In 2010, Pendleton Woolen Mills introduced our Tribute Series, paying homage to four of the American Mills that thrived during the Golden Age of Trade blankets. Today, we will talk about Racine Woolen Mills, known for their intricate patterns.
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 Trade blankets destined for commerce with Native Americans.
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. Racine’s fringed shawls were produced under the “Badger State” label. These earliest shawls are relatively subdued by today’s standards, mostly plain with an in intricately designed border. Photos of these vintage shawls show the superior drape of the fabric. They were extremely popular with Native American women.
Native American women in Racine’s Ribbon-pattern shawls
Each of the companies in our tribute series has its own trademark specialty. Buell is known for faithful reproduction of Native American weaving patterns. Oregon City is famed for fanciful figural patterns and unexpected, riotous color. Racine Woolen Mills blankets are valued for unexpected, intense colors and intricate patterns. Diamonds, crescent moons, five-pointed stars, ribbon bows, compass roses, combs, waterbugs, pipes and feathers are woven with definition and clarity. The sheared finish of a vintage Racine blanket keeps the designs crisp and the hand smooth.
The famed Racine quality was maintained after production was taken over by another fine weaving mill, Shuler & Benninghofen, a mill that produced blankets for Racine until (approximately) 1915. Racine continued to merchandise and market trade blankets procured from different manufacturers until 1940 or so. They seem to have stopped offering wool trade blankets after that, though they kept on as a wholesaler of other styles of woolen blankets and goods until 1951, when Racine Woolen Mills closed doors for good.
Hidatsa Man by Edward Curtis
According to our friendBarry Friedman in his book Chasing Rainbows, “The last ‘genuine’ Racine blankets were made in the 1930s, when John Hart asked Paul Benninghofen to make one of the old patterns. It was a special favor, because by then Shuler & Benninghofen no longer produced trade blankets and Racine hadn’t contracted to have them made there or anywhere else in years.” The Racine blankets beloved by collectors come from the golden years of 1893-1912, and the Pendleton Mill Tribute blankets are re-creations of blankets from that period.
The Tribute blankets for Racine
Racine #7 (available here): Muted colors were rare for Racine. The original blanket was woven for Racine Woolen Mills by Shuler & Benninghofen.
Racine #6 (available here): Tomahawks, Bows and Arrows
Racine #5 (retired): Banded Diamonds
Racine #4 (retired): A dizzying array of color, sawteeth and stars
Racine#3 (retired, with a limited number available here): Crescent Moon and Shining Star
Racine #2 (retired): Pipe and Feather – the other elements are two Navajo weaving combs, and an arrow under the pipe
Racine #1 (retired): Class Y in the Racine catalog, “Yuma” in the Shuler & Benninghofen catalog
Racine Woolen Mills has an interesting intersection with Pendleton’s history. In 1905, Racine Woolen Mills was furiously negotiating to buy a struggling mill in Pendleton, Oregon, with plans to increase trade blanket production by 300 percent. Those negotiations proved fruitless, and the Pendleton mill went silent in 1908. In 1909, Fanny Kay Bishop organized her three sons to take it over and transform it into the company we know today.
If Racine Woolen Mills had purchased the mill, who knows what the Pendleton story would have been?
The Teddy bear is a childhood constant; a quiet and cuddly friend to children for generations. But do you know where the Teddy bear got his name?
President Theodore Roosevelt was invited to go bear hunting in November of 1902 by Mississippi Governor Andrew H. Longino. The hunting party hunted in the woods near Onward, Mississippi. When the President, a noted sportsman and accomplished big game hunter, had not located a bear, the hunting party decided to take matters in hand. His assistants cornered a black bear and tied it to a tree. All President Roosevelt had to do was fire a single shot to bag his trophy. But Teddy Roosevelt was offended by the lack of sportsmanship in this enterprise, and refused to take his shot.
Of course, the public loved this story. Teddy Roosevelt was a dashing figure, well known for his years as a Rough Rider. His romantic writings about the American wilderness helped to inspire the creation of our system of National Parks. His steadfast insistence on sportsmanship on the hunt inspired newspaper articles and a famous cartoon by cartoonist Clifford Berryman.
A National Craze is Born
According to history.com, what came next was a national toy craze:
Inspired by the cartoon, Brooklyn, New York, shopkeeper Morris Michtom and his wife Rose made a stuffed fabric bear in honor of America’s 26th commander-in-chief and displayed it with a sign, “Teddy’s bear,” in their store window, where it attracted interest from customers. After reportedly writing to the president and getting permission to use his name for their creation, the Michtoms went on to start a successful company that manufactured teddy bears and other toys.
