The History of Moccasins in America

The origins of moccasins can be traced all the way back to the time of the arrival of the first settlers on the shores of what is now America. At that time, in the early 17th Century, the first Europeans to arrive in the northeastern part of what is now the United States encountered Native Americans and footwear they had never before seen.

The first Native Americans they met up with were members of the Algonquian tribe and the footwear that covered their feet had a name, derived from the Algonquian language. The name for the footwear was, of course, mocasin, or some variation of that word. And the literal translation of the word mocasin: “shoe made of soft leather.”

MoccasinsThat captured the imagination and interest of the European adventurers and settlers and prompted them to write about moccasins along with many of the other things they were being exposed to for the very first time, such as the tepee homes of the Native Americans … their rugged way of life … their other clothing … their customs and rituals.

All of these things interested those first Europeans to encounter the Algonquians. But it was their shoes – their moccasins – that really fascinated the white men from Europe. They had never seen shoes as comfortable as moccasins, certainly not in the land from which they came.

In time, the Europeans returned to their native countries with moccasins and this “soft and comfortable” shoe became popular on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. It is, of course, a mainstay of shoe fashion today in America and in most parts of the world. It is not a dress shoe … it can’t be worn to work, but it is definitely a leisure shoe that is as comfortable as house slippers. In fact, many people who own moccasins don’t even wear them outside of their homes … they use them as slippers.

But, getting back to the 17th Century and the time when Europeans first discovered this wonderful footwear, they learned something else about these shoes and the Native Americans who wore them. What they discovered, as they branched out from their original settlement site and met people from different tribes is that every tribe wore Moccasins or some variation of the shoe.

And, while there were obvious similarities between the moccasins worn by members of all of the tribes, there were also distinct differences. The similarities were easy to determine. In every case, the moccasins were made of tanned, soft leather from elk hides or deerskin or even buffalo.

The differences were subtle. Often, they amounted to designs on the top of the shoe … or slight alterations in the shape of the shoe … or something else very minor in nature. Interestingly, Native Americans of competing tribes could look at a moccasin footprint and determine which tribe had passed through the area.  That’s amazing.

Moccasins, in the modern, machine-made manifestation, remain extremely popular with consumers today. The modern moccasins may look like those worn by Native Americans 400 years ago, but they are very much different. The question is this: which moccasins are better, the modern version or those which were hand-crafted and worn so long ago?