A Gift to Honor: Pendleton Blankets and U.S. Presidents

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.”

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).

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First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt accepts a Pendleton blanket (about 1941).

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President Harry Truman receives a “Chief Joseph” blanket while on tour in Pendleton, Oregon, 1950.

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President Dwight Eisenhower accepts a “Harding” blanket during the dedication  ceremony for McNary Dam in eastern Oregon, 1954

 

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President Bill Clinton shows off the “White Buffalo Calf Woman” blanket he received at the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Nebraska, 2000.

 

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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.

 

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First Lady Michelle Obama is robed with a “Chief Joseph” blanket at Santa Fe Indian School, 2016

Pendleton Fabric Expertise – A Story of Generations

Pendleton textiles are renowned for their quality, beauty and craftsmanship. Where did we learn to make fabric like this? Our expertise is generational, earned over a century of weaving in America.

The Beginning

The company known today as Pendleton Woolen Mills actually had its genesis in one mill; the Thomas Kay Woolen Mill in Salem, Oregon, founded by Thomas Kay, a master weaver from England.

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Thomas Kay brought extensive knowledge to his own mill, after a career that started in his childhood as a bobbin boy, and grew into management of large mills in the UK and the US before he finally opened his own. He specialized in fabrics for tailoring, and produced the first bolt of worsted wool west of the Mississippi.

The Next Generation

His daughter, Fannie Kay, became her father’s protégé in her teen years. She learned weaving and mill management at her father’s side. Fannie Kay became Fannie Bishop upon her marriage to Charles P. Bishop, a prominent Salem merchant. Their three sons opened the Pendleton Woolen Mill in Pendleton, Oregon, in 1909. That mill is still running today! The Kay/Bishop history extends through today’s Pendleton. The Bishop family still owns and operates Pendleton Woolen Mills. And Pendleton’s fabric expertise grows each year, as we challenge ourselves to do more with wool.

Today’s Mills

Fabric weaving was once a major industry in the United States, with more than 800 mills in operation. Today only a handful of those mills remain.  Our facilities in Pendleton, Oregon, and Washougal, Washington, are two of the very few woolen mills still operating in North America.

Pendleton, Oregon

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The Pendleton, Oregon mill opened in 1909, taking over a defunct wool-scouring plant on the banks of the Columbia River and transforming it into a full mill under the direction of Clarence, Roy and Chauncey Bishop. The location had been scouted by Fannie Kay Bishop, who encouraged her sons to make use of the existing building, the nearby Columbia River, and the supply of high quality wool fleece available from local sheep ranchers.

The company’s original products were wool blankets for Native American customers. Today, the Pendleton mill is open for tours. Travelers can watch those world-famous blankets being woven on two-story looms.

Washougal, Washington

Our Washougal facility sits on the banks of the Columbia River at the entry to the scenic Columbia River Gorge. The Washougal community helped fund the startup of this mill in 1912, and it has been a major employer in this small Washington town ever since.

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The additional mill gave Pendleton the ability to weave a wider variety of fabrics.

AirLoom Merino (found in our Sir Pendleton shirts) and Umatilla woolen fabric (found in so many of our flannel shirt styles) are both woven in Washougal, as well as fabrics for the women’s line.

Its roots may be historic, but the Washougal mill is a 300,000-square-foot model of modern efficiency. Mill owners come from around the world to tour it, and to learn about Pendleton’s weaving techniques, dyeing processes, and fabric finishing.

The Fabrics

Pendleton Woolen Mills has maintained the quality and craftsmanship of its textiles through decade upon decade of manufacturing in its own facilities. This allows us to maintain quality control from start to finish, from fleece to fashion. Our state-of-the-art computer dyeing technology controls water, dyes, heat, and more. Carding machines, looms and finishing processes are also computer-controlled, allowing for minute adjustments to guarantee uniformity of weave, weight and hand.

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We can perfect it because we control it, and it shows in our fabrics. We will be exploring some of those special fabrics in the months to come. We hope you’ll follow along.

