The Details Are Up to You

Moonlight, full and bright, illuminated the hollow. Stars sparkled. Shallow breaths turned to drifting clouds. Thick frost made leaves crunch. Sixty or so paces from the brush shelter, buffalo-hide moccasins found the silence of the earthen trail that angled between two knolls. The hired hunter’s shape dropped down the slope to beside the huckleberry swamp’s stagnant water. The air smelled fresh and clean with a twinge of muck and soggy oak.

In the silvery shadows, the woodsman stepped over a downed oak limb. Another waited thirty paces distant. That was a familiar course, a quick byway to the two tiny islands in the River Raisin’s bottom land, deep in the Old Northwest Territory. The year was 1796, mid-week, late November.

Two of the scarlet trade blanket’s corners gathered frost as they flapped against twigs, limbs and clumps of sedge grass. Before the huckleberry swamp trail, Samuel the Trader’s meat gatherer paused and folded the outer layer of the blanket up over his shoulders, forming a cape of sorts for added warmth.

A different trail crossed through the muck and mire that surrounded Tamara’s Island. Green, skunk cabbage sprouts, encircled with unfrozen black ooze, dotted the sides of this path. Moccasin steps, now progressing slow in a cautious still-hunt, circled to the east. An owl hooted. A hundred or so paces beyond, at the island’s north edge, cautious footfalls chose safe passage upon moss-covered limbs and root clumps, avoiding the vicious puddles of standing water and treacherous bog holes.

Yellow birch trees mixed with the maples and white ash saplings before thinning where the red willows, poison sumac and cattails started. Here and there the scrawny birches grew together. Three in particular formed a wilderness chair-back. Their roots, covered with a layer of moss, formed a calf-high, padded seat. Seven geese flew over. “Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk,” they hollered with set wings.

The hunter’s right moccasin cleared away the frost and crusty snow. He pulled the blanket up around his neck and sat with the island to his back. He faced in the direction of the winding Raisin. Before him, a deer trail traversed the bottom from northeast to southwest…

George Nelson’s Resources List

George Nelson was 15-years-old when he signed on as a clerk for the XY Company. His journal, along with other trading post clerks’ writings, formed the basis for material good choices for Samuel the Trader’s hired hunter. On his first night out, Nelson described some of the provisions packed in his trade canoe:

“We encamped at night, in a bend of the river near the “Pointe Clerc” Church. I assisted in putting up the Tent & spreading our oil cloth, which was our flooring. Our beds, consisting of 4 excellent blankets sowed up in sheeting, like a mattrass, & 2 to cover us all rolled in a piece of oil cloth, served us for seats. But we had to set cross-leg, tailor fashion, round our dish, when at meals. We kindled a fire out-doors & boiled our Tea Kettle, & the men hung their Tin Kettles on the tripied [tripod] to make their Soupe. Our Kitchen furniture was a Tea Kettle, a tin Kettle to cook in, a frying pan; tinned plates, pewter basins of about a pint for tea, knives, forks, spoons &c. all put in a very convenient travelling Basket. A liquor case containing Six flagons of Jamaica [Rum], Shrub & wine, besides other small Kegs of two Gallons each. Our provisions, tea, sugar, pork & biscuit of excellent quality & in plenty. With a little management we would have been well. But it is not easy to keep the Canadians from pilfering” (Nelson, 35).

The post hunter’s station camp has always been modest to austere in nature. In fleshing out this persona, it seemed there would be no need for an elaborate camp supplied by the goods carried in a canoe, other than those used while traveling up and down the River Raisin. My canoe, after all, only held two people with space for a couple of bales or crates in the middle.

The camp either consisted of a backcountry shelter or a two-place wedge tent, tent poles, two or three four-point blankets depending on weather, a small tin or brass kettle, and sometimes a felling ax, a two-gallon keg and an oil cloth canoe tarp filled out the “necessities.” And then there were the daily personal items: the Northwest gun, shot pouch, horn, belt ax, butcher knife and a hunting bag.

