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Britches, Legging, and Women of the West

Three weeks left until Hannah’s Journey is released! October 1….Save the date!

Does fashion mystify you as much as it does me? Especially the mid-1800s.

I love wearing shorts and sandals in the summer and jeans and sweatshirts in the winter. I’d love to live in the same era as Hannah and Spupaleena, but…only if I could wear men’s britches like Hannah does, and not under full-length skirts.

Don’t get me wrong, my mama taught me to be a lady and I do own and wear a dress or two. But I don’t think I could ride the range, or in my case forest, in a long skirt trotting in, out, and through brush and trees. Can’t you envision yards of fabric snagging and tearing on buck brush only to slow down (and irritate) a cowgirl? Not to mention wasting precious riding time mending torn garments.

So, I came up with the idea of wearing britches both under skirts and alone after writing Spupaleena’s stories in The Heart Trilogy. Spupaleena did not ride in a buckskin dress alone but wore leggings underneath so she would not rub her legs raw or scrape them traveling horseback through the forest.

Anyone who rides hard knows the inside of the knees can turn a few shades of red after several hours in the saddle. Some horse riders, like my eighty-year-old dad, wear bike legging. Other’s wear panty hose. I prefer chinks. They are shorter and lighter, thus cooler, than chaps. And they don’t itch.

It was fun to research clothing for this time period; women’s drawers are a bit different than our modern day underclothing don’t ya think? And can you imagine wearing long sleeves in 90 plus degree weather? No, ma’am! Or knee length drawers and long skirts, cotton or otherwise?

Native characters in our territory traditionally wore heavy buckskin garments until they began trading with French trappers. Talk about holding the heat in. Spupaleena and her friends race in plain brain-tanned doeskin. Freshly tanned hides are normally white. To acquire the golden to dark brown color, the hide is hung over smoke until the desired hue is obtained. Today, one rarely sees women wearing traditional buckskin regalia at powwows. It is a tradition I hope remains for years to come.


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Hannah’s Journey Excerpt:

Dry-mouthed, I nodded. “Let me slip on Delbert’s britches.”

She reached in a buckskin bag hanging from the corral post and tossed me a pair of tattered leggings. “Put these on.”

I peeked around, seeing no one. I lifted my skirt and slipped them on over my drawers and stockings.

Spupaleena motioned to my head. “Where is your hat?”

I glanced over my shoulder. It hung off the corral post. I grabbed it, snugged it down over my eyes, and mounted.

Heavy as they were, the leggings stuck me to the saddle. I circled Moonie around at a trot, waiting for Spupaleena. Ears swiveling back and forth, she seemed a tad spooky. I eyed the timberline, but didn’t see anything out of order. She may have smelled a mountain lion or bear farther out. A shiver ran down my back. As long as they didn’t bother me, I didn’t care where they roamed.

Pre-order Hannah’s Journey here.

Recipe for Huckleberry Cake:

Beat ½ cup butter and 1 cup sugar together until light.
¼ cup milk
2 eggs, beaten separately, yolks to a cream, whites to a stiff froth
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
2 cups flour, sifted several times
1 pt. raw huckleberries rubbed well with sugar and added last (do not mark the berries)
Bake: Pour batter into buttered pan and dust with sugar (9×13 inch). Bake at 350 degrees until done.
By Jean Stensgar, Deceased Colville Tribal Member

Do you have a Huckleberry recipe to share? I’d love to try it. What era would you have liked to live in?

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  1. Jane Kirkpatrick says:

    I love the way you integrate your topic with a teaser from your novel! Good job. Changing women’s clothing to practical was quite a political adventure, too. There was the whole “reform” movement that involved not wearing corsets. Imagine when women wanted to ride a bicycle in those long skirts that might reveal — heavens, the audacity — her ankles. So risque. Your new book sounds grand!

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Thank you, Jane! I bet the entire reform was a huge uproar! I can imagine the admonition from the “proper” ladies, and the relief and tension felt by younger women who understood the perils of change yet welcomed it. But sometimes change we must and thank goodness! I would be riding horses in my brother’s britches as Hannah does otherwise.

  2. I agree, Carmen. I think the old frontier clothes for women looked sooo uncomfortable. I can’t imagine being on a wagon train wearing long skirts. The sleeves, too, look so uncomfortable and hot. I think we’ve finally come to practical, comfortable clothing.

    1. Carmen Peone says:

      Mary, you nailed it with your description: comfortable and practical!