Meanwhile, around the same time the Michtoms developed their bear, a German company founded in 1880 by seamstress Margarete Steiff to produce soft toy animals began making a plush bruin of its own. Designed in 1902 by Steiff’s nephew Richard, who modeled it after real-life bears he’d sketched at the zoo, the mohair bear with jointed limbs debuted at a German toy fair in 1903. ()
“Teddy’s bears” were an immediate and enduring hit with children.
They even inspired their own book series about the Roosevelt Bears! Author Seymour Eaton expounded on the international adventures of two bear cubs.
Read about these books and see their absolutely charming illustrations here: Roosevelt Bears
Teddy bears remain one of the world’s favorite toys, and here at Pendleton, we have our own favorites. Our Teddys are National Park Teddys, to honor the president and the parks he helped inspire. We have bears for Glacier, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone (a grizzly, of course), and Badlands parks.
We love their park-stripe hats and muffflers, their huggable tummies, but most of all we love their floppy feet.
You can learn more about our bears here: Pendleton Teddy Bears
When Ty Bennet sent us photos of this pristine Packard, we were impressed AND intrigued.
According to Ty, we were looking at the following: 1948 Packard 8 Station Wagon Woodie Woody. Restored. Excellent condition. Lexington Green Metallic paint. Powerful and Smooth Straight 8 engine.
Here’s a photo of that engine…
More from Ty: High Speed rear gear for modern touring. Plaid “Highlander” style interior. Real Wood Northern Birch rails over maple panels. Burl wood grained dashboard and door trim. Radial wide white wall tires. Ready for Summer touring.
This car has beautiful lines and trim.
But here’s a little more visual information on the interior of the car.
Does that upholstery fabric ring a bell? Door panels, too.
Rear interior–even the ashtray is covered in the tartan.
Yes, that is very definitely a Pendleton fabric, a traditional tartan. And look at the label!
A History Mystery
We’ve worked with truck and car companies on co-branded interiors in the past, but we don’t have any information on this particular car. This car is labeled with the special Disney label we used on clothing in our Frontierland Dry Goods Emporium. We don’t know if the fabric was purchased there, or if the car was upholstered as part of a display. Perhaps some fans might have information or memories?
Our president, Mort Bishop III, explained, “I am not aware of this project forWalt Disney. However with our Pendleton exhibit and store in Frontierland we worked closely with Walt Disney…Pendleton was one of the three original lessees in the park when it opened. It would not surprise me if we provided fabric to him for a Packard.”
Birch over Maple wood panels and dash; it’s made like a boat inside–what craftsmanship.
Ty sold the car to a private party at auction. Someone has a nice touring vehicle for all seasons.
In honor of the Pendleton Round-Up, we’re sharing an older post about Jackson Sundown, who is one of the great riders of the American West. It explains our company’s long and rich connection with the Pendleton Round-Up. And you might want to read our earlier post about an exhibit of Jackson Sundown’s personal effects, with photos of modern-day volunteers raising the actual teepee in the historic shot below: see it here. Let’er Buck!
The Pendleton Round-Up
The Pendleton Round-up starts this week—an amazing rodeo adventure in Pendleton, Oregon, celebrating its 102nd year. Our designers travel there for inspiration, entertainment, and to watch our westernwear in action on rodeo competitors and fans. Oregon Public Broadcasting has a video that’s well worth watching.
This is Roy Bishop and Jackson Sundown posing at the Pendleton Round-Up. This image actually made the fashion blogs in 2009, when recreations of Roy Bishop’s fringed coat and Jackson Sundown’s oval-print shirt were part of Pendleton’s Centennial offering. But the story is about more than fashion history. This photo is about rodeo history.
The association of Pendleton Woolen Mills and the Round-Up goes back to the very beginning, when along with his brothers Clarence and Chauncey, Roy Bishop established the first mill at its current location in Pendleton, Oregon. The brothers combined their production and retailing expertise with an idled mill, a river, and fine fleece provided by local wool growers. Back then, PWM was a blanket company. Our first and most valued customer was the Native American, and the Bishop brothers worked hard to fill the strong demand (we still sell approximately 60% of our blankets to Native customers every year).
The Bishops were key to the conception of the first Round-Up. Rodeos are big business now, and they were big business then. It was an undertaking to get to a rodeo, especially for a working cowboy. The Round-Up needed something special to draw the crowd. It was unheard-of to include Native Americans to a Western rodeo, but Roy Bishop rode out to meet tribal leaders and invite their participation. He was politely received and quietly listened to, but he left without receiving a definite answer.
