirts, ceremonial kilts, and breechcloths and women's dresses and wraps are woven of black or dark-blue native wool in diagonal style.„’’ Strange to say, that while this diagonal weave is often found in Navaho blankets of a very inferior quality, it is seldom, if ever, found in their squaw dresses. The Pueblo Indians, however, of many villages use it to good effect, and nearly always in their own garments.

Fig. 30 is a characteristic and typical specimen of an old Zuni squaw's dress, now exceedingly rare. The ground color is blue of different shades, this being undoubtedly the result of the use of wool of different periods of dyeing. It appears, however (with exception of one stripe of a dark color that comes four and one-half inches from the second red band), as if the differences in the color of the blues were made purposely. Even the blue band at the upper and lower ends of the blanket are of rich deep blue, while in the center the color has toned down to a steely blue, yet the color used in the zigzag of the two wide red bands and the small design of the two narrower red bands are of the same deep blue as of the outer bands.

The green is soft old-gold-green with many striking variations, which look as if they might have been caused deliberately by the introduction of short lengths of yarn, each of a different tone.

This blanket is not of straight, but is of the twill weave, fully described in the chapter on weaving. Blankets of this type were always used as squaw dresses, in which case they were brought around the person under the right arm and fastened over the left shoulder and then sewed down the left side, although they were occasionally worn by the older women, as shown in Fig. 139. Around the waist was worn a sash of the same kind of weave, as is clearly observable in the engraving.

Fig. 31 is of a Zuni squaw dress in my own collection, the borders


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of which are in blue and of diagonal weave. The apparently curved line is in deep green and the band containing the serrated diamonds figure is in dark red, the diamonds being in blue, outlined with dark green, and the inside square of red. The corresponding band below is of the same colors. The lighter center band is of a lighter red. The general effect is beautiful and harmonious; the dyes native and unfading, and the weaving even, smooth, and good. The warp is of homespun wool and exceedingly strong. This blanket has been under my feet in my library for over a dozen years, and while showing wear at the ends is otherwise as good as the day it was made.

Careful study of its weave shows that the diamonds are worked out so that the warp threads are brought to the surface, as Mr. A. M. Stephen describes the weave of the Hopi belts in another chapter. This is a rare thing to see, and in the thousands of blankets and squaw dresses that in the last thirty years have passed under my observation, I do not suppose I have seen it more than half a dozen times.

A squaw dress of this type, and that is rarely seen today, is pictured in Fig. 32. I purchased it at Laguna, N. M., some twenty or more years ago, and ever since it has charmed my eyes as it has hung on one of the doors of my library. The body is of black, while the deep border at each end is of red, with a stepped design in blue, and a four-inch-wide strip of diagonally woven blue. The red is of different times of dyeing, as it varies in color.

The Acoma Indians make a squaw dress quite as ornate and beautifully woven as do the Zunis, and Fig. 33 is a good specimen found in the Fred Harvey collection, at Albuquerque, N. M. The body of the dress is black, and the designs on the borders are embroidered in significant designs. These dresses are generally used now only in the ceremonial dances in which the women take an important and impressive part.

I have elsewhere referred to the idiosyncrasies one often meets with in dealing with the Indian. The squaw dresses of the Pueblos afford a fine illustration.

Though the Hopis are the nearest Pueblo neighbors the Navahos have, and though many of their men are weavers, they do not follow the universal Pueblo method of weaving squaw dresses, but either purchase or barter for those of Navaho weave, or make them after the style of the ordinary weave, as I will afterwards describe.

Fig. 34 is of a rare Hopi ceremonial squaw dress in the Fred Harvey collection. It is of extra large size, well and finely woven, of white cotton body with embroideries of red, white, and black, which form most effective borders.

The every-day squaw dresses of the Hopi referred to above are by

Fig. 27. Another Soft-Weave Blanket. (Author's Collection.) [Page 38]

Fig. 28. An Excellent Traveling Blanket. (Author's Collection.) [Page 38]


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no means common, and it is almost impossible to tell where any given specimen was made, unless the purchaser gained that knowledge at the time it was secured from the Indian.

Fig. 35 is of a man-woven Hopi squaw dress, which, however, I purchased from a Navaho. The man who wove it was a dweller in Tewa, or Hano, the first village on the eastern mesa of the Hopis. Now, strange to say, though regarded as Hopis, and always spoken of as Hopis, the Tewas are a foreign people who came from the Rio Grande region in order to help the Hopis fight the Utes and Apaches. These had been attracted from the north and south by the flocks of sheep and other possessions that the Hopi had acquired, and many a sharp battle of defense was fought, though the Hopis were never daring enough to make expeditions of reprisal upon their thieving and murderous foes.

Mr. A. M. Stephen thus relates how the Tewas came to be established with the Hopis:

While the Tusayan were still in the dire straits as related, they sent to their distant kinsmen on the Rio Grande, beseeching them to come to their relief. The messengers went to the village of Teh-wa, which is now called Peña Blanca, lying upon the east side of the Rio Grande in New Mexico. The Teh-wa, or ‘‘„Tchehe-wa,„’’ House people, as they call themselves, speak a different tongue from the Hopi, but are very similar to them in all other respects. The difference in language, probably results, as has been suggested, by a former long-continued separation; but they also differed from the Hopi in possessing courage enough to take the field against a foreign enemy. They came to the aid of the Hopi, probably in 1720, moving as a sort of military colony, of about fifty families, and afterwards reinforced by as many more. On the day preceding their arrival at Walpi, the Ute had driven off the last flock of sheep belonging to that village; the Walpi were too completely cowed to venture out, but the Teh-wa at once took the trail, and came up with the Ute, not many miles away. They had driven the flock up a steep mesa side, and when they saw the Teh-wa coming, they killed the sheep on a broad ledge, and piled the carcasses up as a defense, behind which they fought. They had a few firearms, while the Teh-wa had only clubs, stone-hatchets, and their bows and arrows, but they charged and drove the Ute before them, and on some following night surprised the Ute asleep. They killed all but two, who were spared to go to the Ute country and tell their people that the Teh-wa warriors had come. On their return from this successful expedition, the Teh-wa built the village, close to the gap on the east mesa, which they still occupy. They claim that their redoubtable presence caused the hostile forays to cease, but as the region had been very persistently despoiled, it is more than likely that this circumstance also influenced the depredators to desist.

To return now to the blanket which has caused this somewhat lengthy digression. It is woven broad side on, and is therefore wider than it is long. Its size is 53x44 inches, woven in five panels, three of which are red, with designs in greenish-blue, and two of which are alternate stripes of gray and black. Like all other squaw dresses, this was worn folded,


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the sides sewn together so as to have the upper portion of the seam resting on the left shoulder, while the folded crease rested under the right shoulder.

Another squaw dress of similar style and make, though a trifle more ornate in design, is shown in Fig. 36. This is 48x60 inches in size, of soft texture and, therefore, loose weave, in five panels. Three of these are red, with square-like designs in a pale violet, on the two outer ones, and square or Greek crosses on the center panel. The two other panels are made up of gray and black stripes. In the center panel of this dress a distinct variation of the color of the stripe in which the crosses occur is seen. This is a striking illustration of the results of using yarn dyed at different times (though supposedly of the same color), and it also shows what I have elsewhere explained, that the weavers do not always take their yarn directly across the fabric, though that would appear to be the natural and workmanlike procedure.

Fig. 29. Modern Navaho Squaw Dress. (Collection of C. N. Cotton.) [PAGE 41]

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