About Your Plains Hi-Top Moccasin Pattern
Often referred to as boots by non-Indians, these high topped moccasins were being worn by Plains and Plateau Indian women by the early 1800s. They were particularly popular on the Southern Plains where, during the mid-1800s, the style was refined to perfection by the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho, and Apache. A Southern Arapaho woman’s example from the late reservation period is on our cover. Apache men also wore a variation of this knee-high style.
By the 1850s, and perhaps earlier, sole material for these high-topped moccasins had mostly evolved from soft leather to Indian-prepared rawhide, although even today some tribes still use the soft sole. The rawhide, however, made moccasins more comfortable and durable, being better adapted to the rocky and cactus-strewn ground of the Plains. Smoked, brain-tanned buckskin was the most common material for the vamp and upper parts of the moccasin. In the “buffalo days”, the high tops of some tribes actually extended well above the knee, secured by a garter. This allowed more complete protection for the woman’s lower leg while on horseback.
Today, high tops are still a popular style of moccasin for many Plains and Plateau tribes. Comanche and Kiowa women refer to these moccasins as “leggings”. Since Cheyenne moccasin makers are acknowledged masters of the moccasin making art, we have chosen to present techniques of construction that are typically Southern Cheyenne, while also including mention of style differences worn by the Kiowa, Comanche, and Southern Arapaho. An elaborately beaded Cheyenne example is shown in the left photo below. Crow, Assiniboine, and other Northern women have a similar style, but it is not covered in these instructions.
You should note that variations in construction and decoration exist from tribe to tribe, and you are encouraged to research these tribal distinctions. Today, there is a wealth of available material with photo examples. Some recommended books in print are Beadwork Techniques of the Native Americans by Scott Sutton; Mythos Wild West: The Brundle Collection; and Whispering Winds Crafts Annual #6. Your local library may have out-of-print books that will prove helpful. However, most books have limited examples, so, if possible, visit the many on-line museum sites that have numerous excellent photos. A good place to start is the American Museum of Natural History.
We would like to extend special thanks to Carl Jennings, Barry Hardin, and the late Nellie Stevens for their help in developing this pattern.
Notions & Tools
Simulated sinew or genuine sinew & beads or porcupine quills if desired for decoration. A sharp awl is also necessary for moccasin making , along with a glovers needle for easy stitching through leather.
Note: *As buckskin is a natural material, hides are usually shaped somewhat irregularly. The chart above shows two options for selecting your buckskin. The first is based on using one large hide for uppers, leggings, etc. and the second is based on using two smaller hides. The sizes are approximate and may vary according to the actual shape of your hide.
Ideally, Indian-tanned buckskin is used for the uppers, welts (a narrow soft strap sewn between the upper and sole), and laces. However, any soft commercially tanned leather (including elk, buckskin, and split cowhide) in a 4-5 oz. weight is very good.
Soles can be made of rawhide that is hand-prepared especially for moccasin soles or 8-10 oz. latigo or strap leather. Genuine sinew (a thread-like material prepared from long tendons) is best for sewing on the soles, but simulated sinew is an excellent substitute, being easier to use.