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Clothes and Shoes Never Seem to Fit

Ever wondered why your clothes and shoes never seem to fit?

It is one of those dirty little secrets that anthropologists never seemed to have learned about the Chickasaws, Creeks, Choctaws, Seminoles, Alabama’s and all the rest of you Muskogeans. Rumor has it that the Yuchi’s, Shawnees and Cherokees have the same complaint. Our bodies have different proportions than Caucasians, Africans and Asians. Guess potsherds and arrowheads can’t talk. The information hasn’t gotten out either to the artists that illustrate National Geographic Magazine and a myriad other articles that show Native Americans next to Europeans.

Take a look at the illustrations in contemporary articles about Southeastern Native Americans. The Injuns are always substantially shorter than the Europeans. These mythical persons from the past have the physiques of Vietnamese, but the noses of Semites. If the painting is done for a religious organization, we are portrayed in a submissive posture, with an expression similar to that of a zombie. Unless they are Lakota warriors on a horse, Native Americans are illustrated with the short, small boned and slim muscled physiques of Southeast Asians. As often as not, we are also shown with Lakota war paint, pigtails and “two feathers” in our head. The facial features come from several decades of Hollywood movies where “Indians” with speaking parts had eastern Mediterranean heritage.

The reality is that most of the Southeastern Indians were taller and built more sturdily than the European explorers. They just didn’t have any immunity to smallpox and measles. The Spanish admitted it in writing. French Huguenot artist, Jacques Le Moyne, painted them accurately as such. In fact, 16th and 17th century Spaniards called the ancestors of the Creek Indians, “Los Indios Gigantes.” The Spaniards initially thought they would make great slaves, but found them rather non-submissive . . . and arrogant in their attitude of wanting European technology, but not European culture. Well, actually very few Spanish expeditions into the interior of Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama turned out very well, anyway.

Finding a shirt or dress that fits

The biggest problem in fitting clothes is our long waists. Our waists are much longer in proportion to our legs. At least for me, having a low center of gravity was great for playing football and now, for climbing mountains, but it’s a major obstacle to looking spiffy when speaking before the public. Invariably, my shirt comes out of my belt while I am moving around the lectern. The fashion-conscious members of the audience gasp and think, “Oh my gosh . . . not only is he non-submissive to our inherent authority, but he dresses sloppily!”

After decades of frustration with this problem, I finally realized why Creek men traditionally wore long shirts outside their belts. We have long waists! Duh-h-h-h, it is no brainer. So now, whenever possible I wear my shirt outside my waist and don’t worry about impressing people. It is better than half in and half out.

Native American women tell me that they have the same problem with tight-fitting dresses. The waists are too short, while the portions over their legs is too long. They have two options. Either they can wear separate skirts and blouses like Mexican Native American women have long done, or they can wear loose-fitting traditional Muskogean ribbon dresses. Now you know why Seminole and Creek women look so beautiful in custom-made ribbon dresses. They are smiling because they finally are in a dress that fits!

Different feet

Muskogean men tend to have bigger feet in proportion to their bodies than Europeans. Both Native American men and women tend to have feet that are shaped differently than those of Europeans. We have high arches and larger bones near the toes. We walk and run on the front of our feet. Our shoes wear out in a different location than those shoes worn by Caucasians. That is why Tonto always knew whether tracks in the sand of the film lot in Los Angeles were either those of a pale face or a red man. Injun tracks are always deeper in the front, with little or no impressions made by the heels.

The shape of our feet is different than the models used by shoe companies to make shoes. It is very rare that a leather shoe is comfortable on a Native American until months of wear have stretched the leather in key locations. That never solves the problem of high arches. Many Native Americans buy over-sized leather shoes then put padded arches on the soles. Athletic shoes are a bit better in this accord. Most have raised arches formed their soles. The fabric of the athletic shoe quickly stretches to match the shape of the feet.

When I was a kid, people only wore tennis shoes to play tennis. I hated leather shoes because they were so uncomfortable. Therefore, until age 10 I ran around the neighborhood and woods, bare-footed. Then I stepped on a broken Coca-cola bottle in the cow pasture next to Slaughterhouse Creek. The wound required 100+ stitches. I switched to moccasins. Again, it’s a no brainer. Until better athletic shoes became available via Adidas and Nike, moccasins conformed to the different shapes of our feet.

Big heads and late-blooming skeletons

Most Native American ethnic groups are classified as being brachycephalic or broad-headed. However, some Algonquians and Iroquoians are long-headed. Some tribal politicians are also long-winded.

Muskogeans, the Zoque in Mexico and the Soque in the Southeast go beyond being just brachycephalic. We have BIG heads . . . especially as we get older. There were two of us of Creek decent on my high school football team. Our coach had to order extra-large helmets for both us, even though neither of us seemed to have disproportionately large heads compared to our bodies.

However, there is more. You can look at photos of Native American men in several tribes and see their heads getting broader as they age. This is not supposed to happen. Any standard medical reference will tell you that skeletal growth stops when humans are in their late teens or early twenties. I have argued this observation with several anthropologists, who refuse to believe it. However, a lot of you Native men out there can verify. We have to wear increasingly larger caps or hats in our adulthood.

In my case, I have scientific proof of adult bone growth. When I was 38 and living near Fort Detrick, MD, I came down simultaneously with active infections of Typhus, Typhoid Fever, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Tick-borne Encephalitis, a strain of Lyme Disease found only on the Russian Steppes, Relapsing Fever and the man-made strain of mycoplasma maloides that a year later infected Desert Storm combatants in the Middle East . I have long suspected that this experience was an experiment by mad scientists at Fort Detrick, which went as well as the Cristan de Luna Expedition. For many years afterward Army personnel harassed me, hoping that the public wouldn’t find out that Desert Storm Syndrome was in northern Virginia a year before it was in the Middle East, but that is another story. At any rate, using inadequate antibiotics kept me a alive for a couple of years until they found a high-tech antibiotic that required IV’s every day for 30 days. I fully recovered after that treatment. So if another apocalyptic plague ever strikes North America again, I will probably be the last man standing. <wink>

We will now get to the relevance of the story. I had weekly or monthly doctor’s visits for a three year period. During that time I grew 1 ½ inches in height, my arms grew 2 inches longer, my head increased over 1 inch in diameter and my chest went from 44 inches to 48 inches. Several other Creek men have told me of growing taller and brawnier in their late 30s or early 40s, but none had a medical doctor measuring them regularly. Obviously, Native Americans, even mixed bloods like myself, are genetically different.

Now do you Native Americans out there feel better about your weird body? If we could only do something about those scales in the bathroom that exaggerate people’s weights!

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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

1 Comment


    Wow! Now I know where I got my big head! It’s frustrating for me if I find a cool hat I want to wear but find it’s too small for me! I ‘ve hated having a big head and used to gripe about it.


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