In addition to Nelson’s list, I depended on the trade goods inventory from David McCrea’s Montreal canoe, which left Michilimackinac in 1777 (Armour, At the Crossroads, 199-206) for additional guidance and corroboration. This is a “go-to primary resource” for this persona and Msko-waagosh, the Red Fox. It is not used as a “packing list” for a hunt, but rather to justify an individual item that was available at a trading post in the Great Lakes region of the Old Northwest Territory.

From the start, I never dealt with specifics as to the backstory of either Samuel or his hired hunter. The emphasis was always on the hunting and the taking of game in a period-correct manner. I added details only when necessary, just as the clerks’ journals did not spell out every action taken.

The simple pursuit was my main concern, the focus of my woodland being. And over time, I found I didn’t need an elaborate, documented backstory to enjoy the exhilaration generated from my humble time travels.

The secret to this success was incorporating common items into each historical scenario. In time, I found that what was “acceptable” depended on how I got to where I was: did I travel by canoe or did I walk in?

I also discovered that what worked best was to outline the scenario’s parameters before the hunting season. As in this day’s tale, the post hunter walked from Samuel’s trading post days before, so his material possessions, other than the basics for hunting: Northwest gun, shot pouch, etc., are limited to what he could carry or pack in to the brush shelter. My daily journals reflect these limitations until such time as the historical simulation is changed or amended.

Again, with regard to backstory details, I have never determined how far of a walk Samuel’s trading post is from the shelter. I don’t need to. The canoe travel is the same. When I was able to get on the River Raisin without fearing for my safety, I might paddle a hundred yards to set out decoys, or explore up or down river. The distance was irrelevant. What mattered was incorporating the River Raisin in that day’s sojourn.

Thus, for the canoe hunts, the goods listed by George Nelson are all acceptable, provided my character can justify packing his canoe with game and his provisions. That is to say, ten bales, eight crates and half a nest of brass kettles will not fit in a twelve-foot-long canoe. Common sense is a great companion to the living historian’s reliance on commonality.

My hunter hero’s journals reflect the austere life of a hunter. Now and again a hunter will mention traveling to and from a trading post or other place for a specific reason. It is no different than Tami asking me to run into town for milk, sugar or flour. Such journeys are a part of daily life now, just as they were in the 18th century.

Likewise, if the scenario is based on walking to and from the station camp from Samuel’s trading post, then the wedge tent, tent poles, crates, keg and oil cloth fall into the category of “excess baggage.” There was always the possibility of walking back to the trading post if a felling ax is needed. Here again, the clerks’ journals report sending goods, tools, etc. upon request.

The details are up to the individual traditional black powder hunter. The goal is the same, whether the historical simulation is a onetime affair or a continuation of exploits that cover the weeks or months of an entire hunting season. Those of us who are obsessed with this pastime seek hands-on answers to one simple question: “What was it really like to hunt, live and survive in the Old Northwest Territory?”

Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.

Posted in Deer Hunts, Hunting Camps, Persona, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“I’m not surprised…”

Geese ke-honked to the east, “Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk.” The sight of rhythmic wing beats left little doubt. Two ragged strings took flight. The birds gained altitude, honking all the while. “Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…”

“They’re turning north,” Bob whispered. “There’s fresh cut corn south of Austin Road,” he added, shaking his head. “We were afraid of that, but the morning’s young.” Counting birds was all the hunters sitting on the two benches could do.

About ten minutes later, a small flock rose above the eastern tree line. “Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…” Goose music churned up hearts. Arteries pumped. Fingers rested over modern safeties. My thumb traced lazy circles on the cock’s domed, jaw screw. A sharp English flint, changed and tested before leaving home, awaited an opportunity to release the death bees.

Those twelve formed a classic “V” and kept winging west. Whispered instructions passed among the four camo-clad men sitting on the crude bench behind the burlap screen suspended between two cedar posts, about a dozen paces to the left. The steady honking switched to a single “ke-honk” now and again. The twelve followed the rise of the hill, about forty yards up, well beyond “Old Turkey Feathers’” effective distance. All I could do was sit and watch and sigh quiet.

