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Vol. IX., No. 2 April, 1918
^aajmtgton historical ©uarterlp
THE DOGS HAIR BLANKETS OF THE COAST SALISH
The clothing used by the natives of any country before the
advent of the white man is of interest alike to the historian and the
ethnologist. Climate and environment are the determining factors
in the necessity for clothing as well as in the selection of its materials.
In the temperate zone the skins of the wild animals of the region
are naturally the most obvious source of supply, for this is simply
a case of one native appropriating the ready-made covering of another
— after he has, in all probability, devoured the original tenant. The
first visitors to the Northwest Coast found the Indians usually clad
in furs and skins. Some, however, wore a sort of blanket woven
from the inner bark of that, to them, blessed tree, the cedar. But
many in southern British Columbia and in northern Washington used
a blanket made, wholly or in part, of dog's hair.
The references to these dog's hair blankets, which are scattered
through the various books of travel to this coast, are so numerous
that I propose to gather them together in this short article, in the
hope that they may be of use to students of our history and furnish
a point of departure for those who wish to pursue the subject further.
No pretense is made of a complete or systematic investigation of the
matter, nor, indeed, of any special knowledge thereon. Doubtless
these peculiar blankets are mentioned by many other visitors besides
those whose remarks are now reproduced. This article is merely
an amplification of a considerable number of notes which, in the
course of desultory reading, have gradually accumulated.
The first Europeans, to visit our coast were the Spaniards under
Juan Perez in 1774. Accompanying the expedition were two mission-
aries, Fathers Crespi and Pefia, whose special duty it was to record
the events of the voyage. Unfortunately, all their observations were
made from the ship's side, as no landing was made anywhere on the
coast of old Oregon, using that term in its very broadest sense. As
their vessel, the Santiago, hovered around North Cape, Queen Char-
lotte Islands, in a vain attempt to enter Dixon Entrance, the Indians,
"Pagans," as the reverend fathers called them, came out in their
84 F. W. Howay
canoes. Father Pena says, "They had . . . pieces of woven woolen
stuffs very elaborately embroidered and about a yard and a half
square, with a fringe of the same wool about the edges and various
figures embroidered in distinct colors." 1 A little later he mentions
that both the men and the women were sometimes clad in their "woven
woolen stuff." When the Santiago reached the entrance of Nootka
Sound, where another vain effort to land was made, the Indians
paddled out to the vessel. Speaking of the Nootkans, he says, "We
did not see cloths woven of wool amongst them as at Santa Margarita
[North Cape]." 2 The other missionary, Father Crespi, has very
much the same tale to tell. The natives of Queen Charlotte Islands,
he says, brought out to them, "other coverlets, or blankets, of fine wool,
or the hair of animals that seemed like wool, finely woven and orna-
mented with the same hair of various colours, principally white, black,
and yellow, the weaving being so close that it appeared as though done
in a loom." s When at Nootka he reports, "Among these Indians no
cloths woven of wool or hair, like those seen at Santa Margarita, were
met with." * The Spaniards were only at Nootka for about twelve
hours ; had their stay been longer they would doubtless have discovered
that these people also had woven woolen materials.
Four years later the celebrated Captain James Cook reached
Nootka Sound, where he remained from March 29 until April 26,
1778. He found the people clothed mostly in furs, or in what he
calls, "a flaxen garment" ; though he does say, "They have also woolen
garments, which however are little in use." B He hazards no surmise
as to the origin of these woolen garments. He does, indeed, add that
"Hogs, dogs, and goats have not as yet found their way to this
place," * but this statement, as. will hereafter appear, was, so far at
least as the dogs were concerned, an error. Ellis, the assistant sur-
geon of the ships, mentions these flaxen garments, which he describes
as "a kind of cloak apparently made of the bark of a tree." 7 He
supposes that the material was "the interior bark of the fir-tree," 8
but, as we know, it was in reality the inner bark of the cedar. He
also noted the woolen garments: "Some of them [the cloaks] are
made of the hair of an animal which resembles wool, but how or
1 Pena'e Diary (Historical Society of Southern California, 1891, Publications), ii, 123.
The diary is given in Spanish and in English.