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Answering Questions about Pendleton

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Thanks to our friends who have brought some claims circulating on social media to our attention. We owe an enormous debt of respect and gratitude to the Native Americans and First Nations people who choose our blankets, and care deeply about this relationship. We understand that it’s important to speak the truth.

Pendleton’s mills are our pride and joy, and both are well over a century old. Keeping them updated is a priority and a challenge, but we think it’s worth it to keep weaving in the USA. Our mills are subject to inspections, and when problems are identified, we take immediate action to resolve them. We have earned third-party certification for sustainability (read more here), and our management is committed to providing a safe and healthy work environment for all employees.

We respect the right of current and former employees to make political donations to candidates they personally support. These donations are not endorsements by Pendleton.

Pendleton supports the Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. We make our blankets for Native Americans, but we don’t claim our products are made by them. Our company’s history is always part of our marketing and sales materials, and is available on our website.

Pendleton blanket patterns are developed by in-house designers. Some are based on historic designs created to serve the Native American market. Blanket stories, told on hangtags and on the website, credit the inspirations and traditions behind the patterns. We also commission Native American artists to create designs, and adapt existing artwork (usually paintings) into blankets. These artists are always compensated and credited by name for their work. You can learn more here: Native artists.

Pendleton is proud to support organizations that serve Native Americans, veterans and America’s National Parks. Our relationship with The American Indian College Fund spans more than twenty years, and our endowment to the College Fund provides scholarships for Native American students. Pendleton also makes annual donations to NARA (Native American Rehabilitation Center) to support outreach and health care for Native American women.

In 1909, Pendleton was one of many mills producing wool blankets for Native Americans. Now, over a hundred years later, we are the only mill still weaving wool blankets for Native Americans here in the USA. Native Americans were our first, and are still our most valued customers. Thanks to everyone who has written in support of our shared history and friendship.

We hope we have answered your questions, but if you have more concerns, please write to us at PendletonWM@penmills.com and we will respond. We are listening.

Greg Hatten guest post – Buell Blankets and the St. Joseph Museum

Today’s post is from our friend Greg Hatten, of WoodenBoat adventure fame. Greg has always been interested in our Buell blankets (all retired, but one is still available), which were part of our Mill Tribute Series. Greg decided to find out some information on the original Buell blankets at the source; his hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri. Enjoy this visit, and if you’re interested in our Mill Tribute series blankets, links to our previous posts are below.

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Buell Blankets Headed West

St. Joseph, Missouri is my hometown. It’s a dreamy little river town that started out as a trading post on the banks of the Missouri and quickly became a launching pad for pioneers headed west to Oregon and California in the mid 1800’s. Some historians estimate that 250,000 settlers made the trek by wagon and on foot between 1850 and 1900. Most of those trips started in St. Joseph or Independence – where final provisions for the 5 month journey were acquired before embarking on the grand westward adventure that started by crossing the Midwestern prairie. Many were leaving for the rest of their lives.

Provisions and Provender

Wool blankets were on the provisions list of every trip – for sleeping and trading with Native Americans along the way. In St. Joseph, the Buell Woolen Mill was the primary source for blankets headed west. Known for quality over quantity, the blankets were strikingly colorful and many designs were based on patterns used by different Native tribes in paintings and beadwork out west. They were prized by the pioneers and Native Americans alike.

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As stated in the 1910 Buell Catalog:

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Pendleton and Disneyland: We Go Way Back!

pendispc1The history of Pendleton Woolen Mills and Disneyland began when Walt Disney extended a personal invitation to be retail partners in the Park. Walt was a fan of Pendleton’s “fleece to fashion” vertical manufacturing, which at the time included ownership of our own flocks and scouring facilities. He saw a fit for us in Frontierland as part of his vision of America’s Wild West.

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It’s a Wrap–Pendleton Mill Tribute Series ends with last Racine blanket

In 2010, Pendleton Woolen Mills introduced our Tribute Series, paying homage to four of the American Mills that thrived during the Golden Age of Native American Trade blankets. Today, we will talk about Racine Woolen Mills, known for their intricate patterns. 

