Late in the 18th century as Europeans were pushing further into North American continent they traded blankets to the Native Americans. These first “trade” blankets were woven in England and imported into the Americas by the Hudson Bay company. The only other blankets available at that time were woven by the Navajo people in the southwestern United States. While the Navajo blanket was highly prized, they were not available to vast numbers of other Native Americans. The reservation system brought an end to Navajo blankets as the traders offered them goods for rugs which they could market back east.
In 1892 J. Capps & Sons became the first American woolen mill to offer indian trade blankets. Capps was located in Jacksonville, Illinois and offered these trade blankets under the Capps name as well as American Indian Blanket Mills. Capps was later followed by several other mills as listed below. Only one of the companies that wove trade blankets made it longer than the mid 1930’s.
J Capps & Sons – Jacksonville, Illinois – Closed 1912
Buell Manufacturing – St Joseph, Missouri – Closed 1911
Racine Woolen Mills – Racine, Wisconsin- Closed 1912
Shuler & Benninghofen Woolen Mill – Hamilton, Ohio – Closed 1911
Oregon City Woolen Mills – Oregon City, Oregon – Closed 1935
Knight Woolen Mills (Provo Woolen Mills)- Provo, Utah – Closed 1920?
Pendleton Woolen Mills – Pendleton, Oregon 1896- Present Day
Pendleton Woolen Mills began production of trade blankets in 1896 and continues to be the lone manufacture of trade blankets in the USA. Hudson Bay blankets are still made in England. Pendleton has woven indian blankets under four primary lines, Pendleton, Beaver State, Cayuse and Blackfoot. The Cayuse and Blackfoot were budget lines and used remanufactured wool to create the blankets. Beaver State is the line that has been manufactured in the modern era. Pendleton also makes, clothing, accessories and blankets other than Native American or Indian designs.
Pendleton in recent years has manufactured blankets paying tribute to their long gone competitors. The Tribute series pays homage to Oregon City, Racine, Capps and Buell mills by reintroducing paterns they made famous.
Native American people today consume Pendleton Blankets for many different uses. They are used as payment to medicine men or other tribal elders, retirement gifts, burial shrouds, graduation gifts, wedding gifts and finally bedding. Companies such as ourselves also sell Pendleton Blankets to people of all races and in all parts of the world. Pendleton blankets have become widely desired because of their history and commitment to quality.