1 Ibid., p. 132.
» Creepi't Diary (Historical Society of Southern California, 1891), 11, 191. This diary is
also published both In Spanish and in English.
« Ibii., p. 203.
5 Captain James Cook, Voyage to the Partite Ocean (Dublin, Chamberlaine, 1784. 3 vols. ) ,
« Ibid., ii, 294.
' William Bills, Authentic Narrative of a Voyage Performed by Captain Cook, and Captain
Clarke (London, 1782, 2 Tola., 8to.), 1, 191.
• Ibid., i, 219.
Dog's Hair Blankets 85
where they procured it, we could never learn." ' Ledyard, however,
was more keen-sighted than either Captain Cook or Doctor Ellis. Not
only did he see dogs at Nootka Sound, but in speaking of the clothing
of the natives he says that besides the bark garments they had another
kind "principally made with the hair of their dogs, which are almost
white and of the domestic kind." 10
Neither Dixon nor Meares throws any light upon the subject.
Dixon, as is well known, never landed on the coast during his voyage
and could know but little of the clothing of the natives and nothing
about their dogs. Meares' real knowledge of the Indians was con-
fined to the vicinity of Nootka, and the only clothing he alludes to
is that made from cedar bark.
Very little information on the customs or clothing of the natives
in the vicinity of the Strait of Juan de Fuca is to be obtained from
the published voyages of the fur traders. They were evidently too
intent on the pursuit of peltry to devote much attention to such
matters. However, Haswell is a shining exception. He was the
second mate of the Washington on her first voyage. The winter of
1788-1789 was spent at Nootka Sound, thus affording such a careful
observer a good opportunity to become acquainted with the people
and their surroundings. He says: "Their dress is in general a gar-
ment with three sides square the lower side rounding with a fringe
and the upper edge trimmed with Fur on each side about two inches
in bredth the garment is composed of wool of the mountain sheep
but the rest of the garment is made of the bark of a Cedar tree beat
to a state that it sum resembles hemp they have allso blankits
of excellent workmanship of the wool of mountain sheep and as well
dun as tho' it was wove in a loom." ll
Vancouver, as was to be expected, is quite explicit in his refer-
ence to these dog's hair blankets. In May, 1792, when anchored near
Restoration Point, he noticed the "woolen and skin garments" of the
natives. His entry regarding the dogs is rather lengthy, but is so
important that it is given in full. "The dogs belonging to this tribe
of Indians were numerous, and much resembled those of Pomerania,
though in general somewhat larger. They were all shorn as close
to the skin as sheep are in England ; and so compact were their fleeces,
that large portions could be lifted up by a corner without causing
any separation. They were composed of a mixture of a coarse kind
of wool, with very fine long hair, capable of being spun into yarn.
» mi., i. 214.
u Leiyar&'t Journal of Captain Cook's Last Voyage (Hartford, 1783), pp. 70 and 71.
Jared Sparks, Life of John Ledyard (Cambridge, 1828), p. 71.
11 Haswell's manuscript log of a Voyage Round the World on board the Ship Columbia-
Reiiviva and Sloop Washington, under date March, 1780.
86 F. W. Howay
This gave me reason to believe that their woollen clothing might in
part be composed of this material mixed with a finer kind of wool
from some other animal, as their garments were all too fine to be
manufactured from the coarse coating of the dog alone. The abund-
ance of these garments amongst the few people we met with, indicates
the animal from whence the raw material is. procured, to be very
common in this neighborhood; but as they have no one domesticated
excepting the dog, their supply of wool for their clothing can only be
obtained by hunting the wild creature that produces it; of which we
could not obtain the least information." 12
In July, 1798, when Vancouver was near Millbank Sound he
observed that the natives in the vicinity were clothed either in the
skins of the sea-otter or in garments made of cedar bark, by him
erroneously called "pine bark." The latter were frequently bordered
on the sides and bottom with woven material in various colors. For
this purpose woolen yarn very fine, well spun, and usually of a lively
yellow, was used. From this fact he inferred the presence in that
locality of the same fleece-bearing animal ; but, as he remarked, it was
very strange that not one person was to be seen clad in a woolen
mantle such as had been so plentiful in "New Georgia," i.e. the region
of the coast Salish. He adds that in "New Georgia the principal part
of the people's clothing is made of wool." 13 Nowhere does it appear
that Vancouver carefully compared the woolen borders of Millbank
Sound with the woolen blankets of Puget Sound and vicinity.
