Skookum Indian Dolls

Two large Native American skookum display dolls, early 20th century both wrapped in blankets, one having a string of beads

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A grouping of five Skookum Native American Indian dolls

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A grouping of six Skookum Native American Indian dolls

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A grouping of six Skookum Native American Indian dolls

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Skookum Indian Dolls

Made by a variety of companies from 1913 to circa 1960, Skookum dolls depicted Native American Indians in a variety of sizes and clothing. The principal manufacturer, the H.H. Tammen Company of Los Angeles, California, provided authentic costumes of the Siwash Indians living in the northwestern United States. Besides elaborate clothing ranging from feathered headdress to leather moccasins, the features of the dolls were colored with a yellowish-brown earth pigment called sienna.

Skookum dolls were designed by Mary (Mrs. F.E.) McAboy of Missoula, Montana. A 1920 “Playthings” magazine quoted her extensively in an article titled “The Origin of Skookum Indian Doll” as follows:

“As to their origin…the casual remark of a friend in the grocery busines, ‘What became of those little apple-faced dolls your mother used to make?’…We talked about the little Indian dummies whose novelty was a wrinkled life-like face made out of a dried apple. Each one had a different look that was particularly human. Wrapped in their little blankets they looked like the old squaws and bucks we knew so well in our Montana home. Mother used to give them to friends…they were even sold sometimes at Church Socials and Sewing Circles…The result was that I worked up a little Indian Village for a window display in the grocery store…The Naughty Marietta Opera Co. was playing in town at the time and bought the whole village—paid actual money. Of course, I made another village and put more Indians in it, and they kept selling….I applied for Government Patents…and spread my new business all over my father’s home. I enlisted the housemaids and hired more help as soon as I could pay them….I took all the publicity that I could get which was mostly in the Sunday Society Column of western papers…. I milled around some time before I found (a name). ‘Skookum’ is the Siwash for ‘Bully Good’. They are ‘Bully Good Indians’. ….I am associated with a western factory where I attend exclusively to the making of the Skookums and my partners do the rest….We look with pride upon the wizened old ancestors who still keep guard over the present day Skookums that emerge from an up-to-date factory in numbers ‘great as the stars’. Nearly every Indian tribe is represented. They are copied in detail, having real leather moccasins, characteristic headresses and blankets and individual make-up. The Pueblo Squaw in wrapped leggings meets the Sioux Chief in warbonnet. The Apache Papoose in his little sheltered carrier rests cosily beside the little Chippewa strapped to a board. We also make Skookums with an indestructible composition face that is painted and lined to life-like imitation. The apple-face, of course, is not indestructible. We find that our customers have decided opinions—some will have nothing but the apple, others only the composition.”


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