Man's Shirt and Leggings

CMC S89-1742; PCD 94-685-009

Blackfoot; ca. 1840; tanned deerskin, porcupine quills, hair, glass beads, woollen cloth, paint; shirt 89 cm. long, leggings 109 cm. long; Speyer Collection
CMC V-B-413 (shirt)
CMC V-B-415 a,b (leggings)

The Blackfoot owner of this striking garment must have been not only an outstanding warrior but also an ambitious man of great wealth -- wealth that he lavished on the pursuit of sacred blessings and social prestige. In Blackfoot society certain costumes associated with the spiritual patrons of warriors conferred these benefits. This costume is unique in combining the distinctive insignia of three patrons -- the sun, the weasel and the bear.

The scalp-hair fringes, the painted stripes on sleeves and leggings, and the large discs on the front and back of the shirt were the marks of the Scalplock Suit. It had its origins in the legend of Scarface, to whom the Sun gave the first suit of its kind as a reward for killing his enemies. Fringes of weasel fur and the tadpole symbols painted on the leggings were characteristic of the Weaseltail Suit, which bestowed spiritual powers of the underworld. The rows of short stripes and dots on a yellow background decorating the upper part of the shirt are reminiscent of the sacred warshirt given to the Blackfoot by bear spirits.

Such ritual costumes came at a high price; for example, in the early nineteenth century thirty horses were paid to acquire a Scalplock Suit. Such magically protective garments were ritually transferred from warrior to warrior every few years. Ownership conferred the right to paint the face in a particular way and to sing certain songs during the Big Smoke, a prestigious ceremony in praise of the spirits. Warriors carried these suits, bundled, into battle, and donned them only as they returned home so that they might enter their camp in glory.