The rodeo’s starting date approached, and still he waited. On the morning before the rodeo began, Roy stepped out on the mill’s loading dock. In the distance, he had his answer when he saw the dust of the tribes as they made their way to the Indian campground. The cooperation between the Columbia Basin tribes and the Pendleton Round-up, unique among modern rodeos, continues to this day.
So what about the other person in this photo?
Jackson Sundown was born Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn in 1863 in Montana. During the Nez Perce war of 1877, he rode with Sitting Bull, retreating to Canada with the Sioux. He eventually returned to Washington, then to Idaho, then to Montana, supporting himself by working, breeding and breaking horses.
In 1912, at the age of 49, Waaya-Tonah-Toesits-Kahn began entering rodeo events in Canada and Idaho using the name Jackson Sundown. The crowds went wild when he tied his braids under his chin, lifted his sombrero and started the ride, his wooly angora chaps streaming.
He took so many prizes that other riders refused to challenge him. Stock owners pulled their animals when they saw his name on the list of possible riders, as after Jackson Sundown rode a horse, it might be so thoroughly mastered that it never bucked again.
Jackson Sundown entered the Pendleton Round-Up several times, placing but not winning. In 1915, in a controversial decision, he placed third and decided to retire from rodeo riding. But a sculptor named Alexander Phimister Proctor prevailed upon him to try one more time. In 1916, he did. Jackson Sundown came out of the gate on a horse named Angel, and the spectacular ride that followed has become legendary. The crowd went wild, and threatened to take down the grandstands board-by-board if Sundown wasn’t awarded the title he had so clearly won.
At twice the age of his competitors, the lanky six-foot tall Indian not only won the bucking championship, but the all-around title as well. He lived out his life on the Nez Perce reservation, raising horses and passing on his skills until his death in 1923. He’s been inducted into more rodeo and athletic halls-of-fame than we have space to list. He is a key character in a novel by Ken Kesey, The Last Go ‘Round.
Jackson Sundown is also featured in a terrific documentary called “American Cowboys.” This is a detailed look at the frustration of competitive riding for contestants of color. It was playing at the Tamastslikt Cultural Center just outside Pendleton, which is a fantastic place to learn about the history of the tribes of the Columbia Basin. It may or may not be part of their permanent installation, but this documentary includes footage of Sundown riding. Sadly, photographs of him riding rare; this may be the only one.
It is sad that a man who possessed such incredible skills in horsemanship isn’t shown during more of his competitive rides. But there are plenty of images of Jackson Sundown showing his deep understanding of a wardrobe’s role in a great performance. Chaps, hat, and that aloof expression. Jackson Sundown had it all, a fact well-illustrated by this logo for the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Yes, that is Jackson Sundown.
So today, in honor of the Pendleton Round-Up, please enjoy these images of Jackson Sundown; Nez Perce warrior, compatriot of Sitting Bull, bronc rider, horse breeder, main character, documentary subject, fashion blog icon, Round-Up Champion and Inductee into the Hall of Fame at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
We first saw this blanket when Judy Goodman of Joseph, Oregon, contacted us for information on a blanket that belonged to her grandmother, Louise Kelly.
The label identified it as a Rainier National Park blanket, but it’s so very different from our current version that we knew it was a special treasure.
The Expert Weighs In
We reached out to our National Park blanket expert, Fred Coldwell of Denver, Colorado. He identified the blanket right away. Here is his information:
The blanket is Pendleton’s very first Rainier National Park Blanket, No. 18, introduced on February 1, 1928. It had overstitched ends and a border design of flowers (lupine, paint brush and daisy) on one of three color bodies (white, light blue or moss green).
These three flowers are found on Mt. Rainier in these subspecies: Broadleaf Lupine, Dwarf Lupine, Magenta Paintbrush, Scarlet Paintbrush, Subalpine Daisy. They can be seen here under Subalpine flowers in the Blue/Purple Pink/Red folders.
Back to the blanket. Four points (indicating the 66″ x 80″ size) were sewn into the lower left hand corner of the blanket’s large center field. This blanket came in only one size, 66″ x 80″, and was made with virgin wool on a cotton warp. It was wrapped in paper for packing. The wholesale price was $9.00 in 1928 and 1929. This Rainier Park Blanket is listed in Pendleton’s February 1, 1928 Wholesale Price List No. 6 and in the March 1, 1929 Wholesale Price List No. 8. But it had disappeared by 1934-35 when retail Catalog No. 11 was issued. I have no information about it from late 1929 to 1933, but I imagine it was a casualty of the early 1930s Depression.
