Buffalo Plaid: As American As Apple Pie or as Scottish American as Kirkin’ Of The Tartan?

imageWe all love the stuff. It’s one of the reasons I find the Chief of Clan Gregor’s home so lovely. Remarkably distinctive in the world of Scottish tartan, it is that wonderful bold and beautiful Rob Roy MacGregor Tartan in big blocks of red and black. It is the stuff of heroes. Tom Mix wore it. Roy Rogers, Dale and the horse could be seen around the stable in it. Paul Bunyon’s underwear … well, it is a staple of American ‘lodge and cabin’ clothing and décor and one can today find a fleece Rob Roy throw in most American Walmarts especially during hunting season.

Right, so what’s the problem? Well, here in America, it is more than Rob Roy MacGregor Tartan. It’s Buffalo Plaid and it’s modern popularity grows from an awesome Scottish American story. Rob Roy tartan was introduced to America by a descendant of that most famous MacGregor (to that time) by the name of Jock McClusky. As with most early American frontiersmen, Jock McClusky pursued several careers and used up as many lives before he became an indian trader.image

Jock McClusky lived a remarkable life at a remarkable time and today we have Buffalo Plaid to show for it. Take a look at a short piece showing more of the details of the story from the best experts in Scottish tartan on the face of this earth and several others, The Scottish Tartan Authority.

5 responses to “Buffalo Plaid: As American As Apple Pie or as Scottish American as Kirkin’ Of The Tartan?”

  1. Sir Malcolm MacGregor says:

    This tartan was originally called “MacGregor Red and Black for undress wear” as opposed to the more formal (at the time) MacGregor red and green. Both tartans were registered in about 1815 by the then chief, Sir John MacGregor. There are paintings of other chiefs wearing it, such as Norman Macleod of Macleod, and the Hon. Francis Charteris, both by Allan Ramsay. There is even a painting of Prince Charles Edward Stuart wearing a tartan that looks very similar. Perhaps most importantly there is a painting of Gregor Glun Dhu (Black knee) MacGregor of Glengyle (1688-1777) in the tartan. He was Rob Roy’s nephew and held the chieftainship of the MacGregors of Glengyle. He had shared command of the MacGregor Regiment in the ‘45 uprising with Sir John’s uncle, Colonel Robert MacGregor of Glencarnaig. Glengyle was that branch of Clan Gregor from which Rob Roy and Glun Dhu were descended. Irrespective of all that, Sir John MacGregor moved quickly and claimed the tartan for Clan Gregor. Glengyle got its own tartan in due course, which is another story.

    The crunch came when Sir Walter Scott produced his book “Rob Roy” although Daniel Defoe had written a similar title a few years earlier. Both books romanticised Rob Roy and he was portrayed as the ideal highlander. In constant adversity and double dealing with the Duke of Montrose and Duke of Argyll, both powerful clan chiefs. The tartan weavers of the day spotted an opportunity. They renamed the tartan “Rob Roy” for commercial reasons.

    Latterly Jock McCluskey also spotted an opportunity on the American Frontier. As described, he claimed descent from Rob Roy MacGregor from Glengyle. He may even have been descended from Glun Dhu, chieftain of Glengyle.
    Jock McCluskey was on a commercial mission as well as peaceful one with the American Indians. In distributing this tartan so far and wide, he was promoting a tartan that was synonymous with the ‘frontier spirit’ of Clan Gregor, and his ancestors.

    The tartan was widely worn in late Victorian times in Scotland at the same time as McCluskey was working the frontier states. The deep red was the catch as the article suggests. It was always known as MacGregor red and black in Scotland, but Buffalo Plaid on the American frontier. Nowadays it is seen as a more formal tartan perhaps because of its simple, striking design. It was worn for the Queen’s Scottish coronation in 1953 by the then chief of Clan Gregor. So one can have it both ways: formal attire, and for logging in the American wilderness. The Scottish and American stories show that the history of tartan is enduring and authentic, as well as being a strong brand globally. Both Jock McCluskey and Sir John MacGregor would have been well pleased.

    Malcolm MacGregor of MacGregor

  2. […] Buffalo Plaid: As American As Apple Pie or as Scottish American as Kirkin’ Of The Tartan? […]

  3. Peter Walker says:

    Before it (and tartan generally) received modern heraldric clan association in the early 19th century, this pattern turns up in Sir Henry Raeburn’s famous 1787 portrait of legendary fiddler Neil Gow; it’s the sett of Gow’s breeches and hose.


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