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The founding family of St. Louis had an elegant supply of household and personal goods that in many cases made their way into the collections of the Missouri History Museum. A deerskin coat is one of the more interesting garments.
Although the waistcoat is a beautiful piece of apparel, its real interest is in the possible evidence of a melding of cultures. The cut of the coat is European ó broad lapels, fitted sleeves, buttonholes for the brass buttons, a seam at the waist and a flare in the skirt; but the materials are native to Upper Louisiana. White deerskin and needlework of colored porcupine quills display the Native American element, while the embroidery includes the hint of a fleur de lys and a five-pointed star. We donít know specifically who designed the coat, or who made it, or why. Did the coat indicate a real merging of some of the cultures of the time and place? Or perhaps in seeking evidence of a peaceful cultural diversity in the past, we have put our own hopeful interpretation on this exquisite article.
We cannot know the past in its entirety. We can only know what has remained, accidentally or with purpose, after our ancestors have gone. We discover what we can about the legacies our predecessors left behind, and learn what we can from the journey.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Bob Archibald is the President of the Missouri Historical Society