Ms. Goodman was thrilled to have Fred Coldwell’s information. When we asked her if she’d like to share the blanket on our blog, it spurred her to do some serious family research; not just the names, dates, family tree kind of research, but research into her grandmother’s story. How did she come to the Northwest? How did this blanket tie into her life? The story of a blanket is also the story of the person who owned it. We would like to share Louise’s story, as told by her granddaughter.
My grandmother, Louise Kelly, was born on October 26, 1906 to John and Mattie (Landreth) Evans in Taberville, MO. Like many families of this era, Louise had eleven brothers and sisters. She rode a horse to school and purchased school supplies by exchanging farm eggs at the store. Once she’d finished eighth grade, Louise (at age 12 or 13) had to stay home to care for all the other small children in the family. Some of her brothers were never able to attend school. They stayed to work the farm with their father.
Louise married at the age of 24 and gave birth to her first child (my mother, Wilma) in 1931. My uncle was born a few years later. The family farmed, raised chickens, made their own blankets and clothes, and preserved fruits and vegetables. They managed to survive the Great Depression and were looking at a new future when this photo was taken of Louise in 1941 near Mt. Rainier on a trip to Yakima, Washington.
The family was taken with the West. Eight years later, the family finally saved enough to move there, settling in Zillah, Washington. My mother was a senior in high school when her father suffered a heart attack. My grandmother Louise found herself widowed with two teenagers. She worked two jobs to support her family, running her own morning café and cooking at another restaurant at night.
Percy Kelly was a business man who enjoyed breakfast every morning at my grandmother’s café. He was a potato dealer – buying potatoes right from the field, sorting and bagging them in a warehouse in Toppenish, WA, then shipping by rail using “ice” stops along the way to keep the potatoes cool. He had also lost his wife in 1949. Percy asked Louise out on a date, but she was too busy with work and family. One day at the café, Percy took off his suit jacket, rolled up his shirt sleeves and started to wash dishes with Louise just so he could spend time with her. That was the beginning of their love story, and how this beautiful Pendleton Mt. Rainier Blanket came into my possession.
Percy (who I knew as Papa) and Louise were married in 1951 and moved to the Columbia Basin in 1952. They grew potatoes near Winchester, Washington. Papa was a member of the Washington State Potato Commission. They built their own potato storage and started to ship potatoes. This was the beginning of their potato empire, and their life together. Percy had two daughters who were still in high school at the time. My mother started college and her brother enlisted in the Army.
Louise always loved Mt. Rainier. This photo of the mountain and a CCC camp at its base hung on the wall of her home for most of her life.
It is possible that the Mt. Rainier Park blanket was a wedding gift to Louise and Percy, but more than likely it was a wedding gift for Percy and his first wife in 1929. The blanket remained in the family all of these years. It was often stored in a cedar trunk that came into my possession in 1999 when Louise passed away. “Percy loved beautiful handcrafted things,” his daughter, Jeanette Burk, recently told me in a phone conversation. “He liked well-crafted items made of leather and wool, and he definitely would have wanted this blanket for his family.”
The Blanket Today
So that is the story of one National Park Blanket and the person (and family) it belonged to. The blanket spends most of its time displayed in Judy’s Oregon home. Currently, the blanket is on display at Wallowology (www.wallowology.org) where Judy works. Above it is Louise’s Pendleton 49’er jacket, a beauty that appears to have all its original shell buttons—a rarity. You can pay both of these treasures a visit if you’re in the neighborhood.
Our thanks to Judy for sharing her grandmother’s story and her photos.
In 2016, we will honor the centennial of our National Park Service. We will celebrate our National Parks, along with the employees and volunteers who work to hold the Parks in trust for generations to come. An important part of that trust includes preserving and managing each Park’s wildlife. The National Parks have played a key role in the preservation of the American bison, commonly known as the buffalo.
In the 16th century, North America was home to 25 to 30 million bison, making the American Plains Bison the most abundant single species of large mammal on Earth. The Plains Bison is a “keystone species.” The trampling and grazing of these thundering herds actually shaped the ecology of America’s Great Plains. A bison can weigh over 2,500 pounds, jump six feet vertically, and run 40 miles per hour when alarmed. This is an impressive animal.
The bison played a crucial part in the lives of Nomadic Native American peoples. One bison could provide 200 to 400 pounds of meat, as well as hides, robes, and sinew for bows. Hunting was accomplished on foot and on horseback through herded stampedes over buffalo jumps. Hunters thanked the animals with rituals and prayers for the gift of their lives. The Natives, the herds and the habitat thrived.
