Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Deerskins and Church Security among LDS Shoshones, 1938
 


Deerskins and Church Security among LDS Shoshones, 1938

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 17, 2009

The Church Security Plan (now Welfare program) of the 1930s and beyond emphasized production and storage of essential goods against times of shortage, and meaningful employment for church members to support themselves and their families. The usual image of Mormon production from this period involves agriculture, sewing, and canning – but one project stands out dramatically from the backdrop of sugar beet fields and peach canneries:

In 1938, the church put out a request to deer hunters of the western states to save their deer hides and donate them to church members living at Washakie, Utah (in Box Elder County, near the Idaho line), all of whom were members of the Northwestern Band of Shoshone, a band that had joined the church en masse in the 1870s under the leadership of the warrior leader Washakie. These church members were practicing the ancient arts of tanning deer hides and producing fine buckskin clothing of the type their people had worn for uncounted generations, both for home use and for sale to an eager public.

Branch members demonstrated the process for the church’s cameras:

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Here, Moroni Timbimboo (1888-1975) uncovers the fur cache on his property. In the fall of the year previous, he had marked out a bowl-shaped depression a few inches deep and about ten feet across, where he had left his rawhides exposed to the winter rains and snows. Several cycles of freezing and thawing loosened the hair and bits of flesh clinging to the hide, and by January the hides were ready to be worked by his wife, Amy Hootchew Timbimboo (1893-1999).

Amy hung each hide over a six-foot long railing on the side of her home, then scraped both sides with a wooden scraper, about three inches wide and fifteen inches long. Then she washed each skin with soap and water, and hung it out to dry for many days.

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Next, older women in the community – Rachel Perdash (1858-1954, and a survivor of the horrific Bear River Massacre of 1863) is pictured here – scraped the hide with the sharp edge of a stone, over and over, until it became soft and pliable. They would repeat this tedious task several times during the course of tanning.

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Joannah Timbimboo (1911-1991), daughter of Moroni and Amy, demonstrated the next step in the tanning process, treating the hides with beef brains. She boiled together a pound of brains, a pound of fat, a quart of water, and, in modern times, a bar of soap, then rubbed the resulting gooey paste into the hides, using her hands. Joannah hung out the hides to dry, then Rachel Perdash scraped them with her stone until they were again soft and pliable. Each hide underwent this treatment at least three times, until the women were satisfied with the result.

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At this point, the hides were a pale ivory color, and many would now be used to make white dresses and gloves and pillows favored by tourists. Other skins would undergo a final treatment to color them the rich tan usually associated with buckskin.

The workers – Moroni Timbimboo and Rachel Perdash, in this photo – built small sagebrush fires in kettles, feeding in a few cedar chips and fresh sagebrush as needed, to produce a heavy column of smoke with a distinctive odor. They hung the hides in the smoke, and in the course of several days the hides turned brown and acquired the permanent warm, smoky scent of the sagebrush and cedar.

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After months of soaking, scraping, curing, and tanning, the hides were finally ready to be cut and sewn into fine buckskin clothing. The sewing – here demonstrated by Amy and Joannah Timbimboo, wearing clothing they had made and surrounded with articles made for sale – was all done by hand, using fine linen thread. In past centuries, the ancestors of these women had decorated their clothing using porcupine quills and other natural items. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they used thousands of tiny glass beads, all sewn on by hand.

In 1938, members of the Washakie tribe earned $2-$5 for a pair of beaded gloves, $25 for a man’s shirt, and $100 for a woman’s dress, which went a long way toward providing for their families’ needs. What would such treasures bring today, I wonder?



19 Comments »

  1. Incidentally, the theme of this year’s Utah State History annual meeting, which begins today and runs through Saturday, is “Celebrating Utah’s American Indian Culture: We Shall Remain.” I’m trying to put a little Mormon spin on that theme with posts here this week.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 17, 2009 @ 8:04 am

  2. Based on this The $100 dress should cost $1513.04, but I would say that as a minimum since hand work is at a premium. I know I am not getting one for my wife this year!

    Comment by Eric Boysen — September 17, 2009 @ 8:35 am

  3. Cool, Ardis.

    Comment by David G. — September 17, 2009 @ 8:52 am

  4. Wow – Even after a trip to Tandy’s, I’m still pretty oblivious to how much work goes into preparing leather goods. The photos were wonderful, thanks.

    (By the way, I loved seeing the rich variety of names, with their melange of American Indian, Anglo, and Mormon influences. “Moroni Timbimboo” is my favorite.)

    Comment by Hunter — September 17, 2009 @ 9:09 am

  5. I can’t believe somebody didn’t call me on my “sugar beer” typo before I caught it!

    Thanks, Eric. The deerskin dress would wear better than most of your wife’s other clothes, though — maybe you should get her one, thinking of it as 15 dresses!

    Thanks, David. (BTW, your questions yesterday about sources were in no way a threadjack — I welcome the chance to learn more, especially when we’re talking about a specific example to make the academic point clearer to me.)

    Hunter, me, too, Hunter. Maybe — just maybe — it’s no more work than woolen or cotton fabric in the days when the fiber was combed and spun and woven and dyed by hand, but I’m not sure. It’s simply amazing how much work our ancestors went to for the basics, and how oblivious we usually are to all that. And I love the mix of names, too!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 17, 2009 @ 9:24 am

  6. Wow. I hope they cooked that soap/brain/tallow mixture outside. I don’t think it would smell very good. What a time intensive process, and how impressive the Church would set up a project of this type that worked with the culture. (Washakie is now a ghost town, with only the cemetery remaining). My ancestors at the time were working in the more familiar “sugar beer” fields. (I think that’s probably a typo!)

