Woman's Elk Hide Dress, Nez Perce

Nez Perce Woman's dress made of two elk skins between 1820 and 1840 by the Nez Perce and acquired by Henry Spalding and sent to Dudley Allen. Purchased by the Nez Perce Tribe in 1996.

The dress is decorated with glass beads, elk teeth and fringe. The skins are left in natural form with hair allowance on legs and tail, and folded together with hair side inward, and the tail end upward and folder over to outside. The head section with ears and nipples are left on skin. The natural flare of the hide legs produces a wide skirt bottom. The dress includes wrinkles at the waist, evidence that it was worn with a belt. There are some missing beads, elk teeth, food stains, and hair slippage.

Traditional Knowledge: 

"The hide that they used, you know, you can tell that the workmanship was really excellent. Because if you handle the material, it's very soft. I mean, and so this is like old, old material. You know, over 100 years old. And it's still as soft as it was, probably, when they made it. And so you know that the workmanship was absolutely excellent. And the fringe is really fine... And one of the Nez Perce ladies, one of the elder ladies, she said that you can tell the dresses from long ago compared to the contemporary because the fringe is really fine, the older dresses... But the dresses that they make now, I mean, you can't cut them as thin as they did with [obsidian], you can't cut them like that with a regular scissor because the scissor just can't do it, make it that thin." Linda Paisano

The two dresses in the Spalding-Allen Collection “decorated with beadwork, elk teeth, or sea shell ornaments, [or] small animal parts and fringes.”…signified family symbols, or trademark[s] that held “special meaning” to the makers. According to Slickpoo, these were not everyday garments, but were “sacred to them. These kinds of dresses were made for exclusively for special occasions.” Allen Slickpoo Sr. 1995