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In 1865, a Racine company began producing textiles under the name Blake & Company under the leadership of Lucien Blake and John Hart. In 1877, the company incorporated under the name of “Racine Woolen Mills—Blake & Company.” Racine Woolen Mills went on to become the premier producer and marketer of Native American Trade blankets.

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The Racine Woolen Mill

Racine was well-established by 1893. Records show employees of 150 skilled weavers and gross sales of $300K, which was an robust amount for the day.

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National Tartan Day–it’s here!

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Ed. Note: Please enjoy a post on National Tartan Day, parts of which have appeared before on our blog.

Thursday, April 6th is National Tartan Day. Some of our readers live, breathe, eat and sleep tartans. They are steeped in their clan histories. They know the difference between the ancient, dress, hunting and standard versions of their clan’s tartan. But other readers aren’t quite sure of what exactly makes a tartan a tartan. How does a tartan differ from any other plaid?

We say it best with the title of one of our most popular Pinterest boards: All tartans are plaids, but not all plaids are tartans. A tartan looks like a plaid, but it is so much more than that.  A tartan is a statement of identity. Tartans were originally regional designs, worn as “plaids,” pieces of fabric worn slung over the shoulder. Scotland’s warriors wore their plaids with pride to announce their family affiliations and political loyalties.

The Dress Act of 1746 was enacted to prohibit the wearing of the plaid, as part of colonial suppression of the Highlands: That from and after the first day of August, One thousand, seven hundred and forty-six, no man or boy within that part of Britain called Scotland, other than such as shall be employed as Officers and Soldiers in His Majesty’s Forces, shall, on any pretext whatever, wear or put on the clothes commonly called Highland clothes (that is to say) the Plaid, Philabeg, or little Kilt, Trowse, Shoulder-belts, or any part whatever of what peculiarly belongs to the Highland Garb; and that no tartan or party-coloured plaid of stuff shall be used for Great Coats or upper coats, and if any such person shall presume after the said first day of August, to wear or put on the aforesaid garment or any part of them, every such person so offending … For the first offence,shall be liable to be imprisoned for 6 months, and on the second offence, to be transported to any of His Majesty’s plantations beyond the seas, there to remain for the space of seven years.

That’s right, tartans were illegal; inflammatory and subversive. If you’re not a history buff, but you watch Outlander , you already know this.

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Photo courtesy Sony Pictures TelevisionLeft Bank PicturesStarz

In 1782, the Dress Act was repealed through the following proclamation: Listen Men. This is bringing before all the Sons of the Gael, the King and Parliament of Britain have forever abolished the act against the Highland Dress; which came down to the Clans from the beginning of the world to the year 1746. This must bring great joy to every Highland Heart. You are no longer bound down to the unmanly dress of the Lowlander. This is declaring to every Man, young and old, simple and gentle, that they may after this put on and wear the Truis, the Little Kilt, the Coat, and the Striped Hose, as also the Belted Plaid, without fear of the Law of the Realm or the spite of the enemies.

When the Dress Act was repealed in 1782, tartans were no longer worn as ordinary Highland dress. They were adopted as the official national dress of Scotland. Tartan grew from regional plaid to warrior garb to a badge of kinship.  These patterns are a visual illustration of the bond between personal and political freedom.

We’re not tartan experts at Pendleton, just fabric experts. When we we use these designs, we do it with respect for the history of the design we’re using. Our designers refer to rare reference books stored under archival conditions in our design department (please don’t ask to see them because they will not hold up to visitors, we have to say no). We also use modern tartans, like Canada’s Maple Leaf, and our own Pendleton Hunting Tartan, registered with the Scottish Tartan Society in 1999.

Tartans have been part of the Pendleton offering since our earliest days, beginning with our motor robes. We call them that because we originally wove them to cover the laps of motorists in the earliest days of the automobile.

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We’ve been making tartan shirts, Topsters, motoring caps and robes for men since the 1920s. Women have always been part of the Pendleton tartan action, as well. Today, tartans have taken fashion by storm, because these patterns are timeless, we return to them.

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If you’re wanting to add tartan, but you’re not sure where to start, try Black Watch tartan, the tartan designed to look black from a distance (pictured is a vintage Pendleton shirt, get a new one from us here — or here, if you want a Sir Pendleton!).

