Encyclopedia Article


Although many indigenous groups in the U.S. Southwest are considered master jewelry makers and silversmiths, with unique designs and methods to their credit, silversmithing did not become a skilled trade in these communities until after European contact in the region occurred. The Navajo, for example, first obtained silver ornaments by trading with the Plains Indians, who had received it from German settlers, and also from the indigenous, Spanish, and later Mexican, further south. It was not until after the 1860s and the war on the Navajo, which culminated in the Long Walk to Bosque Redondo, that Navajo took up silversmithing as their own trade, extracting the silver from U.S. coins. They quickly incorporated turquoise, abundant in the southwest and already used for many purpose, into their work. For Navajo singers and medicine men, medicine bundles and pouches were often decorated with silver, along with fringe and turquoise.

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"Silver Navajo belt buckle," photograph by Wolgang Sauber is licensed under CC BY-SA.

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