“TAKE ‘EM!” one of the men shouted. They jumped up on the command and shouldered expensive shotguns, two semi-autos, a side-by-side and an over-and-under, if I recall.

“BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM…” Three fired at the same time; the fellow closest to us took careful aim, then fired as the birds flared. I don’t recall how many got off a second shot, but nary a bird tumbled earthward. A naughty word or two rang out. Then plastic suppositories replaced spent ones and the gents sat down.

Hundreds of Canada geese rest on a private lake.

An hour or so after first light, a fog settled in, growing thicker and thicker by the minute. Two or three flights took off from the lake. Their ke-honks were mere noise in the hazy soup, but those voices headed north, just like the first two strings. Another anxious fifteen minutes passed.

“Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk…” Everyone perked up. Those ke-honks grew louder and louder. “I see them,” someone said as the single-wing wedge broke through the fog. “Heads down,” someone whispered.

A tear in the burlap in front of me offered a quick glimpse as the geese approached the base of the hill. They were about twenty yards up. With the Northwest gun’s muzzle up, I held the trigger as my thumb eased the cock back. I felt the sear bar settle into the tumbler’s full cock notch. “A clean kill, or a clean miss. Your will, O Lord,” I whispered.

I’ll show up with Old Turkey Feathers…

This hunt was long ago, perhaps a year or so before muzzle loading shotguns were required to use non-toxic shot. I laughed about it while I wrote last Saturday’s blog post, and thought I should share the tale as a Mini-Monday post.

The annual banquet for the Jack Elliott Chapter of Ducks Unlimited was the night before. Bob is a life-long friend; we graduated high school together and have shared hunts over the years. He stopped by our table and asked, “Would you like to go goose hunting in the morning?”

For decades I have said, “If you ask me to go hunting, I’ll show up dressed in period-correct clothing, toting Old Turkey Feathers and the necessary fixings for whatever game we will be chasing.” And that’s just what I did that morning.

We gathered in the drive behind our host’s log cabin. He was crippled up with rheumatoid arthritis, and could no longer hold a gun or hunt, but he relished hearing others enjoy hunting is property. He passed on some years ago.

Our host was the sportsman’s sportsman. His ashes are spread on the ground he loved…with a few sprinkled on the neighbor’s side of the fence. He told Bob the neighbor always accused him of hunting his property; he respected his neighbors and never crossed property lines. But it seems our host got in one last laugh on his mistaken neighbor.

My outfit drew questioning looks and a smirk or two, to say nothing of the long-barreled flintlock, but everyone was polite. We walked up the hill to the two benches. Four sat on the north bench and Bob and I took the south bench with me on the far right. He understood the concern for the touch hole’s dangerous flash. This was pass shooting at its best.

As is my habit, I can’t place the “Kla-whoosh-BOOM!” at the end of the story; the reason will be obvious, dear reader. So if you like the stories, but don’t like the taking of wild game, read to “TAKE ‘EM!”, then skip to the paragraph that starts, “The geese were gone…”

The conversation was great as we waited to see and hear geese. Then that last single-wing wedge flew our way. The fog kept them close to the ground with the birds strung out to the north. The southern-most goose came last, just to my right. “TAKE ‘EM!” brought me to my feet, but I had to wait on my bird and hope it didn’t flare beyond Old Turkey Feathers’ effective distance.

“BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM…” the modern guns roared. The geese didn’t flare. The Northwest gun’s turtle sight chased the last goose. An old duck hunter once shared his secret for hitting ducks…“Butt, beak, bam,” I thought as I swung through the bird. “Kla-whoosh-BOOM!”

Bob chuckled. I think the thunder and fire scared a couple of the fellows. The goose’s neck went limp. The death tumble began…

The geese were gone. Shells clattered. And the salutations began. The farthest gent slapped the back of the fellow to his right and said, “Great shot!”

“I wasn’t aiming at that goose,” the man replied. With that, the gent leaned forward and looked to the next man in line, saying something like, “That was a great shot!”

“I missed mine, too,” was the response. I don’t remember the names of the fellows, other than Bob, but the gent spoke the last man’s first name. He offered the same response, “That wasn’t mine.” With that, the four turned slow and gazed at our bench. Each man had a serious look on his face. “Bob?” was all someone said.

