vadzaih ch’adhah thał
“caribou skin pants”
Region: Yukon River (upper), Alaska
Object Category: Clothing
Object Type: Moccasin pants
Accession Date: 1866
Source: Bernard R. Ross (donor)
Museum: National Museum of Natural History
Museum ID Number: ET001857B
Eliza Jones: Okay, this is white caribou skin pants with a boot on it.
Trimble Gilbert: Vadzaih ch’adhah daagąįį thał. Vakwài’ vitsįį dhidlii.
(Pants made of white caribou skin. With feet attached.)
Eliza Jones: And for us I would say, k’eleł kkaatseeyh [skin pants]. That’s Central Koyukon and say yours.
Judy Woods: Ch’eleł kkaatseesh, ch’eleł kkaatseesh bekkaachen bugh daalkkonee.
(Skin pants, skin pants with its boots sewed to it.)
Trimble Gilbert: I’ve never seen ones like this, but we used to have the ones with fur on the inside.
Judy Woods: I’ve seen caribou-skin boots but with the fur out, all the way up to here [top of leg].
Trimble Gilbert: Yes, that’s the one.
Eliza Jones: It would be fur all the way up to here [top of leg], and then moose skin sewed around it [at top of leg].
Judy Woods: And then they had a strap top hold it. Put that on their belt. Moose skin on the bottom [sole].
Trimble Gilbert: Yes, the one I’m talking about, we call dazhoo thał [fur pants].
Materials & Design
Eliza Jones: It’s tanned, this is one of those that’s not—
Judy Woods: Smoked.
Eliza Jones: Yes, untanned. It has caribou fringe here at the top of the beads.
Judy Woods: Right here [at ankle] too, on the bottom, caribou fringe.
Eliza Jones: When they sewed the beads on, they got—looks like a long caribou string [strip of skin]. And they attached it at the bottom and put on two, four, six, eight blue beads, two brown beads. And then they went through the skin [with strip] and repeated that all the way up [pant leg]. And then they went through up here again [top of leg], then put a knot in here [top end of beading]. So it’s done all the way across [for each column of beads], only this one is different. For this one, they used sinew. Pretty neat. They must have had a special needle to put this [skin strip] through.
Judy Woods: Awl.
Eliza Jones: Awl, yes, deghotleye [awl]. And beads all around the ankle.
Judy Woods: Mm-hmm, and it’s sewed through.
[From discussion with Phillip Arrow, Trimble Gilbert, Eliza Jones and Judy Woods at the National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian, 5/17/2004-5/21/2004. Also participating: Aron Crowell (NMNH), Kate Duncan (Arizona State University) and Suzi Jones (AMHA).]
1. In this entry, the Elders speak in different Athabascan dialects: Phillip Arrow, Deg Xinag; Trimble Gilbert, Gwich’in; Eliza Jones, Central Koyukon; and Judy Woods, Upper Koyukon.
2. This garment is part of a set that includes tunic ET001857A & mittens ET001857C.
This pair of man’s moccasin trousers are made of soft, tanned caribou skin. There were part of a suit of Gwich’in clothing that was purchased in the late 1850s or early 1860s by Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader Bernard Ross. Like the trousers, the tunic and mittens (see Related Objects) are decorated with bands of trade beads and with lines of red mineral (ocher) paint along the edges, seams, and beaded areas.
In the past, men and women of all Alaskan Athabascan groups wore similar moccasin trousers and tunics. Along the Yukon River and its tributaries these garments were made by the Gwich’in (1), Koyukon (2), Upper Tanana (3), and Deg Hit’an.(4) In southern Alaska, both the Dena’ina and Ahtna wore this type of clothing.(5)
Moccasin trousers often had tanned caribou skin leggings and moose hide soles.(6) Hair was left on the caribou skins when making winter trousers, and turned to the inside. Upper Tanana people wore winter trousers made of mountain sheep skins and put rabbit fur inside to insulate their feet.
Moccasin trousers were originally decorated with porcupine quill embroidery and later with glass trade beads.(8) This type of garment went out of style among most Athabascans by the mid to late 19th century, replaced by pants and unattached moccasins.(9) However, some in the Upper Tanana region were still wearing moccasin trousers in 1930, and the Gwich’in were making them for children at that time.(10)
1. Mackenzie 1801:48; McKennan 1965:45; Murray 1910:84; Osgood 1936:39-40; Richardson 1851 Vol. 1:380
2. Dall 1870:82-83; Michael 1976:244-46
3. McKennan 1959:78-80
4. Osgood 1970:262; Michael 1976:244-46
5. Allen 1887:131, Osgood 1937:46
6. McKennan 1959:78, 1965:45; Osgood 1936:39
7. McKennan 1959:78
8. VanStone 1981:11-16
9. Simeone and VanStone 1986:7
10. Duncan and Carney 1997:24: McKennan 1959:45, 79