Skin Canoe


student of canoes
I found this canoe display in a museum during a recent trip. It’s at the Crazy Horse monument in South Dakota’s Black Hills. I have never seen anything like it before.
If you’re interested in seeing more pictures, including some of the canoe we specially built for our journey down the Jefferson River in Montana, visit our Facebook page.

Mark Morrall

This is the description they had on the display-

The Skin Canoe named “Comma”
Historical influences and how it was made
By John Grey

The name (Comma Canoe) comes from its unique combination of Native American designs and when turned upside down to dry, it resembles the comma shape. The main design comes from the Cree crooked canoe. Today fly fisherman use drift boats that have borrowed the same body shape; this design allows them to keep steady longer in turbulent waters.
The front of the canoe is the “wave breaker,” modeled after the Chippewa birch bark canoes, and modified slightly to maintain better balance when taking the canoe in rough waters.
The red cedar was carefully selected from South Dakota and Michigan, all hand cut, steamed and bent to shape. Then, the wood was pegged into place; there are no screws, nails or any other metal fasteners. Once the frame was completed, the difficult process of hand sewing the deer hide began. This process involved constant work to keep the skins wet and pliable. Sewing did not end for an entire week. Many pierced fingers plus broken sewing needles later; the skin was pulled lightly into place and allowed to dry in place for two weeks. You could actually hear the deer hide constricting and pulling the frame tight as it dried. Pine tar mixed with the correct amount of select natural oils was then brushed into all the seams. Last and most important was the neatsfoot oil applied to the entire skin to act as water repellent. “Comma” has traveled on the Missouri River, Muskegon River and Chattahoochee River.
Created from: 6 cedar trees (17ft. long), 7 large deer hides, 12 rabbit pelts, 2 beaver pelts.
Ornaments: triangle cut buffalo bones, turkey wing and tail feathers, whitetail deer antler.
Tools used: draw knife, hand drill, several types of carving tools, coping saw, clamps, needle & thread and aspirin.


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