A year later near Lynn Canal he met a chief dressed in a more
superb style than any yet encountered. The only portion of this
grandee's dress which need detain us is his robe. "His external robe
was a very fine large garment, that reached from his neck down to
his heels, made of wool from the mountain sheep, neatly variegated
with several colours, and edged and otherwise decorated with little
tufts, or frogs of woollen yarn, dyed of various colours." 14 Van-
couver is not quite right in saying that this dress was made from
the wool of the mountain sheep. In this connection the following
extract is given from Langsdorff who, in the summer of 1805, was at
Kodiak. "The Overseer Bander shewed me the wool of a wild Ameri-
can sheep, which was whitish, fine, and very long, and is much used
by the natives of the northwest coast of America for clothing and car-
pets. I never could obtain a sight of the animal that produced this
13 Captain George Vancouver, Voyage of Discovery to the North Pacific Oceans (London,
Stockdale, 1801. 6 vols.), it, 130. Meany, Vancouver's Discovery of Puget Sound, p. 186.
« Vancouver, op. clt., iv, 37 ; and in the 4to. 3-vol. edition, London, 1798, 11, 281.
three-volume, London, 1798, 111, p. 249.
14 Vancouver's Voyage (London, Stockdale, 1801. 6 vols.), v, p. 430; and in the quarto
three-volume, London, 1798, ill, p. 249.
Dog's Hair Blankets 87
wool; it must however be very different from the argali, or wild sheep,
ovis amtnon, for this has a sort of hairy coat, more like the rein-deer
and nothing like wood. I do not know that any seaman or naturalist
has described or mentions having s.een the American wool-bearing
animal in question." 15 The mysterious animal from which the wool
referred to was obtained is not the mountain sheep or bighorn, but the
mountain goat. This latter, says Sir George Simpson, "has an outer
coat of hair, not unlike that of the domestic variety of the species, and
an inner coat of wool, beautifully white, soft, and silky. Instead of
wool again, the bighorn has a thick covering of hair, pretty much re-
sembling that of the red deer." 16
The author of the New Vancouver Journal, who from the internal
evidence I believe to have been Mr. Bell, the Clerk of the Chatham,
speaking of the Indians of Nootka, says. : "They likewise manufacture
a Woollen Cloth which they use to wear, though not so generally as
the other kinds I have mentioned, this I believe is made from the
Wool of an animal which we never saw and call'd the Mountain
Sheep." 1T This statement it will be observed does not accord with
that of Ledyard, nor with that of Jewitt, which will be given presently.
In June, 1792, while Vancouver was pursuing his course north-
ward from Puget Sound the Spanish vessels, Sutil and Mexicana,
entered the Gulf of Georgia. They made their way to the western
side and anchored off the northern end of Gabriola Island near the
present city of Nanaimo, where they remained for a few days. Their
narrative of the voyage only exists in the Spanish edition, but the
Provincial Archivist of British Columbia has obtained a translation
into English from which the following extract is made. They say:
"The Indians also offered new blankets which we afterwards con-
cluded were of dog's hair, partly because when the woven hair was
compared with that of those animals there was no apparent difference,
and partly from the great number of dogs they keep in those villages,
most of them being shorn. These animals are of moderate size, resem-
bling those of English breed, with very thick coats, and usually white :
among other things they differ from those of Europe in their manner
of barking, which is simply a miserable howl." 18
18 Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels (Carlisle, 1817), p. 366.
M Sir George Simpson, Narrative of a Journey Bound the World (London, 1847. 2 vols.,
8to), I, 315.
>' Washington Historical Quarterly, vl, 69, January, 1915.
18 Howay and Scholefleld, History of British Columbia, 1, 173. Viage hecho par las Oole-
tas Sutil y Mexicana (Madrid, 1802), p. 57. For those who prefer the original It is appended.
