Mohican Moccasin

It is made of soft‐tanned buckskin. Its golden brown color is from smoking, a process the Indians discovered that keeps leather pliable even after repeated soakings. The side flaps are covered with dark green cloth and edged with white beads. Smaller panels of blue cloth, inside the green area, are crisscrossed with meanders of white beads.

The instep is decorated with delicate porcupine quill embroidery and a central panel of large plaited quills. The panel is dyed in blocks of color, reading up from the toe: yellow, blue, red, blue, then the same sequence again. The embroidery is done by wrapping very fine quills around a close‐stitched design in sinew thread. Both quills and thread are wet when the work is done, then shrink very hard and tight as they dry. The panel is framed by an embroidered line of red, then another of white. Flanking this are yellow meanders in pairs, each pair separated by a line of blue. They repeat the motif of the cloth panel but with a subtle variation, meeting but not criss‐crossing. Each outer curve on the lateral meaders is decorated with a small red crescent with a white border.

The moccasin is one of a pair given to Israel Dickinson of Stockbridge by captain Konkapout around 1780. Dickinson’s great‐grandson, Alan Peck, presented them to the Berkshire Museum in 1958. Very few of the Europeans living in Stockbridge or even Boston or New York at that time had shoes of such delicate beauty. Only the party slippers of a wealthy, aristocratic woman could equal them. In fact, the Indians were criticized for their love of finery and were accused of having childlike, barbaric minds because of it. A strong enjoyment of leisure was another Mohican failing that they shared with the aristocrats of the period. Their missionary and farmer friends deplored it as “idleness” and did not approve of it among the aristocrat, either.

Today we dream of enjoying more leisure and we decorate ourselves with Indian jewelry and costumes. Navajo blaknets, Pueblo pottery, Pomo baskets, Kwakiut woodcarvings are recognized as very high art, indeed. These Mohican moccasins and other examples of Northeastern quilling, beading and fine leathermaking have a place of honor among the masterpieces of Indian creativity and imagination.


  • — David P. McAllester (1916‐2006), a one‐sixty‐fourth Narragansett, was a Navaho scholar and professor of anthropology and music at Wesleyan University. Living in Monterey, Mass., he wrote Indian Notes for the monthly Monterey News from 1981 to 1994. This essay originally appeared in the newsletter April 1983.