Days Gone By History Of Blankets Starting With The Native Americans
A blanket is a kind of bedding, a sizable bit of fabric used to pay a person in or out of bed for warmth. We know that the Native Americans would cover themselves with leaves and grasses to protect them from the elements. Eventually they learned how to weave grasses and reeds into a blanket and a mat to sleep on.
These types of blankets have been found with burials of historic people all over the world. When man developed the reference to harvest pets for food, they recognized that the skins could be utilized for a bed and blanket to keep them dry and for friendliness. If the skin of a pet could keep the animal warm then it made sense that it might keep a man warm and clothe him.
Native Americans are very much linked to the annals of the blanket. Long before white settlers drove west, the Indians might use their blankets created from plant fibers as trade items for food and tools. When trappers started to move in search of animal skins west, they would trade blankets to the Indians for beaver skins. Then, when the settlers drove west from the Native Americans could operate handmade blankets, strung beads and other items created from animal bones for made wool blankets commercially.
It became essential for the Native Americans to trade for wool blankets as the white hunters shifted west and slaughtered the buffalo and had taken the skins which were a staple for food, shelter, and clothing for the Indians. The first made blankets were very easy commercially. These were white with a few stripes of contrasting color.
The Hudson Bay Company blanket was manufactured in England and was used for trade by European trappers to the Blackfeet and the Northern Plains Indians. Nearly as good quality wool blankets became important as a trading commodity for explorers and trappers, American companies started creation of woolen trade blankets. These businesses that sprung up in the us with names like Racine Woolen Mills in Wisconsin, Capps in Illinois, Buell in Missouri and Oregon City Mill in Oregon began to produce these trade blankets.
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Then in the year 1896 the Pendleton Woolen Mill in Pendleton Oregon became the first mill founded for the only real reason for producing trade blankets. Each one of these mills experienced their own specific design to designate which mill it was stated in. Some of them were very similar in design, however the Oregon City blankets got a very complex design that was different from all the others. The plains Indians preferred the Capps simple design over all the rest.
In 1901 the launch of the Jacquard loom modified the designs dramatically allowing the mills to produce different zigzag designs in contrasting colors. The Native Americans had no choice but to accept them. By late 1800’s most Native Americans were limited to reservations and the trading post was established.
These trading posts were located on the reservations for the sole purpose of trading with the Indians for animal skins that have been in high demand back east. The wool mills found a built-in market for their blankets. Needless to say, the Native Americans soon became the wool mill’s best customers.
Being very eager to please the Native Americans, the mills would send representatives to live among the tribes to learn just which design could be utilized to identify one tribe from another. The Pendleton Mills blanket became the favorite Indian trade blanket so when World War ended the rest of the American Wool Mills went of business. Today the interest in pre-WW2 trade blankets is growing.
They are being popular by collectors. You can find them in museums in nearly every condition in the us also. We don’t use wool trade blankets today because we have a market packed with blankets made of various materials that are much more comfortable than wool. They are made in many materials and forms such as cotton, fleece, cashmere, silk, and chenille, and are called blankets, quilts, and comforters. In my own next article I will delve into the various blankets that are produced today and the material they are produced from.