Two hundred years later, the bison was hunted nearly to extinction. Decimating factors included loss of habitat due to farming and ranching, and industrial-scale hunting by non-Natives. The systematic destruction of the herds was promoted by the U.S. Army in order to strike an irrevocable blow to the way of life of the Plains Nations. The loss of the buffalo was an economic, cultural, and religious tragedy for the original inhabitants of North America. It was also a great loss to the natural ecology of the Great Plains.
Somehow, tiny “relict” herds survived. A few ranchers attempted restoration of the herds through private ventures in the late 1800s. Samuel Walking Coyote (Pen d’Oreille) started a small herd with seven orphaned calves he found west of the Rocky Mountain Divide. Another herd was formed from this initial group, and in the early 1900s, small herds were sent from this second herd to Canada’s Elk Island National Park, and the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma.
Left to graze in protected wilderness and park areas, the buffalo began to rebound. The Yellowstone Park Bison Herd formed naturally from a 23 bison that remained in the park after the massive slaughter at the end of the 19th century. This is the only continuously surviving herd in the Americas, and the largest at over 4,000 head. There are preservation efforts in many wilderness areas and National Parks, in part due to the beneficial effects of bison on regional ecology. Unlike domestic cattle, bison herds cultivate rather than deplete the native grasses through grazing.
Because of the close relationship between our national wilderness areas and the American bison, Pendleton commemorates this impressive land mammal as part of the Pendleton National Parks Collection. Our newest buffalo blanket, “Buffalo Wilderness” celebrates the resilience of a magnificent animal and its role in shaping the Great Plains.
The Buffalo Wilderness design recalls a time when millions of buffalo roamed grassy plains from Oregon to the Great Lakes, from Canada to Mexico. Today our National Parks protect the wilderness, and the buffalo herds can roam free. One of the largest herds (more than 4,000) of free-ranging wild buffalo lives in and around Yellowstone National Park. It is thought to be the only place in the United States where bison have lived continuously since prehistoric times. You can also see herds in Badlands, Grand Teton, Theodore Roosevelt and Wind Cave National Parks.
It’s time to say good-bye to a fascinating show. We have been watching the evolution of style on Mad Men for seven seasons. With the year off for the writers’ strike and the split final season, that is close to ten years of sociopolitical history under the guise of entertainment. We are sad to see it go. We’ve seen Pendleton on Mad Men’s men in robes, sportcoats and Topsters. But plaid was never the thing for Don Draper, though he sampled plaid in many forms as the years went on.
Don dabbled in plaid, but never seemed comfortable in it. In so many ways, Don was a libertine, but his taste in clothing remained as conservative as Pete’s politics.
The early seasons captured an iconically Pendleton look. At times, each main character seemed to be stepping right out of a Ted Rand illustration. Betty’s suburban chic was unmatched.
We were really only part of Megan’s look in her earlier years.
As she evolved into an actress, her dramatic eye makeup, extravagant hair and miniskirts were so much edgier than anything Pendleton was up to in the late sixties.
Pendleton had a breakout role when Peggy disguised her pregnancy under the waistband of an ever-higher Pendleton reversible skirt–or Turnabout as it was called back then. It has been nearly impossible to find a good still featuring this skirt, so this one will have to do.
‘We enjoyed watching the style evolution of Peggy Olson. She began as proper and plaid, and retained her taste for buttons, bows, high necklines and cropped jackets.
Yes, Peggy started in plaids, and she ended in plaids. Her later outfits were almost always polyester doubleknit. That happened quite a bit in the seventies. We can forgive Peggy her transition from wool, because this is the finest visual of the last season, right here:
So now it’s over. But a glimpse of the future is found in Sally Draper’s wardrobe. She wore plaid from her earliest years on the show.
She tried the go-go boots and the ponchos, but always returned to the plaid-centric style that was so popular in the late sixties and early 70s.
We had a line called “Young Pendleton” just for the Sally Drapers of the age. Two of the ads below feature a young Cheryl Tiegs. She’s walking a lamb in her Pendleton jacket, as one did.
Love it or hate it, the finale has happened. We will miss the style, the intrigue, the disregard and comeuppance of this particular cast of characters.
The Sky Walkers blanket design (available now) was inspired by Art Deco design elements of some of New York City’s iconic skyscrapers such as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building. It is a salute to the skilled Native American and First Nations iron workers who built some of the city’s famous landmarks, including the George Washington Bridge and the new One World Trade Center.