Bob had a big grin on his face. He’s been an advocate for me for as long as I can remember, and he was as thrilled with my shot as I was. “Nope, wasn’t me. That was Denny.” After an “I don’t believe that,” they all were gracious with their congratulatory comments.

As was their habit, everyone cased their guns, put them in their vehicles and walked to the cabin. Bob knocked, we slipped our boots off, and we all walked in. The host sat in his lift chair. Each of us thanked him for blessing us with that morning’s hunt, and he thanked us for coming. Then he commented on hearing the trade gun’s thunder and asked if we had any luck. With a grin and a twinkle in his eye, Bob told him the story. The host smiled and said, “I’m not surprised. Maybe you all should hunt with a flintlock.”

Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.

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Geese are my only hope…

Yellow maple leaves fluttered earthward. Elk moccasins hustled along a churned up doe trail. The hasty stalk skirted a small knoll, then crossed two wagon ruts. Tree-to-tree the hired post hunter wove his way through a half dozen black oaks, but paused at the last red oak before the sedge grass. The moon’s last quarter illuminated the thin fog that veiled the flooded marsh. The air smelled of fall: the acrid aroma of damp, discarded leaves, a hint of wild mint mixed with a twinge of night crawlers.

Seventy paces distant, the dewy branches of a gnarly box elder tree glistened in the hazy moonlight. The tree was rooted on solid ground that eased to the edge of the calf-deep water. The woodsman kept to the doe trail that circled the box elder on the high side, then he turned south, stopping a few trade-gun lengths from the water. That point of land squished a bit, not mucky, oozy or saturated.

Msko-waagosh, the returned white captive, sits behind a red cedar tree watching for wood ducks.

Before leaving camp, the backcountry hunter rolled a ripped fragment of canoe tarp and tied it to his bedroll with two buckskin thongs. In the midst of the thick, tangled marsh grasses, he freed the tarp, covered the usual spot, eased his bedroll into the middle and pulled canary grass over his being.  

“Wack, wack, wack, wack, wack,” called a hen mallard from a distant pond. An owl hooted its bedtime soliloquy, in the hardwoods, near the great oak where the only colony of grey squirrels in the area lived. “Hoo, Hoo…Hoo, Hooooo…” The hired hunter smirked at the thought that ran through is head, “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you?”

In a humble moment, as the eastern horizon yellowed, Samuel the Trader’s hired man whispered a woodland prayer. “A clean kill, or a clean miss. Your will, O Lord…”

Waterfowl Season

Each hunting season holds fond memories. Early on in my traditional black powder hunting addiction, the hunting seasons were more defined. Waterfowl season opened before small game, which included pheasants, quail, squirrels and rabbits. I hunted in that order, pausing for white-tailed deer in mid-November. Wild turkeys were a pipe dream back then.

On the south side of the farm, a series of swamps held water by mid-September. The puddle ducks roosted a mile to the east in a large marsh that no one ever hunted. After first light, a hen mallard or two would call, then small flocks took to the air, flying west in search of a wilderness breakfast bar. The string of ponds extended for several miles, so there were many options.

That point, and a few other prime spots, offered a good view of incoming ducks and close-in shots for the cylinder-bored Northwest gun. Although not period-correct, I discovered three or five decoys, spread apart, doubled the chances of taking a duck home. More blocks and the birds winged on to safer waters.

I never set up in the same location twice in seven days, and I skipped days here and there, usually when the refrigerator held a couple ducks. In those early years, lead shot was legal. When the non-toxic rule came to be, muzzle loaders were exempted—for a couple of seasons. I didn’t hunt the first year of non-toxic shot for black powder guns. An alternative to lead did not exist. In essence, “Old Turkey Feathers” was banned from duck and goose hunting. I was angry, as you might expect.

At a muzzle loading sporting clays event, I got to talking with Joe Ehlinger. He shot double flintlock shotguns and loved grouse hunting. He was a champion skeet and trap competitor at the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association’s national shoots in Friendship, Indiana.

