A First Outing

A good-sized black ant ran along my bare thigh, then took refuge inside my buckskin leggin. Its pace slowed, tickling its way to the left, then to the right, just above my knee. Three times it tried to move farther down my leg, but the weathered, deer-hide whang, snugged around the leggin, thwarted its advance. The ant wandered into the morning’s brilliant sunlight, found its way to the side-seam and zigzagged down the flap. I lost interest after it crossed the second brown oak leaf.

Without thinking, my fingers fumbled for the wing bone and antler call. I sucked air through the hunt-polished bone and muffled the cluck with cupped hands. “Arrkkk.”

A wind gust swayed the top of a close-by oak. The north main branch was still attached to the tree, but hinged down with a half dozen limbs bent or broken into the earth. As the parent tree creaked and groaned, a wrist sized limb sawed back and forth in the dirt, a foot or so beyond my right moccasin. Concealed within the destruction, lost in the spring of 1794, I clucked again, “Arrkkk.”

A doe questions a traditional woodsman's shape.As the sun rose higher, the look of the forest changed. Now and again a cloud brought a dark, fast-moving shadow that dulled the day’s brilliance. During such an interlude, I saw an ear flick in the river bottom near the dead ash trees. Like the ant, the young doe occupied the moment as she browsed through the skunk cabbages. In the fall, the wild turkeys helped me pass deer-less days, and now, in mid-May, a deer here or a deer there returned the favor.

Some time passed before I decided to still-hunt to the northwest. As I got to my feet, I took note of the linen shirt’s open cuffs and how they flopped about on my wrists and the back of my hands. At first, I found the feeling strange and a bit perplexing, but it didn’t take long to realize such happenings are all part of experiencing a new persona.

The Discovery of William Filley’s Captivity

I have many hunter heroes. From the very beginning, I understood my quest to relive the past was different. While the majority of living historians chose to research and emulate the wilderness treks of historical significance, I chose to focus my research on the intrigues and intricacies of the actual hunts of a somewhat obscure group of backwoodsmen. After all, what sparked my interest in yesteryear was a nagging curiosity to experience what it was really like to hunt and survive in the Old Northwest Territory—specifically a plot of ground called the North-Forty.

My reading included the exploits of Boone, Kenton and a few of the other famous longhunters. By searching magazine reference notes and book bibliographies, I acquainted myself with Meshach Browning, Philip Tome, James Smith, Jonathan Alder, Josiah Hunt, John Tanner and other lesser known hunters.

About ten years ago I was in an old bookstore in East Lansing. Tucked away on the top shelf of the history section was a small, pale-green book wrapped in protective plastic. The little book called to me. Much to my surprise, the orphaned publication was the captive narrative of William Filley complete with a characteristic long title: Life and Adventures of William Filley, Who Was Stolen From His Home in Jackson, Mich., By The Indians, August 3d, 1837, and His Safe Return From Captivity, October 19, 1866, After an Absence of 29 Years.

I paid the dealer’s price without dickering and walked out clutching another obscure tidbit of local history. The timeframe was a generation beyond my beloved 1790s. Michigan had barely gained statehood, yet here was a captive narrative set in my home county. The abduction occurred near Fitch’s Lake, which today is Ackerson Lake, in a neighboring township not ten miles from my 18th-century Eden.

Experimenting with a New Persona

The inadvertent discovery of William Filley’s captive narrative planted a seed that took a while to sprout. The idea of a native captivity, historically based in this immediate area, always rattled around in the back of my mind. About a year ago, a new persona, one based on a Native captive who returned to white society but never gave up Native American hunting methods, started to take shape.

The plan was to have a persona in place, complete with the appropriate clothing and accoutrements, for this year’s spring turkey season. That didn’t happen. As my late wife Mary always said, “If you want to give God a good laugh, tell him about your plans for the future.”

Because my emphasis has always rested squarely on the pursuit of wild game, I entered the glade on that mid-May morning with an assembled outfit of appropriate clothing and accoutrements: elk hide moccasins, leather leggins gartered with buckskin whangs, a wool breechclout, a linen trade shirt, a woven sash, a silk head scarf tied turban style, a butcher knife, a trade blanket, and of course, a Northwest trade gun. I wasn’t about to give up a chance to hunt because a new pair of wool leggins or a ruffled shirt or a Native-influenced shot pouch didn’t get done.

To be honest, my expectations were not all that high with respect to meaningful time travel; first and foremost, I wanted an exciting encounter with a fine tom turkey. The morning’s outcome surprised me. The sojourn was different, in a positive way. I found it easy to slip the bonds of the 21st century, and once back in the Old Northwest Territory, I felt like a different person. The clothes felt different, my attitude was different and my perspective on that morning was different.

The linen shirt’s open cuffs, the bare thighs, moccasins without knee socks and the silk turban all felt different. I still-hunted with greater caution, was more patient when I took a stand and paused for longer periods of time. My impression was that I saw more game. I stalked past four does at various times during the morning and that feat seemed easier than normal. Now and again my subconscious rifled through the passages recalled from Tanner, Alder, and Smith, seeking “what would they do” guidance as the chase unfolded.

And as I sat watching the wind saw the limb back and forth in the soil, I resolved to delve deeper into my new acquaintance’s life…

Spend some time with your alter ego, be safe and may God bless you.

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