Indian Tan 

On the Upper Missouri Kurtz

January 1852


The liver, and the brain of a deer, or in case of emergency, fat of any sort, tallow, etc., are all used to soften hides.

One woman dresses  a buffalo hide in 3 or 4 days just as well, making the skin as soft and durable as our leather dressers do in 6 months..  First of all, they stretch the raw hide on the ground and fasten it down with pegs or wooden pins.  With some sharp instrument, a piece of bone perhaps, they scrape off every particle of flesh, which is eagerly devoured by the hungry dogs.  If the skin is not to be dressed until later, they leave it spread in the air to dry until it becomes quite hard.


On the other hand, if they intend to prepare the robe at once, for one entire day they rub the hid with liver, fat, or the brains of a deer to soften the skin.  They leave it  2 or 3 days (according to the season or extreme temperature) until the grease soaks in; then thye dry it in a slow fire, constantly beating it or rubbing it with a stone until it becomes uniformly soft and pliable. This rubbing is of the greatest importance in the dressing of skin, Indian-fashion.


As soon as the hide has been prepared in this manner and is quite dry, they begin the fatiguing process of rubbing it around a taut horsehair rope or braided leather to make it smooth.  Oftentimes, it receives a final polish with pumice stone.  Such work is most burdensome from start to finish.  Even the scraping of the hides has to be done in a stooped position that is very fatiguing.  As the brain of a deer is fine and more rare than liver or tallow, it is used primarily in the preparation of deerskins (except skins of elks). In the final stage of preparation, deer hides are placed over a slow fire covered with green sprays of sumac and are thus smoked.  Owing to this process, they suffer less injury from water.  They become  golden brown in color and retain the smell of smoke for quite a while, which repels mosquitoes and moths.


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