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This is also known at the Government or 42nd tartan, developed to wear by the Black Watch, one of the early Highland Independent Companies. From a distance, the pattern reads black. It’s the stealth tartan. Around here, we call it Highland Camo, and though it’s one of our perennial bestsellers, it’s a challenge to photograph for a catalog. But we do, as you can see if you pay us a visit at pendleton-usa.com. We have tartan items galore for women, men, and home.

We hope your National Tartan Day is a good one, and remember: Wear Your Plaid With Pride.

Pendleton Mill Tribute Series: J. Capps and Sons – 1892 to 1917

 

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The last mill in our series of blankets paying tribute to the Golden Age of the Trade blanket is the J. Capps and Sons Woolen Mill of Jacksonville, Illinois.

Our friend Barry Friedman, the foremost historian and scholar of Native American Trade blankets, has concluded that the very first blankets for the Native trade were manufactured by J. Capps and Sons in 1892. Barry has come to this conclusion through painstaking research that only a truly obsessed person would perform, so we trust his findings.

j-cappsmill1865The J. Capps & Sons Woolen Mill in 1865

Joseph Capps arrived in Jacksonville, Illinois in 1839, only 21 years after Illinois became a state. He opened a wool-carding business, to which he would add spinning machines, looms and other weaving machines to become a fully operational weaving mill. As his business grew, so did his family; sons Stephen, William and Joseph would become partners in the firm, and carried on the business after Joseph’s death in 1872.

The Capps & Sons mill produced plain bed blankets, men’s suitings and other woolen goods throughout its years of operation. They also produced blanket overcoats.

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Production of the Trade blanket ceased in 1917, when the mill’s production was diverted to the needs of WWI.

The first sales records of “Indian blankets” appears in Capps’ business records in 1892. In 1893, the blankets are first mentioned in their marketing materials. The company apparently operated under three names: J. Capps & Sons, Ltd., the Jacksonville Woolen Mills, the American Indian Blanket Mills. Despite the name, at no time were Native Americans involved in the design or weaving of these blankets. The patterns were mostly designed by Portuguese weavers who worked at the mill.

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For our Mill Tribute series, we reproduced seven J. Capps & Sons, Ltd. designs. Capps designs remain much the same through their decades of production, and they produced surprisingly few patterns over that time. The designs make little use of the curvilinear abilities of the jacquard loom, keeping to “straight-line” patterns. To quote Barry: “With no other company that produced Indian blankets over so long a time do we see the continuity of design and pattern…A Capps blanket from 1915 looks very much like a Capps blanket from the 1890s.”

And again, we wish to make it clear that while Native Americans were enthusiastic customers for these elegant blankets, they were not involved in the design or manufacture of these patterns. The Capps names are listed for reference only.

Capps 1 – retired

We chose a rarity for our very first Capps tribute blanket. It is unnamed and uncatalogued in the Capps literature, but was sold in at least three color combinations. The original of this bold and beautiful version was produced circa 1910.

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Capps 2 – retired

Capps referred to this as the “Cheyenne Basket pattern, a Riot of Color.” You can see it over the arm of the woman in the ad above.

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Capps 3 – retired

Capps called this the Shoshone pattern, and the orginal version is a favorite among collectors.

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Capps 4 – retired

This bright design was called “A Typical Moqui” by Capps.

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Capps 5 – retired

An exciting pattern done in traditional colors, this was a consumer favorite in our Mill Tribute series. In the Capps catalog, it is called the “Kiowa Rattlesnake” pattern.

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Capps 6available here

Another rarity provided this pattern, called “Navajo” in the Capps literature.

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Capps 7 – Available here

For our final Capps tribute, we chose the pattern they called “Papago.” The original Capps version is a favorite among collectors of vintage trade blankets for its graphic boldness and overall symmetry.

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Our thanks to Barry Friedman for his research and writing. You can learn so much more about the Native American Trade Blanket from Barry’s books:

Chasing Rainbows

Still Chasing Rainbows

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