For generations, Mohawk Indians have left their reservations in or near Canada to raise skyscrapers in the heart of New York City.
High atop a New York University building one bright September day, Mohawk ironworkers were just setting some steel when the head of the crew heard a big rumble to the north. Suddenly a jet roared overhead, barely 50 feet from the crane they were using to set the steel girders in place. “I looked up and I could see the rivets on the plane, I could read the serial numbers it was so low, and I thought ‘What is he doing going down Broadway?’” recalls the crew’s leader, Dick Oddo. Crew members watched in disbelief as the plane crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, just 10 blocks away.
At first, Oddo says, he thought it was pilot error. He got on his cell phone to report the crash to Mike Swamp, business manager of Ironworkers Local 440, but he began to wonder. Then another jet flew by. “When the plane hit the second tower, I knew it was all planned.”
Like Oddo, most of the Mohawk crews working in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, headed immediately to the site of the disaster. Because many of them had worked on the 110-story World Trade Center some three decades earlier, they were familiar with the buildings and hoped they could help people escape faster. Fires were raging in the towers and the ironworkers knew that steel weakens and eventually melts under extreme heat. They helped survivors escape from the threatened buildings, and when the towers came crashing down, they joined in the search for victims.
In the months that followed, many Mohawk ironworkers volunteered to help in the cleanup. There was a terrible irony in dismantling what they had helped to erect: Hundreds of Mohawks had worked on the World Trade Center from 1966 to 1974. The last girder was signed by Mohawk ironworkers, in keeping with ironworking tradition.
Walking the iron
Mohawks have been building skyscrapers for six generations. The first workers came from the Kahnawake Reservation near Montreal, where in 1886 the Canadian Pacific Railroad sought to construct a cantilever bridge across the St. Lawrence River, landing on reservation property. In exchange for use of the Mohawks’ land, the railroad and its contractor, the Dominion Bridge Co., agreed to employ tribesmen during construction.
The builders had intended to use the Indians as laborers to unload supplies, but that didn’t satisfy the Mohawks. Members of the tribe would go out on the bridge during construction every chance they got, according to an unnamed Dominion Bridge Co. official quoted in a 1949 New Yorker article by Joseph Mitchell (“The Mohawks in High Steel,” later collected in the 1960 book Apologies to the Iroquois, by Edmund Wilson). “It was quite impossible to keep them off,” the Dominion official said.
The official also claimed the Indians demonstrated no fear of heights. If they weren’t watched, he said, “they would climb up and onto the spans and walk around up there as cool and collected as the toughest of our riveters, most of whom at that period were old sailing-ship men especially picked for their experience in working aloft.”
Impressive perhaps, but Kahnawake ironworker Don Angus explains that his ancestors back then were just teenagers daring each other to climb the 150-foot structure and “walk the iron.” Company workers tried to chase them off the bridge, Angus says. “I know that for a fact. They were getting in the way.”
The Indians were especially interested in riveting, one of the most dangerous jobs in construction and, then as now, one of the highest paid. Few men wanted to do it; fewer could do it well, and in good construction years there were sometimes too few riveters to meet construction demand, according to the New Yorker article. So the company decided to train a few of the persistent Mohawks. “It turned out that putting riveting tools in their hands was like putting ham with eggs,” the Dominion official declared. “In other words, they were natural-born bridge-men.” According to company lore, 12 young men—enough for three riveting gangs—were thus trained.
After the Canadian Pacific Bridge was completed, the young Mohawk ironworkers moved on to work on the Soo Bridge, which spanned the St. Mary’s River connecting Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Each riveting gang brought an apprentice from Kahnawake to learn the trade on the job. When the first apprentice was trained, a new one came up from the reservation, and by 1907 more than 70 skilled structural ironworkers from the reservation were working on bridges.
Then tragedy struck. American structural engineer Theodore Cooper had designed the Quebec Bridge, a cantilevered truss bridge that would extend 3,220 feet across the St. Lawrence River above Quebec City. Because the Quebec Bridge Co. was strapped for cash, the company was eager to accept his design, which specified far less steel than was typical for a bridge of that size.
As the bridge grew, disturbing bends in the structure were explained away by Cooper and John Deans, chief engineer of Phoenix Bridge, the company building the bridge, as damage probably caused offsite before the beams were set in place. No one wanted to admit that the expensive bridge appeared increasingly unable to bear its own weight.
