A rare and unusual example of Santee Dakota beaded footwear
Lot 4282
A rare and unusual example of Santee Dakota beaded footwear
Sold for US$ 8,125 inc. premium

Native American Art

3 Dec 2012, 13:00 PST

San Francisco

Lot Details
A rare and unusual example of Santee Dakota beaded footwear
A rare and unusual example of Santee Dakota beaded footwear
Sinew sewn on soft hide, centering an ornate heart-shaped motif encircled by pairs of contour-beaded leaf forms, flowering vines stretched along each side, on period commercial leather soles, heels set with square shank nails, the interior lined with trade cloth.
length 8 1/2in



    This elaborately adorned pair of what many would call "moccasins" can actually be termed more correctly as "shoes", in that soles and heels of commercially-tanned leather constitute an integral feature. However, the uppers, characteristically embroidered with multicolor seed beads, obviously read as being American Indian moccasins per se. Indeed, they conform to a significant genre of footwear created by especially the Santee-- a division of the Dakota (also known as the "Eastern Sioux") beginning sometime in the mid 19th century. In addition, other groups, including the Ojibwe (also spelled "Chippewa" and"Chippeway"), the Cree, and Metis also produced like footwear in forms resembling non-Indian / Euro-American "slippers". The maker-artists generally retained traditional embroidery techniques and motifs by utilizing primarily porcupine quillwork and beadwork for embellishment. However, in one major aspect they departed sharply from their ancient styles of footwear made for their own use, in that they began to incorporate separate soles . Considering these shoes, the basic shape of the uppers themselves, as well as the beadwork motifs in particular, advocate a Santee Dakota attribution.

    We know that in addition to footwear these groups produced considerable amounts of various types of objects for sale to the "outside"-- that is, to non-Indians. Frank Mayer traveled extensively throughout the respective region, and in his diary of 1851 includes numerous sketches of Indian people; he also discusses this enterprising native endeavor. Likewise, in SPIRITS IN THE ART, James Hanson illustrates and discusses slipper-like moccasins and shoes from the tribes mentioned above. More westerly Plains Indians also made moccasins with separate soles in the same era. No doubt influenced largely by Euro-American shoe styles, as well as possibly responding to missionary and western teacher influence and instruction-- and particularly to respond to demands for footwear deemed more suitable for the tastes of "outsiders", Indian moccasin makers developed these stylized types. The majority have separate soles of native-tanned leather, but occasional pairs display commercial leather instead. Most likely the system entailed Indian and Metis quill and beadworkers supplying the uppers to non-Indian cobblers to attach the leather soles and / or heels. Following the Euro-American approach to footwear, separate soles typify the new genre-- differing markedly from the earlier, basically one-piece native footwear in that definite "rights" and "lefts" were produced, which was not a traditional practice. Hanson, in referring to a pair illustrated in plate 143 of his book points to this trait as a means of dating: "These elegant brogans are easily dated around 1860 by the shape of the sole. At that time cobblers began to differentiate the left shoe from the right. Before then, a pair of shoes was interchangeable when new." If that is correct, than these moccasins/shoes with indistinguishable sole shape would predate that circa 1860 transition. Other characteristic features of the genre include the fact that these slipper-like moccasins and Indian shoes are by and large unusually narrow, and are invariably constructed of relatively thin, native-tanned, lightly-smoked deer skin ("buckskin"). Intended for use by a relatively small person, this pair measures 8.5 in length, and but 2.25 inches across the sole below the instep. In addition, thin muslin almost invariably lines the entire shoe. And silk ribbon, or thin cotton cloth binding follows the foot opening. As though to suggest a remnant "tongue" a point or peak in the leather at the top of the instep is often present. As with these, the projection is occasionally split—and sometimes is even supplied with a pair of eyelets for lacings, though this pair bears no such openings. It being stated that such footwear was intended largely for non-Indian consumption, it is conceivable that early-on an Indian or mixed-blood woman in her home territory might have seen such shoes as fitting to wear to a rather non-traditional function-- such as her own Christian wedding or the baptism of a family member. Collection history for this pair indicates their sale at auction in Scotland. It is therefore also plausible that a Scottish trader or traveler to North America obtained them as is and sent or took them back as a present for a family member or friend, or simply as a curio. The range of ideas and possibilities is subject to tantalizing conjecture.

