This fall, everything is coming up Buffalo Plaid – it’s the must-have going into this winter! With its distinctive red and black check, it’s a simple, outdoorsy statement, perfect to enhance cosy, cottage-y decor and perfect to curl up on these chilly fall days. While we may associate it with the outdoors, hunting, and campfires it’s become quite the stylish staple in clothing as well as home decor.
Buffalo Plaid: A Checkered History
From Roy Rogers to the Marlboro man to the mythical Paul Bunyan, iconic lumberjack of the comics, the Buffalo Plaid has quite the legendary past. As with most plaid designs, we see them as a backwoods, mountain-man or -gal staple, but where did it come from?
Buffalo Plaid or check is typically characterized as “plaid with large blocks formed by the intersection of two different colour yarns, typically red and black.” For anyone in the know regarding Scottish tartan design and the clans, rather than Buffalo Plaid, it’s historically known as the tartan of legendary Scottish outlaw and folk hero, Rob Roy MacGregor.
The story goes that the recognizable plaid was introduced to North America by a descendant of Rob Roy – ‘Jock McCluskey’. Occasional lawman, bounty hunter, fur trapper, gold miner and trader.
The legend of McCluskey has it that among the First Nations with whom he traded, he was no ordinary European import. Awed by his size and strength, he was hailed as an invincible warrior. All at once feared and revered, he was equally admired for his compassion. In the indigenous genocide that followed Custer’s Last Stand, McCluskey became a champion of their cause. Theirs was a plight he identified with personally seeing the persecution of the North American Indian as mirroring his own family clan’s descent from nobility to hunted criminals.
McCluskey befriended his indigenous compatriots mingled between peoples, be they friendly or at war, without fear or retribution. With the Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux, he bartered for buffalo pelts, offering a selection of goods in exchange. The most coveted among them the heavy woven Scottish blankets, their dense, hearty weave colourfully emblazoned with his clan tartan’s signature red-and-black checks.
As relayed by McCluskey’s great nephew, Gregor McCluskey, Sioux and Cheyenne warriors were in awe of its colour. Before this, none had ever seen such a deep, bold red. They believed its intensely rich hue to be a sorcerer’s hex; a dye distilled from the spirit blood and ghostly souls of McCluskey’s prey and enemies. This was a belief McCluskey did little to disavow.
Worn in battle and draped across their war ponies, it was prized as a good luck talisman and revered as a spirit guardian that would deliver immortality, even in the face of death itself.
The Sioux and Cheyenne warriors called it ” plaid” (pronounced pladjer in Gaelic) as did the U.S. Army outpost and fort traders who bought McCluskey’s bartered skins and plaids. Hence, sometime in the late 1880s, was born the American term plaid referring to the tartan itself, regardless of the colour.
Thus the tartan of McCluskey’s Rob Roy blankets became known as Buffalo plaid.
Buffalo Plaid: We’ve Got Plenty!
Just in time for the change of weather, we have an abundance of this historical fabric in home decor items such as pillows and blankets, clothing in the way of shawls, socks, and more as well as some Holiday items such as Christmas stockings.
You don’t have to be a MacGregor ancestor to bring some of this design, brimming with colourful history, into your home or wardrobe. Come in and see!