On Aug. 29, 1907, the bridge collapsed. Of the 75 men who died, 33 were Mohawks—about half of the tribe’s high-steel workers. But the tragedy didn’t turn Mohawks away from ironworking. According to an elderly Mohawk quoted in the 1949 New Yorker article, “It made high steel much more interesting to them. It made them take pride in themselves that they could do such dangerous work. After the disaster . . . they all wanted to go into high steel.” Less than 10 years later, the American Board of Indian Commissioners claimed that 587 of the 651 men in the tribe now belonged to the structural steel union.
But to ensure that so many tribesmen were never again killed in one accident, the Mohawk women insisted that the men split into smaller groups to work on a variety of building projects. That’s when they began booming out—tribal slang for scattering to find high-steel work away from home, in New York City and other distant places.
Gangs of New York
Although Mohawks had worked in New York City as early as 1901, it wasn’t until the 1920s that they came in large numbers, working in tight-knit four-man gangs to feed the demand for workers during a massive building boom, later stoked by Depression-era public works and then post-World War II prosperity. They came eventually not only from Kahnawake, but from other reservations as well, including Akwesasne (or Akwasasne) in upstate New York, near Canada.
Mohawk high-steel men worked on virtually every big construction project in New York City: the Empire State Building, the RCA Building, the Daily News Building, the Bank of Manhattan Building, the Chrysler Building, the United Nations, and Madison Square Garden. They also continued to build bridges, including the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Triborough Bridge, the Henry Hudson Bridge, the Hell’s Gate Bridge, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, and many more.
During the heady boom times of the first half of the 20th century, construction of steel structures required three types of work crews: raising gangs, fitting-up gangs, and riveting gangs.
The steel columns, beams, and girders arrived at the construction site already cut to size with holes for rivets, and code marks indicated where each was to be placed. The raising gang used a crane to lift the steel pieces and set them in place, loosely joining them with a few temporary bolts. The fitting-up gang tightened the pieces, ensuring that they were plumb, and inserted more temporary bolts. Then it was time for the four-man riveting gangs, where the Mohawks excelled. Because of the dangerous nature of the job, riveters preferred to work with partners they trusted; for Mohawks, this meant relatives and fellow tribesmen.
In the riveting gang, the heater fired the rivets in a portable, coal-burning forge until they were red-hot. With tongs he then tossed a rivet to the sticker-in, who caught it in a metal can as he stood with the other gang members on narrow scaffolding beside the steel. The bucker-up removed one of the temporary bolts and the sticker-in then shoved the hot rivet into the empty hole. The bucker-up braced the rivet with a dolly bar while the riveter used a pneumatic hammer to turn the hot and malleable stem of the rivet into a permanent head, securing the steel. The men took turns at the four tasks, making sure to give the riveter a regular break from his bone-jarring job.
Though ironworking technology has improved over the years, ironworkers still die on the job at a rate of 35 to 50 fatalities each year—75 percent of them from falls. Akwesasne ironworker Oddo lost his grandfather to a fatal fall from the high steel; his father died on his 25th anniversary in ironworking, driving home from a construction site. Many graves of fallen steelworkers at Kahnawake are marked by crosses made of steel girders.
The pay continues to bring the Mohawks back: Ironworkers today earn about $35 an hour plus benefits, which in busy times yields $65,000 to $70,000 a year.
The highs and lows of steel
In 1927 a federal court judge, citing the 150-year-old Jay Treaty, ruled that the Mohawks could pass freely between Canada and the United States since their territory had included portions of both nations. But because the drive from New York City to Kahnawake took almost 12 hours, many of the men instead moved their families to Brooklyn.
By 1960, around 800 Mohawks lived there. A Mohawk steelworker conclave had sprung up near Fourth Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, with grocery stores stocking their favored o-nen-sto cornmeal and churches offering services in their native language.
But just 10 years later, few Mohawks remained. The new Adirondack Northway had halved the time it took to drive between New York and Kahnawake, and along with a growing pride in Indian culture—and rising crime in New York City—the shorter commute convinced most of the Mohawk ironworkers that it was time to go home.
Today most of the high-steel Mohawks still live in the city during the week, often sharing lodgings, and drive home to their families in Kahnawake and Akwesasne every weekend. But work has been slow since the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, and recent improvements in reinforced concrete have made it more attractive in some ways than steel: It goes up faster, requires less height for the same number of floors, is easier to modify during construction, and—most important in the wake of 9/11—it’s more resistant to heat.
On the other hand, steel is still considerably stronger than concrete, and steel-framed buildings are easier to modify to suit the needs of successive tenants. Because of that, many experts say that steel structures will never completely disappear.
That suits the Mohawks, who after six generations have made high steel a tribal tradition. “It makes you a better man,” says Swamp.
