In honor of Presents’ Day, please enjoy this guest post by Pendleton’s Archivist and Historian, Richard Hobbs. Mr. Hobbs wishes to thank Verna Ashton for her research assistance for this article.
“Gifting to politicians is basically about status and respect.”
— Robert Christnacht
At Pendleton Woolen Mills, “robe” is both a noun and a verb. And, it’s no accident.
Giving a Pendleton blanket to a family member, friend, or distinguished person—for example, a U. S. President—is a powerful symbol that carries a wealth of history and tradition. “It is the ultimate in showing respect,” notes Bob Christnacht, EVP Sales and Marketing.
Pendleton has been producing beautiful wool blankets for Native Americans (and others, of course) since 1909. Two of the distinctive features of the company’s culture interwoven throughout its history are our alliance with Native American tribes, and our unwavering commitment to making premium quality merchandise.
For tribal members, the custom of “robing” may be used to mark an important event, to Honor a dignitary, or to recognize a significant achievement in one’s life. At the most elemental level, it represents a gift that has life-sustaining properties. The custom attracted media attention in 2016 at the White House-sponsored National Congress of American Indians when President of the Congress, Brian Cladoosby, emphasized, “To blanket is to remember those we honor, those we lost, and those who are going to build our futures.”
Robing with Pendleton Blankets
For nearly a century, various tribes have occasionally honored a visiting President (and sometimes First Lady) with one of Pendleton’s fine “Warranted To Be …” blankets. “Gifting to politicians,” says Christnacht, “is basically about status and respect.”
For Pendleton, the custom began in 1923 when local tribes presented President Warren G. and Mrs. Florence Harding with the special “Harding” shawl, named in honor of the First Lady, at the dedication of the Oregon Trail marker in Meacham, Oregon. Presidents and First Ladies robed since then include Calvin Coolidge (1925; he was also adopted into the Osage tribe), Herbert Hoover (1930), Eleanor Roosevelt (1941), Harry Truman (1950), Dwight Eisenhower (1954), Barbara Bush (1992), Bill Clinton (2000), George Bush, Sr. (2005), Laura Bush (2005), Barack Obama (2016) and Michelle Obama (2016).
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt accepts a Pendleton blanket (about 1941).
President Harry Truman receives a “Chief Joseph” blanket while on tour in Pendleton, Oregon, 1950.
President Dwight Eisenhower accepts a “Harding” blanket during the dedication ceremony for McNary Dam in eastern Oregon, 1954
President Bill Clinton shows off the “White Buffalo Calf Woman” blanket he received at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Nebraska, 2000.
President Barack Obama is wrapped in a custom tribal robe, woven for the Swinomish Tribe, at the Tribal Nations Conference in Washington, D.C., 2016.
First Lady Michelle Obama is robed with a “Chief Joseph” blanket at Santa Fe Indian School, 2016