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Deer Hide Jacket

Deer hide jacket of Ruel Garnich Baldwin, c. 1915.
(Museum object #2005.147.1)

Like many young men living in Ashland, Wisconsin, Ruel Garnich Baldwin (1893-1978) participated in the yearly hunting season. Sometime between 1913 and 1916 he had the hides from deer he had shot made into a jacket by a Native American woman in the Ashland area, most likely a member of the nearby Bad River Chippewa (also known as Ojibwe). Ruel held onto his prized jacket for the rest of his life, rarely wearing it, but occasionally bringing it out to show to his children.

This jacket was machine sewn and the maker attached handmade shell buttons. While the exact tanning technique used to process the leather used for this jacket is unknown, it appears to have been processed in a traditional Indian manner. After the deer had been skinned, one common tanning technique would have the processor soak the hide in water and then remove the hair from the hide by pulling it across a dull scraper on a beaming post or scrape the hair off with a hand tool. The tanner would then soak the hide again in a solution containing deer brains to help soften the skin fibers. The hide was then stretched on a frame to dry (see bottom image at left) and finally smoked to give it a golden brown color and also to help prevent the leather from stiffening if it got wet.

Hunting has long been a tradition in Wisconsin. From the Native Americans, who first settled on the land that would later become Wisconsin, to the French-Canadians, lured westward by the promise of fur, hunting has played an integral role in our state's history and culture. Today, hunting continues to be a fall ritual throughout the state. While a wide variety of game animals are hunted, the whitetail deer is the most popular game animal in Wisconsin.

For thousands of years, people hunted primarily for survival but beginning in the late 19th century, hunting became more of a sport for many people in the United States. The State of Wisconsin has established parks and recreation areas that allowed people to freely hunt and fish. Local hunting clubs and conservation organizations were formed to preserve wildlife and animal habitats while protecting hunting traditions.

Hunting allows people to continue to gather food while they interact with nature in an often social and communal way. Animal management authorities like the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also rely on hunters to help control certain animal populations, either for herd reduction or disease eradication. Moreover, the money raised from hunter and angler licenses and fees helps to fund recreational facilities and natural resource management programs that benefit hunters and non-hunters alike.


Posted on November 17, 2005

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