Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
Nature Bulletins
Newton Home Page

Introduction and Instructions

Search Engine

Table of Contents



Hair, Hides and Tallow
Nature Bulletin No. 589-A   January 31, 1976
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Since prehistoric times, especially in cold and temperate climates, mankind has depended upon hairy mammals for food and for materials to fashion clothing, shelters, weapons, implements and ornaments. Some of our American Indians had not progressed much beyond that when the white man came. They were Stone Age people.

For example, the Dakota or Sioux were nomads who roamed the Great Plains, attempted no agriculture, and depended entirely upon the millions of bison. (See Bulletin No. 324-A). Their only domestic animal and beast of burden was the dog. Their portable tipi (See No. 555-A) was a conical framework of slender poles covered with hides of the buffalo. Its flesh was their chief food. Surplus meat was dried into "jerky" to be eaten in emergencies, or -- pulverized and mixed with tallow, marrow, and berries -- to make pemmican. (See No. 257-A). They used every part of the animal, including its horns, bones, sinews and hoofs. Brains and tallow were used in preparing skins for robes, shirts, moccasins, leggings, pouches, parfleches, etc. Raw hides were stretched over the frames of shields, saddles, and the tub-like bullboats for crossing streams. Buffalo droppings or "chips" were the only fuel on those treeless plains.

The pioneer explorers, hunters and settlers in Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois found a country teeming with buffalo, elk, bear, deer and the smaller furbearers, as well as wild turkeys and other game birds. Men like Daniel Boone, Abraham Hanks and George Rogers Clark adopted the Indian's dress and many of his skills. The early settlers copied them.

A pioneer wore moccasins of deer or buffalo skin, thigh-length buckskin leggings, buckskin shirt, and a broad leather belt which held his powder horn, bullet bag, skinning knife and tomahawk. Only the coonskin cap was his own design.

The settler used game and, later, domestic animals, for many purposes other than food and clothing. Frequently, in building a cabin, rawhide thongs were used to secure the rafters and tie down the ends of the clapboards or "shakes" on the roof. The door might be hung on rawhide hinges. On his bed, stretched thongs supported a bearskin mattress or a straw tick.

Tallow from buffalo and deer was used to convert deer hides into buckskin. Bits of it were scrupulously saved for use in "grease lamps" -- a gourd or scraped out turnip. As soon as a family acquired a big iron kettle, tallow was used to make candles and soft soap. (See Nos. 544-A and 590-A.

Commercial tallow, today, is the hard fat or suet about the stomachs, kidneys and loins of cattle and sheep. Some of it is used by candle manufacturers, and some in making oleomargarine, but the principal use is in soaps.

In Chicago there is a hide, hair and tallow market similar to those trading in grain, livestock and produce. Hair, obtained from tanneries where it is separated from "green" hides, is used for padding in upholstery, mats beneath carpets and rugs, pipe coverings and other products. Hides, of course, are used to make leathers and the prices fluctuate according to the supply of and demand for such items as "northern trimmed" horsehides, sheep pelts, cowhides, slunks (unborn calf skins), kipskins, and heavy calfskins.

To return to the Nature Bulletins Click Here!
Hosted by NEWTON

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Sponsered by Argonne National Labs