NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art

Breech Cloths

by Rick obermeyer (Dec. 1990)

in 19th Century Seminole Men`s Clothing
Rick Obermeyer ~ Editor


"'Tiger,' the oldest, was about seventy years old and had fought in the Seminole war... His broad shoulders were artistically draped in two ragged shirts of "hickory," or striped homespun. the inner one about a foot longer than the outer, and reaching nearly to his knees. A breech cloth and moccasins completed his attire." Beverly, 1876

(Pratt, 1879) "The men wear the usual breech clout, a calico shirt ornamented with bright strips of ribbon, and a small shawl of bright colors folded the width of the hand and wrapped around the head like a turban." Sturtevant, 1956

"The costume of a Seminole Indian usually consists of a turban, a breech cloth, a calico shirt, and a neckerchief. This is the usual costume worn by them when in their own camp and among their own people..."

"...They hunt in the morning and evening... On these hunting expeditions he wears nothing but a cotton shirt unless it is a very rough country, when he sometimes wears leggings made of soft leather." Cory, 1895


The Seminole breechcloth has the tapered shape typical of all Southeast breechcloths. William C. Sturtevant comments that it is "insofar as the scanty evidence shows, without changes during Seminole history. It persisted until replaced by pants." (Sturtevant, 1967)

(1910) American Museum
of Natural History, New York

An example collected by Alanson Skinner in 1910 is in the American Museum of Natural History (Cat. #50.1/2290). It is made of dark blue wool, with yellow edging that extends slightly past the points on the ends. The two illustrated in an "1838 drawing" also appear to be pointed (Sturtevant, 1962).

In a few older examples, the taper is cut square. All of the few known decorated examples have this squared off end.

The exact length must have varied according to personal preference, with the tendency to the short side. They may have barely reached to mid-thigh (figure 9, Sturtevant, 1962). Examination of engravings in Fundaburk doesn't seem to show the tips of any breechcloths. An 1832 example collected by the Count de Pourtales, a Swiss nobleman, hangs below the kneecaps (Plate 16, Conn, 1979). A postcard of "A Bride and Groom" from about 1895 (Neg. 22524, Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation) shows a narrowed squared end about even with the knees. A photo in the Florida State Archives of "Tommie, son of Chief Tallahassee" taken in the 1890's, shows a breechcloth tip that stops just short of the kneecaps, as well as do several pictures of Old Tallahassee, himself (Neg's. #971, #3505).

Perhaps by the late 19th century, the breechcloth became very short, or even optional. The plain shirt was worn so regularly that the author does not know of any photos of a casually bare chested Seminole. While Old Tallahassee shows tips of a breechcloth in a picture from 1882-86 (Neg. 3505, Florida State Archives), neither of his two sons in the same picture do. The plate facing page 172 in Moore-Willson shows Charlie Peacock oddly holding a bandanna across his thighs in what could be a gesture of modesty. Careful examination of other late 19th century Seminole photographs don't reveal breechcloth tips (Parks, 1977, 1981). Maybe, like with a Scots highlander and his kilt, whether or not anything was worn under a plain shirt depended on the weather and the wearer's inclination.

Apparently, earlier breechcloths could be decorated. The 1832 example collected by the Count de Pourtales seems to have sewn white cloth applique just inside the side edges. A beaded presumed Seminole example was auctioned at Sotheby's in 1989, and appeared in one of their ads that year in "American Indian Art" magazine. The best evidence that it is Seminole is the strong similarity between its cloth applique and beaded zig-zag design with designs on Seminole longshirts and on beaded moccasins. The Ocmulgee National Park, Macon, GA, has a beaded Creek/Seminole(?) example in its storage collection, a photo of which was displayed at the "Patchwork and Palmetto" exhibit the summer of 1990 at the Ft. Lauderdale Historical Society.

Seminole Silverwork
Peace Medals for Seminole Outfits
Seminole Beads
Face Painting

Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing


Beverly, Fred

1876 "Among the Seminoles," CAMP LIFE IN FLORIDA, New York.

Conn, Richard

1979 NATIVE AMERICAN ART IN THE DENVER ART MUSEUM. University of Washington Press, 1979.

Cory, Charles B.

1896 Preface to Second Edition (and) The Seminole Indians, HUNTING AND FISHING IN FLORIDA. Reprinted in THE SEMINOLE SOURCE BOOK, ed. William C. Sturtevant, 1987.

Fundaburk, Emma Lila

1958 SOUTHEASTERN INDIANS - LIFE PORTRAITS. Scarecrow Reprint Corporation, Metuchen, NJ, 1969.

Moore-Willson, Minnie

1914 edition, THE SEMINOLES OF FLORIDA. Moffat, Yard and Company, New York

Parks, Arva Moore

1977 THE FORGOTTEN FRONTIER: Florida Through the Eyes of Ralph Middleton Monroe. (ed.) Banyan Books, Inc., Miami.

1981 THE MAGIC CITY MIAMI. Continental Heritage Press, Tulsa.

Sturtevant, William C.

1956 "R. H. Pratt's Report on the Seminole In 1879." Florida Anthropologist, VIII:1.

1962 "A Newly Discovered 1838 Drawing of a Seminole Dance." The Florida Anthropologist, XV:3.

1967 "Seminole Mens Clothing" in "Essays on the Verbal and Visual Arts; Proceeds of the 1966 Annual Spring Meeting of the American Ethnological Society," ed. June Helm, pp. 10-74. Seattle: American Ethnological Society; Distributed by the University of Washington Press. Reprinted in THE SEMINOLE SOURCE BOOK, ed. William C. Sturtevant, 1987.

Contributed by Rick Obermeyer E-mail:
From the book 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing
© 1991-2000 Sherwood F. Obermeyer Jr., 2124 Miscindy Place, Orlando, FL 32806

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