I recently found this catalog from the W.C. Russell Moccasin Company of Berlin, Wisconsin. I was pleasantly surprised to open it and find that Russell Moccasins were not just for men.
The first pages show both men and women out in the wild, enjoying their Russell boots. By the looks of the clothing and hair styles, my guess is that most of these were taken in the 1920s and early 1930s. There is no date to be found in the catalog, but the front cover illustration looks to be more like a late 1930s or even a 1940s style. Another hint is that the catalog reads that the company has been in business for over a quarter of a century. Since it was founded in 1898, I know that is later than 1924.
The last clue is the style of the shoes. These look to be late 1930s, or 1940s. The trouble with sports clothing and shoes is that while fashion is considered, the styles are a bit more constant than a fashion garment or shoe. But still, I’m leaning toward late 1930s for a date on the catalog.
This boot was a favorite for hiking and camping. I’ve seen ads for very similar ones as early as 1922. I have a pair in my collection from Abercrombie & Fitch, the famous outfitters for adventurers.
I thought this “moviegram” showing moccasin construction was very interesting. And just because I love them so much, here are better views of some of the women campers.
I look at a lot of old images, read a lot of vintage magazines and watch classic movies. To my modern sensibilities, sometimes the things I encounter are disquieting. The way people thought about race relations, animal rights, and the status of women can be vastly different from the way I look at these issues.
Right now I’m slowily reading my way through every issue of Life magazine, thanks to Google Books. To be honest, I’ve been shocked at the language used when referring to people of different races. Words that today we think are used only by ignorant racists were used freely in a national magazine. Especially in advertising, women are portrayed as being glorified house maids, being concerned with trivial domestic problems while the man of the house works to support her. There are photos of hunters surrounded by dead animals, in which sport hunting is glorified.
When I encounter such a disturbing image or passage, my mind has to remind my sensibilities that this was almost 80 years ago, and today at least people are aware of these issues and are working toward solving the injustices of life. I don’t have to like what I’m seeing, but I have learned to put it in the past where it belongs. Sometimes I think history lovers tend to over-glorify the past. I love the images of the women I’ve posted here, and frankly have thought about what a great time it must have been. I’m glad that the photos do not contain images of dead animals, which they very well could have seeing that they are, after all, in the woods and probably hunting.
Which brings me to the present. I was really surprised to learn that the W.R. Russell Company is still in business, still producing boots in Berlin, Wisconsin. I was all ready to link to their site when I encountered a page where customers are pictured wearing their boots, surrounded by their prey. It was like it was 1933 and these guys were big game hunters in darkest Africa.
I live in an area of the country where hunting is still accepted. Cars sport bumper stickers like “Hunt with your kid, not hunt for him.” I realize that some people do still hunt for their food, and I know that hunting does help control animal over-population. However, I cannot understand why any website that is trying to sell shoes in the 21st century would feature photos of great-white-hunter wannabes. I respect the heritage of hunting. It is how our ancestors survived. But I do not understand gratuitous killing just to make the killer look manly.
My point here is not to bash hunters. My grandfather was a “fox hunter.” I put that in quotes because in his case being a hunter meant that he and his buddies liked to dress in red buffalo check jackets, go camping, and let their hounds run loose. My point is that we need to remember the past and to honor it. But there are some things about the past that need to stay there.