    Re#2, Inflation can be calculated several different ways. Using gold price analysis (35$ in 1938 vs. $1000 in 2009) that’s $714 for the shirt and $2,850 for the dress.

    Comment by Clark — September 17, 2009 @ 9:30 am

  7. Yeah, I understand that in a terrible miscommunication and misunderstanding of the cultural habit of “going visiting” for a year or more, the Church, owners of the land under Washakie, thought that the few remaining buildings had been abandoned in 1960, and burned the town to the ground as a step in preparing to sell to a private rancher. Besides the ill-will that mistake generated, the residents lost their personal possessions, including historical records, stored in their houses. Sometime later, the church deeded 184 acres containing the cemetery and surrounding land to the band, which provided them enough acreage to qualify under whatever federal program was then in place to be recognized as a tribe with whatever benefits came from that designation.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 17, 2009 @ 9:47 am

  8. Timely and enlightening, Ardis. Thank you.

    Moroni Timimboo, shown hard at work, was Bishop of Washakie Ward from 1939 to 1945. He was the son of Yeager Timimboo, one of the few young men to escape the massacre.

    When I was a high school student in Preston more than six decades ago, I don’t think the then-called “Battle of Bear River” was ever mentioned in our classes. The post office has a mural (very inaccurate) on its wall. There was a “historical marker” on highway 91 just south of Franklin that headlined “Battle of Bear River” and a low rock pillar with a little teepee on top along the highway near the battle site (still there).While hunting rabbits, ducks and pheasants along the river bottom there, we gave no thought to the historical ground we were walking on.

    Curt A.

    Comment by Curt A. — September 17, 2009 @ 10:18 am

  9. Thank you for those added details, Curt. Yeager was a son of Sagwitch, wasn’t he? Seeing the picture of a woman who was there, reading of one man’s close ties to that massacre, makes it more personal.

    Incidentally, I’ve heard rumors from two independent directions that there are plans afoot by a certain conspiracy-minded local theorizer to paint the massacre as having been orchestrated by the evil Brigham Young in a plot to have the federal troops (the California Volunteers under Connor) wiped out by Indians. Stay tuned for another rollercoaster ride of revisionism, slander, and revulsion, or at least some indignant tantrum-throwing.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 17, 2009 @ 10:49 am

  10. What a process–tanning. For most of us, that word conjures up a lazy day at the beach (or a later trip to the dermatologist), and I suspect we don’t appreciate all the effort required to turn the hide of some animal into the leather in our shoes, purses and briefcases, jackets and belts and whatever else.

    A hearty cheer for tanners everywhere!

    And thanks Ardis for this terrific post. Sadly, the beer was all gone by the time I arrived.

    Comment by Mark B. — September 17, 2009 @ 11:32 am

  11. Sorry, Mark, no beer for you today. And I second your cheer for tanners everywhere! /wink/

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 17, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

  12. Yes, Ardis, Yeager was the son of Sagwitch, and was twelve years old at the time of the massacre. He was spared when one soldier refused to kill him.

    The conspiracy-minded revisionist will have to cope with Colonel Connor’s official report of the battle which is readily available via the Guild Press Official Records CD and is within my reach at this moment. It comes through perfectly clear Connor was his own motivator.

    Comment by Curt A. — September 17, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

  13. Bravo, Mark B. There’s no subject that can’t be made better with a good pun. (Or even a bad one. :) )

    Comment by Researcher — September 17, 2009 @ 1:58 pm

  14. Thanks, Ardis (and Curt). And I complain about my job…

    I’d never heard about the Bear Creek Massacre, so I went straight to Wikipedia. Very interesting. And disturbing.

    Comment by Martin — September 17, 2009 @ 2:08 pm

  15. Too late for the beer, and fresh out of beef brains. Another great post, and an example of how our religion often works very well.

    Not to threadjack, but my recollection from studying the Bear River Massacre a number of years ago, had Colonel Connor and his California Volunteers itching for a fight after signing up for the civil war, and getting sent to Utah instead. When he couldn’t goad the Mormons into a fight, he jumped at the chance to go after the Shoshone, even though it appeared that the theft that prompted the attack probably was done by American Indians of some other band.

    Comment by kevinf — September 17, 2009 @ 4:14 pm

  16. One of my sons got really involved in the Order of the Arrow. He learned various Indian dances and made his own headdresses. He was also interested in the mountain men culture. He made pants and shirts from tanned leather, beaded moccasins, etc. And, he tried tanning a racoon skin following old methods (the brains and all). He would work on the hide for awhile, then roll it up, put it in a plastic freezer bag, and keep in in my freezer. It really freaked me out to get in the freezer and find that hairy thing. He is the one who taught me to have respect for all of the hours it took to achieve beautifully tanned hides and beadwork items, plus respect for the history of the Indian tribes.

    I had never heard of this request by the Church for deer hides for the Shoshone.

    Comment by Maurine — September 17, 2009 @ 8:46 pm

  17. Ardis,

    My dad was buddies in school with one of Amy Timbimboo’s sons or grandsons–I don’t remember off the top of my head which. I know I remember my parents talking about Amy Timbimboo and I kinda knew the story that she was a grandchild of the Shoshones that joined the church back in the day. I went to school with my dad’s friend’s son. They are good, successful people who are still “pitchin in”. They have done their ancestors proud.

    Comment by Jeannine — September 20, 2009 @ 9:50 am

  18. That’s very welcome news, Jeannine. I hope they’d be pleased by publication of this small bit of their history.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 20, 2009 @ 10:01 am

  19. [...] in 1938, Church leaders requested deer hunters to save their deer hides and donate them to an all-Shoshone branch, to give them more of a livelihood making clothing to use and sell. Brigham Young also urged [...]

    Pingback by Mormon Pioneer Relations with the Native Americans | Mormon History — November 11, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

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