"Tambien ofreclan mantas nuevas. que inferimos despues fuesen de lana de perro, ya porque
cotejada la texlda con la de estos animales no se encnentra diferencia, y ya por el grande
nmnero de ellos que tienen en estas rancherlas, de los quales los mas estaban esquilados. Son
estos animales medianos, parecidos a los de casta lnglesa, muy lanudos, y por lo comun blancos :
entre otras cosas se diferencian de los de Buropa en el modo de ladrar, que se reduce a un
88 F. W. Howay
Jewitt, who was a captive at Nootka, 1803-1805, speaks of the
natives there having "a kind of grey cloth made of the hair of some
animal which they procure from the tribes to the south." Dr. Brown
in his annotation thereto says this is dog's hair, and adds, "A tribe
on Fraser River used to keep flocks of these curs which they period-
ically clipped like sheep." w
Lewis and Clark record in their journals under date of February
22, 1806 (Ed. Thwaites, iv, 96-97) that, while at Fort Clatsop, they
saw many skins of the mountain sheep (really the mountain goat) "in
the possession of the natives dressed with the wool on them and also
[saw] and have the blankets which they manufacture of the wool of
this sheep." They give quite a lengthy description of the animal,
plainly showing that it was the goat. The Indians told them that
the horns were erect and pointed; but one of their engages, La Page,
evidently confused it with the mountain sheep, or bighorn, and insisted
that "the males had lunated horns bent backward and twisted."
Simon Fraser records in his journal that during his descent of the
Fraser River in 1808 he came into contact with the coast Salish near
Yale. "They have," he says, "rugs made from the wool of the Aspai,
or wild goat, and from dog's hair, which are as good as the wool
rugs, found in Canada. We observed that the dogs had lately been
shorn." 20 And some thirty miles further down the river in the vicinity
of Ruby Creek he came to a village of the coast Salish where "they
make with dogs hair, rugs with stripes of different colours crossing
at right angles and resembling at a distance, Highland plaid." 21
In the fall of 1824 James McMillan explored the lower reaches of
the Fraser River as a preliminary to the location of a coast trading
post by the Hudson's Bay Company. The journal of the expedition
was kept by John Work. He records that, having come overland
from Boundary Bay, they reached the Fraser at the point now known
as Langley, where the Fort was actully built, three years later. There
they met Indians who wore blankets "of their own manufacture and
made of hair or coarse wool, on which they wear a kind of short cloak
made of the bark of the cedar tree." 22 There can be but little doubt
that these blankets were made in great part at any rate of dog's
hair, though the journal does not mention the existence of any dogs.
* Jewitt'e Narrative (Middletown, 1815), p. 67. Jewitt' a Narrative, edited with an in-
troduction and notes by Robert Brown (London, 1896) , p. 105.
M I>. R. Hasson, Let Bourgeois de la Compagnie du Nord-Ouett (Quebec, 1889. 2 Tola.),
i, 93. This volume contain's Fraser's Journal of his voyage down the Fraser in 1808.
*> Ibid., i, 195.
» Washington Historical Quarterly, ill, 218, July, 1912.
9 Oregon Historical Quarterly, vl, 196, June, 1905. Dr. John Scouler, "Journal of a
Voyage to N. W. America, 1824, 25, 26."
Dog'* Hair Blankets 89
In the following year Dr. John Scouler, the surgeon of the Hud-
son's Bay Company's vessel William and Anne and the friend of David
Douglas, was at Tatooch, near the entrance of the Strait of Juan
de Fuca, and in his Journal under date August 8, 1825, will be found
the following entry: "The natives of Tatooch show much ingenuity
in manufacturing blankets from the hair of their dogs. On a little
island a few miles from the coast they have a great number of white
dogs which they feed regularly every day. From the wool of their
dogs and the fibres of the Cypress they make a very strong blanket.