In our conversations, I lamented about not being able to hunt ducks and geese as I always had. Joe smiled, and told me not to worry, he had a solution. At the time, the Bismuth Shot Company asked him to test their contribution to the non-toxic mix in his muzzle loading shotguns. Bismuth shot had just been approved, he said, but too late to make that fall’s waterfowl regulation handbook. He gave me the proper paperwork to carry and a left-over bottle of the bismuth shot the company supplied for his testing.

We talked about my regular lead shot load. Bismuth is about ten percent lighter than lead, so he suggested a modest increase to my shot load component. As I recall, I tested three shots at the pattern board, based on Joe’s recommendation. I saw no difference in the patterning between lead and bismuth.

The post hunter kneels to pick up a downed wood duck.

The next fall I purchased an eight-pound jug of bismuth shot. The price was ten dollars a pound. I still have about four pounds, two-plus decades later. As has always been my practice, when I switch game species, I pull my bismuth loads and save the shot—those odd-shaped pellets might as well be gold-plated, because that’s how I treat them.

I grew up hunting ducks and geese on the River Raisin, too. In recent years, more hunters are “floating” the river, sky-busting and driving off the waterfowl. A couple groups seem to think they own the river. I can’t afford shotgun holes in my canoe, let alone my person. The hassle isn’t worth it.

Waterfowl season opened this morning, but the hired post hunter didn’t go out. Not because he doesn’t want to, he simply has nowhere to waterfowl hunt until the soy beans are cut. The watering hole does not bring ducks in. The standing water in the huckleberry swamp holds wood ducks, but the mucky bottom and quick sand pockets make retrieving a downed bird too dangerous. Geese are my only hope, for now…

Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.

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The Gobbler Roasts the Same

Buffalo-hide moccasins still-hunted north. Intermittent gusts dislodged snow. At the wild apple that grew on the south edge of the cedar grove, wild turkey tracks zigged and zagged in and out of the border trees. Msko-waagosh stood, his eyes unraveling the birds’ morning search for sustenance. He needed to eat, too.

Around the bend he paused, tracking by sight only until the wandering trails crested the little knoll. To proceed farther created the risk of spooking the flock, should they be close ahead. He turned back, then stalked into the grove, skirting the west edge of an overgrown gully. The air smelled of wet cedar, cold and crisp.

Msko-waagosh, the returned white captive, paused and tracked the wild turkeys with his eyes.

With a pause interrupting each step, he crept down the hill, then lingered under another old apple tree. The great cottonwood towered sixty paces to the left. The mouth of the deep gully lined with box elder and wild cherry trees was to his right. He knelt, which gave him a fair view through the dead cedar branches, ahead and up the hillside. With nary a bronze beauty in sight, he eased on.

A hundred cautious paces down the doe trail, three wild cherry trees grew in a tight arch. Snow covered the bushes on either side of this nest. An inner voice told him, “Sit here! Do not go on!” The returned white captive did not move, struggling to interpret the premonition. A few minutes later, he decided to heed his wilderness instincts. His left moccasin cleared the snow from the grass. He slipped the bedroll from his shoulders, adjusted it against two of the trees, then sat.

Msko-waagosh checked the firelock’s prime, then eased the lock under his right arm, protecting it from falling snow. Deep in the trade gun’s bore, the death bees waited, perched upon two red oak leaves, rolled into a ball the size of a common death sphere, and under another, all tamped tight on a charge of black powder.

Perhaps twenty minutes later, a heavy wind whipped the cedar grove. Snow clumps flew, looking like the middle of a blizzard were it not for sunlight streaming through the waving tree tops. The gale ebbed. Then, as if an apparition, a dark shadow marched on the next doe trail to the west. Msko-waagosh did not move. “Lord, by your grace grant a clean kill or a clean miss,” he mouthed without showing his breath in the cold.

Do as they did…

Shooting a smoothbore flintlock seems popular of late. It wasn’t always this way. Many forum posts and a few magazine articles have addressed various aspects of the ballistics involved. Each has its own perspective and message, but the common thread is how to approach the performance of a modern shotgun.  I have no argument with any of these musings. However, I march to a different drummer, as regular readers know.