Renee Valois wrote about American mummies in the May/June issue of The History Channel Magazine.
A Mohawk Skywalking Tradition
Why would people with deep traditions centered in the earth embrace the trade of building skyscrapers in a city, high above it? Indeed, for decades anthropologists, construction company executives, and even the Mohawks themselves have debated why the tribesmen originally became skywalkers and why they remain high-steel workers today.
Probably the most controversial assertion originated with an official at the Dominion Bridge Co., which trained the first Mohawk ironworkers in 1886. He reportedly claimed that they had no fear of heights and even compared them to sure-footed mountain goats.
Others have suggested that the Indians’ tradition of walking one foot in front of the other on narrow logs over rivers suited them for walking the thin girders of a bridge or a skyscraper. This suggests that they have a natural balance and agility that is probably fictional: Mohawks don’t die in lower numbers than other ironworkers.
Anthropologist Morris Frielich suggests a cultural lure for ironworking: He compares high-steel Mohawks to warriors who risked death and returned with booty. Some anthropologists have also suggested that the risky work gave tribesmen a chance to test and display their courage.
While many Mohawk ironworkers admit to taking pride in doing a dangerous and important job, they dispute the idea that they’re not afraid of heights. Kahnawake ironworker Don Angus says Mohawks simply “have more respect for heights. You’ve got to watch it up there.”
On the other hand, some historians and some Mohawks cite the tribes’ ancient tradition of building longhouses as proof that building has always been in the blood. “It’s a hand-me-down trade, and it’s tradition,” says Angus. “My grandfather and his grandfather worked on iron.” Akwesasne ironworker Mike Swamp agrees: “My father was an ironworker. My son is an ironworker. It’s a family tradition.” SOURCE
When you think of tartan, you probably think of red and black, or red and green. But there are blue tartans and camel tartans and orange tartans. There are stealthy tartans, like the Black Watch, that are meant for blending ninja-like into the night. And then there’s Buchanan, the rock star of tartans.
In its earliest incarnation, Buchanan was probably a simpler block plaid. As weaving capabilities grew, the pattern took on its present look; a cacophony of colors, flashy, wild, and impossible to miss, whether it’s in a shirt:
Let’s have a little respect for it in the original form, too. The modern kilt stands out when it’s in Buchanan tartan,
even in the tightly pleated kilt worn by the groomsman pictured below:
When it isn’t pleated, the full pattern commands attention:
Sadly, we don’t have anything offered in Buchanan tartan. We last used Buchanan in our Board and Lodge shirts for Fall 2010.
Shot of the Board Shirt in Buchanan Tartan courtesy of Greenspan’s, the Last Original Clothing Store, of Southgate, CA
Here’s the Buchanan Tartan story from the hangtag:
The Clan Buchanan “Buth chanain” is Gaelic for “house of the canon,” which may mean that the first of the Buchanan line was dedicated to the ancient Celtic church. In 1282, Morris of Buchanan received a charter of his lands, including the island of Clarinch. The family’s fortunes were assured by their support of the Bruce cause during the War of Independence, but later reversed. There has not been a recognized Buchanan chief since the late 17th century. Perhaps the most famous Buchanan is the poet and Protestant reformer George, who was appointed a tutor in classics to the young Mary, Queen of Scots. He also served as the tutor to young James IV after the abdication of his mother, laying the foundation for the intellectual acuity of that monarchy.
You have to root for a clan credited with laying the foundation of a monarchy’s “intellectual acuity,” don’t you?
So as you look at this tartan, appreciating the play of bright colors and the way they intensify each other, keep in mind that this is a very old and respected pattern, representing quite a history. And it does everything it can to live up to the Buchanan clan motto: Clarior hinc honos, or, “Hence the brighter honor.”
Ah, Buchanan. You’re wild and you’re bright and you’re extremely traditional, all at the same time.
We have a new collaborative partner with Roxy, a premiere surf and beach brand for women.
With several bikinis, two of which show strong 1940s influence, a coverup, towel, beach throw and more, it’s a perfect pairing of Pendleton’s surf roots and Roxy’s place in competitive surfing. You can see the entire collection here.
Our roots with surfing go back over fifty years, to the days when surfing was just coming to Southern California. The Majorettes were singing about Pendleton shirts, and The Beach Boys were The Pendletones, named for their wardrobe of Pendleton shirts. Surfing, like everything else, has come a long way, especially in the area of women’s participation…and domination!
This video gives a close look at the production of the wool part of the collection, with narration from our company’s president, Mort Bishop III.