NativeTech: Native American Technology and Art


Comments by Rick Obermeyer
and M. E. (Pete) Thompson (Dec. 1990)

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


(1837) "Coacoochee... retired into the hammock to deck himself out, emerging resplendent with a plume of white crane feathers, bright scarlet leggings, and a silver band around his turban." Page 224, Mahon, 1967

"When the famous Indian portrait painter, Catlin, was commissioned by the War Department to paint the most prominent chiefs then in captivity at Fort Moultrie, Micanopy, as chief of the Nation, was first approached, but positively refused to be painted. After much persuasion, he at last consented, saying, `If you make a fair likeness of my legs,` which he had very tastefully dressed in a handsome pair of red legging, `you may paint Micanopy for the Great Father,`" Catlin quoted by Moore-Willson, 1911

(Osceola at time of capture) "...dress`d in a blue calico shirt, leggings of red cloth with a row of buttons on the outside of the leg & a red print shawl wrapp`d around his head and another his neck and shoulders." N. S. Jarvis, quoted by Goggin, 1955

"(Billy Bowlegs) wore `red legging, with brass buttons,` which, `where they covered the upper part of the moccasins,` were `thickly embroidered with beads."` Porter, 1967

(1880) ". .The materials of which the leggins of the Seminole are usually made is buckskin. I saw, However, one pair of leggins made of a bright red flannel, and ornamented along the outer seams with a blue and white cross striped braid." MacCauley, 1884

(ca. 1895) "A few years ago, after numerous invitations, Tallahassee was persuaded to leave his swamp home to make a visit to the home of the writer, The old patriarch was accompanied by Billy Bowlegs (III), who showed the tenderest care for him.... They were both in full costume, the old chief wearing the regalia of his rank, sashes of beadwork and red beaded legging." Moore-Willson, 1911

"The leggings which they wear are sometimes dyed a very rich mahogany brown by soaking the skin in an infusion of mangrove bark. The bark is boiled for several hours; the skin is them immersed in the liquid for half an hour. It is then taken out and dried in the sun until it is merely moist, although it will not do to let it get entirely dry. It is then immersed a second time for about half an hour, and upon being taken out and dried is ready for use.

"The brain-tanned skin, which has not been dyed, which has not been dyed, becomes very hard and stiff when wet unless is continually worked over and kept soft by manipulation, but; skins which have beer, prepared by tanning with mangrove bark are very little affected by rain, and make very pretty leggings and moccasins." Cory, 1896

The Muscogee name is "Hv`fv Tehkv" (pr. HUH` fuh DAY guh),
literally meaning "leg, edge or border." The Mikasuki name is "Hi-Yali`-Ti."


The fabric used was usually wool strouding, a kind of wool broadcloth made ln Stroud, Gloucestershire. Velvet was occasionally used, but was costly. Although almost all the written records comment on the "red" leggings worn by early 19th century Seminoles, we know from examples that blue wool was also used. Strouding was also made ln black and green. There is no written record of green leggings, but some unraveled green wool was used in fingerwoven garters and sashes. It does appear that chiefs were especially partial to the color red in their leggings.

Southeastern Indian men's leggings could have had front seams or side seams. Osceola is shown ln several pictures with side seam leggings, but these pictures have enough other flaws to make them suspicious on accuracy in any details (such as Fig. 284, Fundaburk, 1956, a poor lithograph of the more accurate Fig. 285 which shows a front seam). There is a single pictorial representative of a Seminole in what could be side flap cloth leggings (Fig. 306, Fundaburk, 1958). While it might be possible that some early Seminole leggings might be side seamed, it is safe to say that a general characteristic of Seminole wool leggings is their front seam.

The leggings were often lined with cotton fabrics, always edged with military edging or silk ribbon, and usually decorated with beadwork along the edging and, infrequently, in patterns on the side. Seminole ornamental patterns were mostly limited to zigzags, unlike more elaborate and colorful Creek designs.

There are only a very few examples of decorated cloth leggings. The decorations are very simple zig-zag cloth applique and/or beadwork motifs, very much less complex than typical Creek motifs (as seen in Galante, 1989). The Count de Pourtales, a Swiss nobleman, collected a set of dark blue leggings decorated with white beads in 1838 (Fig. 16, Conn, 1979). The leggings that Micanopy was so proud of are shown in Catlin's 1838 painting to be red wool, decorated with navy blue or black applique and white beads. A cat 1850's full length photo of Billy Bowlegs does show where white beaded decoration was put on, but the image in that part is unfortunately not preserved well enough for details. It's much clearer in an 1858 engraving of Billy Bowlegs (Fig. 297, Fundaburk, 1958), and is essentially the same design as on the leggings worn by "Old Tallahassee" in the very clear photo of him from about 1890. The zig-zags on them appear to have been made with double-width rows of white beads.

The cloth leggings were often closed with brass buttons ln the early 19th century, and sewn up by the late 19th century. That the buttons were functional is shown by close examination of George Catlin's full-length painting of Osceola (Fig. 286, Fundaburk, 1958), which clearly shows the buttons straining against their buttonholes. It's possible that, later on, the brass buttons were merely decoration on top of a-sewn seam.

Cloth leggings were always complemented with fingerwoven wool garters, usually with beads worked into the woven pattern. A beginning hobbyist might get by with cloth ties, or even with commercially made decorative strips available at cloth outlets and at craft stores, but fingerwoven garters should be the desired finishing touch.

And, cloth leggings were as formfitting to the leg as Seminole buckskin leggings.


Anyone who has ever trekked through Florida's tangled hammocks, or has traversed a large tract of saw palmetto and prickly pear scrub, will appreciate some tough leg protection. The transition zones between swamp and scrub are full of blackberry and china briar brambles which can inflict bad skin tears.

Traditional Seminole braintanned buckskin leggings not only afforded protection from hazards of the Florida landscape, but also from insect bites and stings. Construction was simple, but they were rugged and functional, protecting the legs from ankle to mid-thigh.

The late 19th century photos in Moore-Willson and in Parks show a wide range in widths of side flap. Buckskin leggings were usually worn outside the high moccasin tops, but were sometimes tucked inside. Unlike leggings of many other tribes, they closely followed the leg's contours and were often very nearly skintight. They were form-fitting, no matter how wide or how narrow the side flaps were.

Buckskin leggings seem to have been used consistently until general acceptance of pants. Although there is no pictorial evidence, it is reasonable to surmise that they were used since the 18th century. However, the fringed garter apron, THE distinctive characteristic of Seminole buckskin leggings, may not have been common until the mid- or late-nineteenth century.

Construction of Cloth Leggings

Construction of Buckskin Leggings

Bibliographic References for Leggings

Complete Index to Articles in 19th Century Seminole Mens Clothing

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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