The essence of traditional black powder hunting is figuring out what our forefathers did to survive in their wilderness world, and then take to the field to experience what they considered common place. These simple pursuits start by defining what resources they had at hand, duplicating those items and putting them to the test under first-hand conditions in the wilderness classroom.

This is not meant to be critical, but my hunter heroes do not mention chronographs, shot cups, Teflon-coated patches or the like—at least I’ve never found those items in the journal passages I’ve studied. And upon further examination, those “modern necessities” are never listed in any 18th-century trade goods inventory, either.

Now and again, one of these savvy old woodsmen will mention game getting away. They usually don’t say why, or tell of upping a powder charge, or patterning their load at the range. They learned from everyday living, good or bad. If they made a mistake, it could cost them their life, or in a lesser way, they went hungry.

That said, when I decide to use ancient methodology listed in a woodsman’s memoir, I test it out prior to depending upon it. Take the leaf and grass wadding that has become standard fare for all three of my alter egos over the last few years. I feel a responsibility to the game that I chase to make sure those loads kill in a humane and effective manner. I test them, just as the modern folks test their pet discoveries.

Further, I try to perfect the natural wadding loads that I use. Although I have not found specific documentation to support this practice, I believe at some point my hunter heroes tested loads, if by no other means than common observation. When I down a deer, I say a blessing, then before I begin the business of the forest, I study the wound, the effect of the death sphere and recover it, if possible.

John Tanner eluded to this power of observation in one of my favorite passages:

“…I had but seven balls left, but as there was no trader near, I could not at present get any more. With those seven I killed twenty moose and elk. Often times, in shooting an elk or a moose, the ball does not pass quite through, and may be used again…” (Tanner, 115).

His observation is that “often times…the ball does not pass quite through…” I would suggest that in Tanner’s experience sometimes it did. There is no question he understood the performance of his arm under a real-life hunting circumstances. Another time he talks of shooting at marks:

“We fixed a mark at a distance of one hundred yards, and I shot first, placing my ball nearly in the center. Not one of either party came near me…” (Ibid, 100).

With that practical knowledge, I often wonder if he backed down his powder charge a bit to ensure that those precious round balls did not pass through his family’s meat source. At the least, he understood how his gun performed out to one hundred yards, perhaps farther.

The point I wish to add to the current discussion is that there is an alternative to applying ballistic science to shooting a smoothbore. That alternative is to learn to use the arm as it was intended, loaded with the black powder measured by the trader’s handful and the round balls bought with prime beaver pelts, then produce an effective load using the natural materials found in the glade. My goal is, and has been, to live within those parameters, to give fair chase and provide wild game for the table in the manner of my forefathers.

Yes, I can kill wild turkeys with a Northwest gun stoked with cardboard and fiber wads soaked with special lubricants, but I can take that same turkey with a trade gun wadded with rolled red oak leaves plucked from a scrub tree. The gobbler roasts the same, but the challenge is greater, so is the satisfaction, and those two seasonings make the difference.

Msko-waagosh, called Red Fox in the English tongue, walks through a snowy wilderness with a wild turkey slung over his shoulder.

…three wild turkeys walked single file on the doe trail, twenty-three paces distant. With his right hand back, he brought the cock to attention. All three heads dropped down. The Northwest gun eased up. Then the three appeared a dozen paces to the south, beyond the trade gun’s effective distance.

In an instant, two more turkeys marched over the little rise, just as the first three had. The second bird paused as the first turkey’s head passed behind a cedar trunk. The turtle sight pulled right, then gripped that turkey’s eye. The English flint lunged. Sparks flew. Black powder flashed.

“Kla-whoosh-BOOM!”

The muzzle belched fire. A white, sulfurous stench billowed forth, engulfing the fowl. In an instant, Msko-waagosh scrambled to his feet. Long moccasin strides ate away the distance, then stood upon the bird’s purple legs, preventing its escape. In the silence of the wilderness, the returned white captive gave thanks for the blessing of that November day, in the Year of our Lord, 1796.

Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.

Posted in Research, Turkey Hunts, Wilderness Classroom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“It looks too new…”

Deer ears twitched. A second pair, not as alert, plodded behind, then paused. The larger doe watched, then nibbled on a tender twig. She commenced walking north on the mid-hill trail with what little wind there was at her rump. The air was warm and humid, more like early October; unseasonable for late-November. There was no overwhelming woodland aroma to speak of, other than the hint of impending rain and perhaps a twinge of moldy cedar duff, cleared away with a buffalo-hide moccasins an hour before.

Msko-waagosh pausing in the midst of a still-hunt for squirrels.

The pair continued on, neither of interest to Msko-waagosh. A fox squirrel chattered away in the forked red oak, the crooked one that grew at the edge of the huckleberry swamp. To the west, a blue jay screamed. Three other jays flew in that direction, navigating through the fog that hung over the tangle. Two swooped low over the brush and gray, branchless tree trunks; the third stayed high.

The River Raisin skimmed over with ice early, but now flowed free. Canada geese ke-honked overhead now and again, some winging to the river, some leaving and flying east. Then a single muzzle blast erupted on the Raisin’s far side. The musket’s thunder echoed over the dried sedge grass, Indian reeds and cattails, silencing the geese. The returned white captive’s thumb gripped the firelock’s cock, realizing he was not alone in his wilderness haven on that Friday in 1794.

A pair of Sandhill cranes passed above with quiet swooshes. They uttered not a sound. Over a twenty-minute span, the forest grayed. The haze thickened. The air chilled. The two does were long gone. A string of fourteen cranes came from the south, chortling as they flew. About then the mist began. Ten minutes later, an easy rain pattered on the damped leaves.

The trade gun’s lock slid back under Msko-waagosh’s right arm. The stock rested against his shot pouch and horn. Once again he picked up the split pouch that rested in the duff beside his right thigh. He removed the folded page, pulled out the brass lead-holder and added his thoughts to the short sentences written just after first light…

Everyday Wear and Tear

Authenticity is a key element of any traditional black powder hunt. The degree of devotion to a real-to-life portrayal rests with the individual. Some traditional hunters establish a basic level of period-correct—“this is okay”—while others go through a constant cycle of research and evaluation. For the latter living historians, the goal is constant improvement of one’s time-traveling adventures.

Another key element is a reliance on in-the-field experience. For these folks, the forest becomes a living, breathing and ever-changing wilderness classroom, a laboratory for experimentation, testing and learning. If a given accoutrement does not perform in the midst of a simple pursuit, then questions arise.

The worn deer-hair cones on the bottom of Msko-waagosh's shot pouch.

For example, Msko-waagosh’s shot pouch is adorned with deer-hair cones, just as the original pouch was. When new, the pouch looked new. It did not have the trail-worn patina of the original, especially the deer-hair cones. The original cones sported broken stubble, not long flowing red hairs. Further, if carried on the right side, the leading cones had shorter stubble than the back cones.

Several years of hard hunting by the returned captive has left the front cones of his pouch in the same condition displayed by the original artifact. Everyday wear and tear modified the new creation so that its condition mirrored that of the 18th-century survivor. For me, this is the essence of wilderness classroom learning—hands-on experience mirrors journal passages or surviving artifacts of long ago.

Over the years, a recurring topic of discussion among re-enactors is the validity of surviving museum artifacts. One group follows the philosophy that if it survived as a “collected trophy,” such as in Sir John Caldwell’s material goods, then it must be authentic. The second group seems a tad bit skeptical, often citing the “It looks too new” impression as a point of concern.

I know this sounds silly, but one criterion that I try to apply to any item when seeking potential artifacts for one of my personas is a careful examination for honest wear and tear. I want an accoutrement that was used in the field, not a pristine example that should have the price tag still attached—with apologies to Minnie Pearl.

Likewise, I’m not a fan of artificial aging, other than now and then adding some wear and tear to get past the “It looks too new” stage. I don’t want to use a shot pouch that is falling apart and needs to be handled with white cotton gloves, because it looks two-centuries old.

