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CIVIL WAR –INDIAN WARS ERA OFFICER’S UNIFORM VEST – HEAVILY DECORATED WITH BEADWORK – A VERY UNUSUAL FRONTIER ERA GARMENT IN VERY NICE CONDITION:   This is a dark blue wool Officer’s Uniform Vest which was decorated during the 19TH Century with a complex pattern of floral beadwork.  As the Western Frontier opened to settlement in the post-Civil War years, and the army moved in force to establish and man the military forts and outposts along the immigrant trails, the first Indian tribes they encountered were the Eastern Dakota (Sioux) and the Prairie Tribes such as the Pawnee, Ponca, Otoe, and Osage, all of whom favored floral beadwork as opposed to the geometric beadwork designs produced by the Plains Tribes.   

Members of the Prairie Tribes were some of the first in those years to be recruited by the army into the ranks of scouts, and that exposure provided those native scouts access to uniform clothing, and in turn, they were in a position to decorate those uniforms and sell them back to the soldiers and officers with whom they served.   

These uniform vests were a popular item among 19TH Century army officers.  As allowed by the Uniform Regulations of 1861, “…officers permitted to wear a buff, white, or blue vest, with the small button of their corps, regiment, or department.”  The vests continued to be popular into the Indian Wars, especially as the army moved on to the northern plains and mountains where vests provided that added layer of warmth.    

The beadwork is very well executed, featuring a full coverage of the front panels in a pleasant combination of designs and colors.  The beadwork is overall complete with very minimal bead loss in isolated spots.  The bead colors are all of the hues available during the 19TH Century with no modern bead colors, and of particular note, is the very liberal use of very desirable faceted metal beads – a highly valued item of trade.  The design elements, the colors of the beads and the use of the faceted metal beads all argue for this vest being decorated before the later reservation period when the design elements became more complex.   

The front of the vest is made of the high grade, finished dark blue wool such as commonly seen in other pieces of Civil War era officers’ uniforms.  These front panels are fully lined in a light brown cotton jean material, again consistent with the kind of lining found in other mid-19TH Century U.S. Army uniforms.  The front of the vest is closed with five ˝” brass General Service uniform buttons.  All of the buttons are intact with no depressions or other damage.  The two pockets on each side of the front are all intactThere is a pocket on the right side of the interior lining, but the stitching which attached the beadwork was sewn through the pocket, effectively closing it.   

The back panel of the vest is made up of two layers – a red velvet material backed with a lightweight black material, possibly closely woven wool.  The edges of the lapels and the arm holes are trimmed with the same red velvet cloth which makes up the back of the vest.  

The extent of the fading and wear to the velvet indicates this vest was worn over a period of time on a regular basis before being set back as a keepsake.  Despite the effects of time, this vest has survived in very nice condition.  All of the seams of the vest are intact, and overall the wool, lining and back panel are in very solid condition.   

This is a very nice cross-cultural beaded vest, made for wear by a Native American or a serving soldier or officer on the frontier, and not a piece produced for the commercial tourist trade.  Having survived in very good condition, this would be an attractive piece to add to either a uniform collection or a grouping of Native American Art.  (0920)  $2950





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