Tanning a hide by the methods used by Native Americans involves four steps: cleaning, braining, softening, and smoking.
Step 1: Scrape the hide Remove meat and fat from the hide by scraping it with a knife. Scrape from side to side -- not head to tail.
TIP: Use a fresh hide, preferably from an animal that has died a natural death or been the victim of a recent accident. If you use a frozen or dried hide, you will have to restore it to fresh condition.
Step 2: Add brains Cook the animal's brain -- beef or pork brains can also be used -- in a pot of water, then put it a blender with warm water and mix well.
TIP: In general, any small animal has enough brain to tan its own hide.
Step 3: Apply the brains to the hide Moisten the hide until it feels like a sponge, and then apply some of the brain mixture to the flesh side with a brush. Let the brains sit on the skin for an hour before applying more.
Step 4: Store the hide overnight Roll the hide up with the brains inside and let it sit overnight in a cool, protected place.
Step 5: Apply more brains Apply another coat of brains in the morning before stretching out the hide.
Step 6: Soften the hide Run the hide over the back of a chair to soften it until it is completely dry.
Step 7: Smoke the hide Smoke the hide over an open fire. Smoking prevents the skin from turning hard after getting wet and discourages insects.
FACT: Native Americans used animal brains to tan hides because the oil in the brains lubricated the fibrous structure of the skin.