They have also some method of making red and blue stripes in their
blankets in imitation of European ones. At a little distance it is diffi-
cult to distinguish these Indian blankets from those of Europe." 2S
And later, on the 18th of the same month, when in the vicinity of
Point Roberts, he records, "Blankets of dog's wool are very common,
and although superior in durability to those of Europe, are far from
being so comfortable." 2 *
The Rev. Jonathan S. Green, who made a voyage to the north-
west coast in 1829, says in his Journal, page 44, referring to the
inhabitants of the Queen Charlotte Islands, "Formerly, from the wool
of the mountain sheep they wrought blankets and other garments,
coarse indeed, but durable and curious."
Dunn, who was at Millbank Sound during the building of Fort
McLoughlin and for over a year afterwards, does not mention seeing
any blankets there except those made from cedar bark. It would
thus appear that even the slight fringes of mountain goat's wool,
which Vancouver noticed, had disappeared in the intervening forty-
In the summer of 1846 H.M. surveying vessel, the Herald, was
engaged in surveying the harbor of Victoria, adjacent water, and the
Strait of Juan de Fuca. The vessel anchored in Port Townsend on
the 18th of July, 1846, and in the account of the voyage, after de-
scribing the dress of the Indians, the author, Berthold Seeman, the
naturalist, says: "They keep dogs, the hair of which is manufac-
tured into a kind of coverlet or blanket, which, in addition to the
skins of bears, wolves, and deers, afford them abundance of clothing.
Since the Hudson's Bay Company have established themselves in this
neighborhood, English blankets have been so much in request that
the dog's hair manufacture has been rather at a discount, eight or
ten blankets being given for one sea-otter skin." 25
Pilgrimages to this coast were quite in order in the thirties
» Ibid., p. 201.
* The Voyage of the Herald (London, 1853), i, 109.
90 F. W. Howay
and forties and amongst other arrivals was Paul Kane, the artist.
He accompanied from Fort William the Hudson's Bay Company's
brigade which left that fort in May, 1846. In the course of his
wanderings he reached Fort Victoria in April, 1847. He gives a
lengthy account of these dogs, and the process of manufacture of
the blankets. "The men," he says, "wear no clothing in summer,
and nothing but a blanket in winter, made either of dog's hair alone,
or dog's hair and goosedown mixed, frayed cedar-bark, or wildgoose
skin, like the Chinooks. They have a peculiar breed of small dogs
with long hair of a brownish black and a clear white. These dogs
are bred for clothing purposes. The hair is cut off with a knife
and mixed with goosedown and a little white earth, with a view of
curing the feathers. This is then beaten together with sticks, and
twisted into threads by rubbing it down the thigh with the palm of
the hand, in the same way that a shoemaker forms his waxend, after
which it undergoes a second twisting on a distaff to increase its
firmness. The cedar bark is frayed and twisted into thread in a
similar manner. These threads are then woven into blankets by
a very simple loom of their own contrivance. A single thread is
wound over rollers at the top and bottom of a square frame, so as
to form a continuous woof through which an alternate thread is car-
ried by the hand, and pressed closely together by a sort of wooden
comb; by turning the rollers every part of the woof is brought within
reach of the weaver; by this means a bag is formed, open at each
end, which being cut down makes a square blanket." 26 The wild-
goose skin blankets of the Chinooks to which he refers contained no
dog's hair. They were fabricated by cutting the goose skin into
strips and twisting them so as to keep the feathers outward. These
feathered cords were then netted together, forming a light but very
warm blanket, a sort of savage eider-down coverlet.
It is quite natural to expect that these unique blankets, of which
the artist has given such a lengthy description, would call forth all
the powers of his brush. Yet one seeks in vain amongst the illustra-
tions in his volume for any picture relating to this interesting matter.
Nevertheless, Paul Kane did make it the subject of a most valuable
oil painting, now owned by E. B. Osier, Esq., M.P., of Toronto.
This painting shows in the background an Indian woman busy with
the distaff spinning the wool into yarn; in the middle ground another
woman is at work at the loom; while in the foreground is the little
white dog itself. A copy of this painting is to be found in the
" Paul Kane, Wanderingi of an Artist Among the Indian* of North America (London,
1859), pp. 310-211, and p. 184.
Dog's Hair Blankets 91
Guide to the Anthropological Collection in Provincial Museum, issued
by the Government of British Columbia in 1909, at page 53.
