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Skookum Dolls

Skookum Dolls

The original skookums were first produced by Mary McAboy in Missoula, Montana.  In 1913, McAboy obtained a US patent for a brave-style doll.  She registered the skookum name as a trademark in 1919, as well as the “Bully Good” trademark.  Interestingly enough, McAboy attributed the word skookum to a Siwash Indian language, claiming it meant “bully good.”  Unfortunately, there is no such Indian tribe or language as Siwash on the North American continent.  Salishan is the language used by the Algonquin, Flathead and Plateau tribes.  They call themselves “Salish” which means “the people.”  It is easy to see how this name may have morphed into Siwash.  The Makah tribe of the Northwest, who also use the Salishan language, translate the word skookum to mean an evil spirit.

The Arrow Novelty Company took over the manufacturing of the dolls in 1920.  Composition heads were painted with life-like facial features.  They represented Indians of various tribes and were used for educational purposes in schools throughout the United States.

Vintage Skookum Dolls

In 1929, the H. H. Tammen Co. of Denver and Los Angeles took over production.  Between 1917 and 1949, the skookum dolls were mass-produced.  Bodies were built from an oblong stick of wood covered with a beacon blanket.  The legs and feet were made of light pine wood with the feet wrapped in brown masking tape.  The hair was either human, horse or mohair.  Sizes ran from papooses at 3 1/2'” to store display models of 34”.  The eyes were painted on and focused to either the right or left, never straight ahead.  This is because many tribes believe that you should never look someone straight in the eye.  Doing so means you are either insulting them, do not believe them, or are trying to capture their soul. 

 Skookum Doll Collection

Exact dating of a skookum is very difficult.  McAboy designed many different tribes of dolls by simply using different blanket styles, beading and cradleboards.  Also, the use of cottage industry methods lent itself to many variations in doll style, dress and appearance.

Skookum Foot Stickers

The first labels were oval-shaped paper and were applied to one foot of the doll.  The next labels were separate pieces of artwork – either a sunrise or a fylfot.  The fylfot is an ancient religious symbol that has been used by Indians for centuries and is sometimes called the “whirling log.”  When Hitler came to power in Germany, he adopted the symbol and it became known as the swastika.  Later production had a design resembling an arrowhead.

Are you interested in collecting Skookum dolls? Click here to view our complete collection of dolls for sale.

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Debbie - July 21, 2021

I have one that has is stuffed with straw under muslin. It has the black painted wooden legs, and I guess it is the masking tape painted feet. It has a wool blanket and beads. Being that it has the muslin stuffed body, can you age it from there?

BARBARA L TIPTON - July 21, 2021

I have a 12 1/2 inch tall Skookum Indian Squaw with baby. They are both looking right. Excellent condition. No label. Wasn’t played with. Been on display or put away. I received it in 1947 or 1948 from family friends who been on vacation in Minnesota. I am interested in selling it.

donna - April 15, 2021

I have a doll very old would like to send you photos snookum doll in good shape with label oval bully good USA doll is looking left with least 60 years old

Linda Davis - January 13, 2021

I have a Skookum Doll that my Dad bought me in his travels and I wanted to know more about it.

Billie Mae Wintin - November 18, 2020

I received my first Native American artifact from a much older cousin who worked and taught at the Cherokee Reservation in Western North Carolina. I was 5 or 6 years old at the time. The artifact is a tiny felt moccasin with beaded decoration. Sitting in the moccasin is a tiny beaded rabbit. A small safety pin is sewn on the sole of the moccasin so that it can be worn as a pin. I have cherished it for many years, as I am 87 now. Somewhere along the years I began collecting Native American dolls. I have several that were actually made by different tribes around the U.S and Canada, and I have a few Skookums . I have always known that they were not “truly” Indian, but I have often wondered if the manufacturers of them employed Indian people to make them. Most of my Skookums are in their original played-with condition, but I have replaced hair, clothing , and blankets on some of them who had suffered moth and other damage.

Angie - January 23, 2020

I have a doll I received when my grandmother died. It has similar looks of skookum doll. How do I find out any info?

Emily Palmer - September 6, 2019

My skookum has a baby, is looking to the left and has the swastika mark on it’s label. It was given to my hubby when he was a child, born in 1923. Very good condition, has been in a glass dome. is 11 or 12 inches high. I need to sell it now, can someone tell me where to go, I’m in Las Vegas, Nv. Thank You Ms. Palmer

Cheyenne curran - June 18, 2019

I just picked up a Skookum doll at a Salvation Army and am wondering if it is valuable. It has the rolling log oval tag on the bottom left foot of the mother, beads hanging from her neck and a small folded fan tucked behind her blanket behind her neck.

Beth - February 4, 2019

Have you ever seen a large male skookum with black feet,?

Beth - January 28, 2019

My Skookum doll was a gift from the Skookum apple company for their salesmen who sold the most apples one year…. I believe about 1931.

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