    All the beads on this pair of moccasins originated in either Murano or Venice, Italy— the two glass producing and bead-making centers that for centuries have provided the vast majority of beads not only to the original people of North America and Central and South America—but to tribal and non-tribal communities throughout the entire world. These beads are of two basic bead sizes—approximately "0.12" and "0.16", denoting that either 12 or 16 rows of beads laid immediately next to each other, would measure one inch in width. As is characteristic of Western Great Lakes appliqué beadwork, a single row of white beads prescribes the motifs. Concentric and parallel rows of beads of various colors fill in the outlines. The hues are classic for the mid 19th century. The color pallet includes medium light blue, pink yellow, white-lined red, "butterscotch", and translucent dark green and navy blue. Diminutive, delicate often free-floating motifs in semi-floral and curvilinear shapes typify beadwork as the Santee applied to slipper-moccasins of this sort. This pair exhibits a number of paisley-like elements in pairs. Bi-lateral symmetry is evident throughout. That the intricate linear pattern of connected motifs is arranged along the sides is remarkable, for it is more common for the decoration of this kind of moccasin to be only on the instep. Moreover, that this aggregate pattern is additionally echoed on the inner sides of the pair would have made them very exceptional even to those in appreciation of them when first made in the mid 1800's.

    Benson L. Lanford
    October 2012


    Duncan, Kate C., and Hale, Barbara, H., OUT OF THE NORTH: The Subarctic Collection of the Haffenreffer Museum, Brown University, Providence Rhode Island, 1989.

    Hanson, James, SPIRITS IN THE ART, Lowell Press, Kansas City, Missouri, 1994.

    Lanford, Benson L., MOCCASIN TRACKS: Commentary on Moccasin Analysis, Vol. 6 # 2, Oct. 1980.

    Mayer, Frank, Blackwell, WITH PEN AND PENCIL ON THE FRONTIER IN 1851, Minnesota Historical Society, 1932.
Auction information

This auction is now finished. If you are interested in consigning in future auctions, please contact the specialist department. If you have queries about lots purchased in this auction, please contact customer services.

Buyers' Obligations


If you have any complaints or questions about the Conditions of Sale, please contact your nearest customer services team.

Buyers' Premium and Charges

For all Sales categories excluding Arms & Armour, Coins & Medals, Motor Cars, Motorcycles, and Wine & Whisky:

Buyer's Premium Rates
25% on the first $250,000 of the Hammer Price
20% from $250,001 to $4,000,000 of the Hammer Price
12.5% on the excess over $4,000,001 of the Hammer Price

Collection Notices

Holiday Closure and Shipping Information:

Bonhams' offices will be closed for the Holiday season from Saturday, December 22nd, 2012 through Tuesday, January 1st, 2013. No pick-ups will be available during this time. We will resume regular business hours on Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013. If you wish to have your property shipped before our holiday closure, cleared payments and shipping arrangements must be made no later than 5PM on Thursday, December 13th, 2012.

Payment Notices

Payment for purchases may be made in or by (a) cash, (b) cashier's check or money order, (c) personal check with approved credit drawn on a U.S. bank, (d) wire transfer or other immediate bank transfer, or (e) Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover credit, charge or debit card. Please note that the amount of cash notes and cash equivalents that can be accepted from a given purchaser may be limited.

Shipping Notices

For information and estimates on domestic and international shipping as well as export licences please contact Bonhams Shipping Department.

  1. Ingmars Lindbergs
    Specialist - Native American
    220 San Bruno Avenue
    San Francisco, United States 94103
    Work +1 415 503 3393
    FaxFax: +1 415 861 8951
Similar Items