Discover Vintage America - FEBRUARY 2019

Native American doll a relic of the Route 66 tourist trade

Q: I am trying to find out anything about this doll. It was purchased in 1940 somewhere in the Southwest. Thank you.

A: Your Native American doll holds an interesting place in the early highway travel in the USA and the movements of the American Indians. "The Mother Road", aka Route 66, was constructed to connect Los Angeles with Chicago while meandering through small towns along the way. The highway was declared fully paved in 1938.

The "Mother Road" moniker came from the book The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. He saw Route 66 as the road of hope for all of those headed west in search of work during the 1930s dust bowl. In the years after the Depression the highway took on mythic status as America's main street for adventure and fun.

The importance of this arterial east-west highway cannot be overlooked. The construction of U.S. 66, from 1933-1938, created thousands of jobs for young men who arrived from virtually every state to work on road crews to finish the paving. The completion of U.S. 66 on the eve of World War II was of particular importance as it allowed for rapid mobilization of forces and during peacetime it allowed easy access to promote national defense. U.S. 66 was of particular importance to a young Army captain, Dwight D. Eisenhower. While on coast-to-coast maneuver with his command they got bogged down in spring rain mud near Fort Riley, KS.

U.S. 66 was also of major importance to farmers in rural Kansas, Missouri and Illinois as it allowed more access for them to transport their grain for redistribution.

After the war, Americans were on the move. U.S. 66 was lined with motor courts, restaurants and tourist stops. This made travel easy and fun. New Mexico and Arizona had several Native American tribes living on the land and they too got in on the tourist industry. One could visit an "authentic Indian village," eat fry bread and purchase items crafted by American Indians.

Interest in American Indians was at an all time high due to the many western movies and TV shows. You could spend the night in a tepee shaped motor court. I recall staying in one in the 1960s. Many of the Native American roadside purchases carry monetary value today, including turquoise and silver jewelry, baskets, pottery and dolls, one being your leather doll.

It is difficult to attribute your leather doll to a particular tribe but she is more than likely Pueblo or Navajo. The leather looks to be in near mint condition, her hair is probably horsehair and the beading is well done. I love that she has tall boots on and her clothing has been dyed. She would sell for $65-$80.

In my travels I have driven on some of the remaining sections of Route 66 and I highly recommend that you do the same. Many of the kitsch roadside attractions are still intact and there is just something pretty cool about getting your kicks on Route 66.

Note: All prices given are for sale in a private sale, antique shop or other resale outlet. Price is also dependent upon the geographic area in which you are selling. Auction value, selling to a dealer or pawnshop prices are about half or less of resale value.

Michelle Staley is a Lenexa, KS-based dealer and researcher with 35 years of experience in the antique trade. Send questions with photos to Michelle to Please keep queries to one question; questions without photos of the item may not be answered. Michelle is also available for consulting and extensive research work beyond this column. If you would like an appraisal on an antique or collectible please go to for a one-on-one appraisal.