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Papa’s got a new pair of shoes

About a year ago, Michael Galban sent me an image of a pair of souliers de boeuf (oxhide shoes) that are supposed to be early 19th century and are in a collection in Scotland (collected in Quebec). I have seen a lot of oxhide shoes and boots (bottes sauvage), but these were especially interesting. They had a somewhat high-top upper with laces that reminded me of a pair of start-ups/hi-lows/Jefferson bootees. Anyway, I said to myself, “Those are some cool shoes!” and I contacted Mike Tharp of Rouge Souliers to make me a pair. For those that do not know Mike, he is an amazing reenactor and makes the best oxhide shoes. He also made my bottes sauvages that I blogged about here. He made me a pair and I dyed them with a historic dye of vinegar and steel (to make them black). I then greased them heavily and I can’t wait to start wearing them around the “farm.”

Seeing these shoes reminded me of all the mentions of “country shoes” in Anglo-American accounts. Country shoes were much nicer and more like a proper soled pair of shoes. Suddenly, I remembered Dodderidge’s account of shoepacs…

“Those who could not make shoes could make shoepacks. These, like moccasins, were made of a single piece of leather with the exception of a tongue piece on the top of the foot. This was about two inches broad and circular at the lower end. To this the main piece of leather was sewed, with a gathering stitch. The seam behind was like that of a moccasin. To the shoepack a sole was sometimes added.” (page 113 of The Settlement and Indian Wars of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania, 1763-1783)

For the reenactors of frontier America… the above description, especially with the gathering stitch and tongue, sure sound like a pair of oxhide shoes. To compare to a French account of these…

D’Aleyrac on Souliers de Boeuf in the mid 1700s… “Beef shoes are made in a completely different manner than the French leather shoes, they have a sole as thin as the top which envelops all the foot at the height of the quarters; then, on this piece of leather, one sews a smaller piece of leather covering the top of the foot; this style is most convienent to walk in the woods and in the mountains.”

Add to this American, Orlando Bolivar Willcox’s recollections published in the mid-19th century in Shoepac Recollections: a way-side glimpse of American life. In his recollections, he mentions shoepacs as the frontier, white version/improvement of the moccasin and the proper shoe as what came next. He also defines the shoepac… Willcox “The shoepac was a covering for the feet – half shoe, half moccasin – worn by the early French on the Frontier.”

Looking at the above oxhide shoes and reading mentions of shoepacs, I wonder if the soulier de boeuf of the canadien frontier wasn’t the same as the shoepac of the Anglo-American frontier.

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