The most recent reference to these blankets, by one with first-
hand knowledge, which I have met is by the late Alexander Caulfield
Anderson in a document preserved in the Archives of British Columbia,
but it adds nothing to the very full statements already given.
By the time that, the gold seekers of 1858 arrived, the natives
appear to have lost the art of weaving these blankets, the blankets
themselves were very scarce and difficult to obtain, and the wonderful
dog had become almost extinct. The late Jonathan Miller, the first
postmaster of the city of Vancouver, B. C, who came to the lower
Fraser in 1862, stated that, soon after his arrival, he was present at
a large potlatch in the vicinity, and that during the ceremonies he
saw one of the actors devour, or pretend to devour, alive, a small,
white, long-haired dog of a species that he had never seen before
This statement he made to Professor Charles Hill-Tout, the well-
known authority on Salish ethnology. No record, verbal or written,
has been encountered relating to the existence of these dogs after
Several of these blankets are to be seen in the Provincial Museum
of British Columbia; and on page 51 of the Guide, already mentioned,
will be found a reproduction of a very beautiful specimen of this
native work. Dr. C. F. Newcombe, who compiled this volume, gives
on the same page a description of the method of preparing the wool
and manufacturing the blanket, which agrees closely with that of
When these references are examined it will appear that the
blankets found in Alaska, along the coast of northern British Co-
lumbia, the Queen Charlotte Islands, as well as those found by
Lewis and Clark at the mouth of the Columbia were made entirely
from the wool of the mountain goat (Haplocerus montanus), but that
those on the southern end of Vancouver Island, the Strait of Juan
de Fuca, Puget Sound, the Gulf of Georgia, and Fraser River were
manufactured, wholly, or in great part, from the fleeces of this strange
and now extinct wool-bearing dog. It is passing strange thus to
find these dogs and these novel blankets confined to the small area
about the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a foreign wedge, as it were, sep-
arating the otherwise continuous line.
Whence came this fleece-bearing dog, and why is it that it was
only found in the locality mentioned? Was it a comparatively recent
arrival, and does that account for its not having become more widely
92 F. W. Howay
diffused? So far as my knowledge goes, no similar animal is to be
found or is known to have existed among the surrounding tribes. One
hesitates to enter into an enquiry which may raise from its grave the
age-old question : Whence came our Indians ? That able and scholarly
missionary, the Reverend A. G. Morice, who is more familiar with the
Dene than any other living person has given it as his opinion that
they are probably connected with the so-called "Paleo- Asiatic" peoples
of Northeastern Asia, i. e., the Kamschadales, Tchuktchi, etc. 27 De-
scribing the dogs of the Kamschatka, Captain King says: "These dogs
are in shape somewhat like the Pomeranian breed, but considerably
larger." 28 He speaks also of their "melancholy howlings." Lieutenant
Hooper remarks of the dogs of the Tchuktchi, by him spelled, "Tuski,"
that their bark is a melancholy whine. 29 Mr. J. Keast Lord, who was
the naturalist attached to the British North American Boundary Com-
mission, in discussing this question supposes that the dog came from
Japan and adds, "I am informed by a friend who has been there that
the Japanese have a small long-haired dog, usually white, and from
description very analogous to the dog that was shorn by the Indians
of the coast and of Vancouver Island." 80 Is it possible that the coast
Salish may have come from the same region as the Dene and brought
this dog with them? Or may we suppose that at some comparatively
recent date a Japanese junk may have been stranded on the shores
of the Strait of Juan de Fuca or vicinity, as happened in 1834, and
that the original pair from which this strange race of canines sprang,
thus came into their possession?
F. W. Howay.
" The Northwestern Denes and Northeastern Asiatics (Transactions of the Royal Canadian
Institute, Toronto, 1916).
"Captain James Cook, Voyage to the Pacific Ocean (Dublin, 1784), ill, 204-205,
and p. 201.
" Ten Month* Among the Tenti of the Tueki (London, 1853), p. 42.
*• The Naturalitt in Vancouver Island and Britith Columbia (London, 1866), U, pp.215-217.