The skins of all furry animals, from fax to buffalo, were dressed with the hair on. This meant that only the flesh side was scraped. Then the skin was strewn with wood ashes and left for a few days, as a form of disinfecting, which would keep the hair from falling out later. If it was a thin, soft skin like those of fox, coyote, and wildcat, it might be rubbed with brains, but often the oil in the skin was enough. Then it was softened by rubbing and pulling with the hands, without soaking or twisting. Later on, sheep skin was treated in the same way. The tougher hides, like mountain lion and buffalo, were pounded. Mountain lion was first sprinkled with wood ashes. Buffalo, killed out on the Plains, was rubbed with some of the alkaline earth from dried ponds or buffalo wallows. It was carried home to break up the cells which would hold air and hasten decay. Between poundings, the worker rolled and pulled the tough hide in his hands to soften it. Finally he smoothed the hairless side by rubbing it with a piece of sandstone.
That was all they usually did to buffalo hide in the old days, pueblo people say. They did not paint it and they left the hair on, even when they were going to use it for moccasin soles. Hair wore off soon enough of itself. Later, when they began to use cowhide, they treated it in the same way and then sew it, hair side down, to the uppers of old shoes bought at white stores. When they used cowhide for moccasin soles, however, they began to dehair it like buckskin and lately they have blackened the upturned edges of the soles. The blacking is a paint, made from charcoal and soapweed (Yucca baccato in this case). Leaves of soapweed are laid over the fire until they are soft and wilted. Then they are twisted in the hands to wring out the juice. The sticky juice mixed with the powdered charcoal makes a hard shellac, which is painted on the upturned soles of the moccasins, making them shiny black against the rust red or dead white of the buckskin upper. We may remember that in painting basketry twigs earth colors were mixed with oil of sunflower seeds in much the same way.
Some skins were used whole, fox skins for the ceremonial costumes; large white buckskins for mantles; buffalo robes for bedding; smaller skins to sit on in the house. Most skins were cut up for bags or clothing, and even the whole ones went that way after they began to wear out. Beside leggings, moccasins, and shirts, men made an occasional cap out of a mountain lion's head or a bowguard of any strong skin on hand. The bags needed were mostly a case to keep the precious bow from getting wet, a quiver for arrows, or a sack for seed corn.
A man who had plenty of buckskin might make a long handsome bag to hold his bow, with fringes along one side or at the ends. The quiver was a smaller case sewed along the side of it. If he had time, he might decorate both with animal tails or smear colored clays over them. Sometimes a quiver was made of mountain lion or wildcat skin, sewed up along the stomach, the legs hanging down as a fringe and the head acting as a lid. The bag for seed corn was a small, soft fawn skin.
All men who went hunting or fighting made bowguards, to protect the left wrist from the kick of the bowstring. These were simply strips of tough leather-antelope or buffalo hide dyed black, or wildcat or mountain lion with the fur on. They were cut to fit the wrist and tied with a leather thong (V-3). After pueblo people learned silverwork from the whites, they sometimes added silver decoration. Some of the Tiwa made shields of buffalo hide, like the Plains Indians, and in that case they sometimes scraped the hair off. They cut the rawhide into a disk, perhaps two feet in diameter, and ran a strap through the center to hold it by. Then they laid it over warm ashes until it hardened like board. There were many other uses for skin, as in masks, anklets, and arm-bands, all parts of an elaborate ceremonial paraphernalia which is not described in this paper.
The sewing on bags and clothing was very simple. Perhaps it might be better called tying together with skin thongs. The edges of two pieces of skin were laid side by side, holes were made in them with a bone awl, and then the thong was pushed through and tied. Sometimes there were several holes and the thong was laced a little way. This was very different from the fine sewing with sinew done by some tribes, but pueblo people insist that the thongs were better. Sinew shrinks and stretches too much.
It was only in moccasin making that sinew thread was used, for footwear is not much good if there are long gaps between stitches. Every man kept a ball of sinew, from the various animals he had killed and probably old and hard as wood splinters, rolled up in his storeroom. When he wanted to use it he had to soak it, then split it with his teeth into threads. He used an awl for this sewing, too, for there seem to have been few American tribes except the Eskimo who sewed skin with needles. He had several awls, made from splinters of deer bone and rubbed to a point with sandstone. For moccasins he used a very fine awl and made holes which did not go all the way through the thick buckskin or buffalo hide, so that his stitches were invisible.