Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Cassandra ♥ Turquoise!

It all started 30 years ago, on the occasion of our 10th wedding anniversary, with a visit to the trading post of the venerable Charlie Eagle Plume ten miles south of Estes Park, Colorado on Highway 7. I selected the bracelet below and took it over to the elderly Charlie in his wheelchair for a price. His reply: “Nice piece of turquoise – your price is $$$!”

It was my first piece of Native American turquoise jewelry, made very special by the experience of purchasing it directly from Charlie – who I later learned was a man who was not merely the proprietor of a quintessential Colorado Indian trading post but, for over 50 years, a sought-after lecturer and performer of Indian dances and song and, most importantly, an advocate not only for Native Americans but for peace and good will among people everywhere.

According to the current Eagle Plume Trading Post website:

“Established in 1917 [as the Perkins Trading Post], this historic trading post specializes in the art and crafts of the American Indian. Contemporary works in jewelry, textiles, basketry, ceramics, sculpture, and beadwork, as well as historic pieces are available. Also housed at the trading post is the Charles Eagle Plume Collection of American Indian art, comprising over one thousand historic and prehistoric pieces from Native North America, Alaska, and Canada. Off the beaten path, nestled at the base of Long’s Peak, [is] one of the west’s best-kept secrets rich in the traditions and arts. Eagle Plume spent his life collecting, selling, and appreciating American Indian art and culture. He touched the lives of many people with his friendship, ready smile, and many stories… "

Charlie in 1986

Charles was born on a Blackfoot reservation in Montana and took great pride in his Indian ancestry. He was one of the first Native Americans to attend the University of Colorado in Boulder, and while still a student, spent his summers working at the Perkins Trading Post entertaining the tourists with dancing and storytelling. Eventually, he was assisting the store’s owner, Katherine Perkins, in running the business and also travelling around the country performing and speaking. Upon Perkin’s death in 1966, Charles inherited the store and renamed it “Charles Eagle Plume’s Indian Trading Post.” He also inherited part of the collection of Indian artifacts she had inherited from her father, which Charles augmented until he had amassed over 1000 examples of what is considered to be one of the finest, most authentic, and unrivaled collections of Native American antiquities and works of art in existence.

“…Before his death in 1992, he established the Eagle Plume Foundation and also saw to it that his shop would carry on under the guidance of his adopted daughter Ann [whose Cheyenne name is Maxaaehma’heone - Medicine Eagle Feather Woman] and her family…Under the family’s guidance, Eagle Plume’s remains one of the most remarkable emporiums of American Indian arts, crafts, and culture in the west.”

“When you have an idea, you have something to work with - somewhere to go.”
~ Charles Eagle Plume

History of Turquoise
Native American legend relates that the People danced and rejoiced when the rains came. Their tears of joy mixed with the rain and seeped into Mother Earth to become the SkyStone or Turquoise. Native Americans believe, that the earth is alive; and that all things, no matter how small or apparently inanimate, are precious. To the Native American, Turquoise is Life. Actually, turquoise stone is a hydrous basic phosphate of copper and aluminum formed as water trickles through a host stone for about 30 million years, gradually leaving a deposit.

In the United States, turquoise is synonymous with the Southwest. The Cerrillos Mines on Turquoise Mountain in New Mexico are said to be the oldest known source of turquoise in the Southwest. Native Americans worked the turquoise mines with stone mauls and antler picks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans.  Turquoise from this area has been found as far as Oaxaca, Mexico. Kings and emperors of the Mixtec and Aztecs wore crowns and pendants of turquoise as amulets of good fortune and long life.

It was not until 1890 that the use of silver as a mounting for turquoise was begun. The Spanish knowledge of silver and silversmithing was combined with Native American lapidary technology to produce a turquoise jewelry tradition that continues today

“A good stone, in short, must possess an indefinable property call the "Zat," which is something like the water of a diamond or the luster of a pearl. A fine colored turquoise without the Zat is not worth much”
~ Joseph Payne

Perhaps when Charlie Eagle Plume told me that it was a “nice piece of turquoise,” he was seeing the “Zat” in my turquoise bracelet!


  1. A really interesting and informative post. I really enjoyed this bit of history. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Oh Cassandra I been on my head for a chunky turquoise necklace with a bling- bling charmed cross!Its sooo very beautiful thanks for given me a lil history very interesting.

  3. Dear Cassandra, How I should love to see this trading post. It clearly is a National Treasure. Its history is fascinating and how wonderful that you were able to meet Charles personally.

    The turquoise jewellery you show is truly beautiful. Such a delicate shade of blue. I am not at all surprised that it is a favourite.


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