1550s, "Alpine antelope;" 1570s, "soft leather," originally "skin of the chamois," from Middle French chamois "Alpine antelope" (14c.), from Late Latin camox (genitive camocis), perhaps from a pre-Latin Alpine language that also produced Italian camoscio, Spanish camuza, Old High German gamiza, German Gemse (though some of these might be from Latin camox). As a verb, "to polish with chamois," from 1934. Compare shammy.
Its size is about that of a well-grown goat, and it is so agile that it can clear at a bound crevices 16 or 18 feet wide. The chamois is one of the most wary of antelopes, and possesses the power of scenting man at an almost incredible distance, so that the hunting of it is an occupation of extreme difficulty and much danger. [Century Dictionary]