One of the many goals of this pastime is to learn how to survive on a daily basis using the clothing and accoutrements that our forefathers relied upon. A number of times I have discovered that “common knowledge” explanations that go along with specific artifacts don’t work in a backcountry circumstance. The premise of the hypothesis makes sense and thus is accepted as fact, but in reality, the theory does not hold up under wilderness laboratory tests. Yet, these failures lead to discoveries of what does work, or how a hunter hero “might have used” the item with success.

Once again, I was rummaging through Jonathan Alder’s journal in search of an unrelated passage when I came across this gem:

“Barshaw, the sister of Big Turtle (she was somewhat older than I), was a squaw of great ingenuity and handy with her needle on all kinds of fine work. She made and sold a great many moccasins that was very ingeniously covered with beads and porcupine quills of different colors. She would make pictures of birds, squirrels, deer, or bear and then very readily sell them to the French and British at a high price…” (Alder, 103)

I’ve read over that passage a dozen times. I have it marked for the reference to moccasins with beads and porcupine quills, but I never tumbled to what Alder was saying: Barshaw was making genuine Native American artifacts for the tourist trade, i.e. the French and British military garrisons. It’s amazing how one sentence can change one’s living history perspective!

The upshot of this statement from 1792 is that I now have to take a look at some of these items in collections attributed to British military folks stationed in the Great Lakes region—Caldwell, Foster and others. There are some that “look too new,” with no sign of wear from usage. That changes the complexion of those surviving artifacts, and unfortunately there is no going back and asking about the circumstances of their collection.

In addition, Alder’s revelation supports the practice of relying on existing museum examples that show noticeable use. The proof is in re-creating an accoutrement and then heading to the field to use it in a real life circumstance. Over time, the wear and tear should mirror that of the original. If “It looks too new,” then there might be cause for concern…

Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.

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“The Finest British Soap…”

Cinnamon-colored hair rippled. A white tail flicked twice. Green oak leaves fluttered, coaxed alive by a warm, southwest breeze. The doe browsed on lush, belly-deep, dew-laden prairie grass. Yellow spears burst forth from the eastern tree line. Long shadows shrouded the meadow.

The woodsman sat with his back to a modest red oak. The Northwest gun rested on his trail-worn buckskin leggins. On this late-August morn, Samuel the Trader’s hired hunter watched, learned and planned for fall’s first chilly days. It was the Year of our Lord, 1794.

The doe munched in lazy circles. She raised her head to a silent count of six. Every second or third look-about, the matron gazed at the thick underbrush that lined the grassy knob’s western border. The hunter assumed a fawn or two rested there. Plus, the spaces between the shag-bark hickory, the wild cherry and the broken-down apple tree marked the two trails used by the bucks that entered the meadow, starting in early September. Perhaps…?

The hired trading post hunter sat against a red oak tree and looked to the north.

Not long after, the first patch of sunlight dappled the south side of the knoll. The deer meandered that way, looking like she wanted to bed and bask in the sun’s warmth. A hungry mosquito buzzed about the hunter’s right ear. He twitched as the doe did. The buzzing stopped…then started again…then faded.

The little beastie hovered over the bare skin of his right wrist. The doe stood in the sunlight, surveying the cedar grove and the woodsman’s oak lair. The mosquito landed, took two steps, then leaned forward. With the stealth of a great backcountry provider, the hired hunter’s left hand stalked his right. Two fingers lunged. The mosquito rolled into a dark brown smudge.

With a steady cadence, the doe returned to the shadows, ambling slow to the east. To the northwest, between the wild cherry and the shag-bark hickory, another deer appeared, walking slow, showing no concern. It paused, surveyed the meadow, then chose a path a few paces west of the dark line in the silvery dew. This doe browsed as the first, lazy circles, passing in an out of the sunlit patches. At the knoll crest, another mosquito died by the same two fingers, this time on the back of the hunter’s right hand. It left nary a trace or a corpse…

David McCrea’s Crate No. 36

That 18th-century time-traveling adventure was a simple scout, a chance to get into the woods for an hour before the writing commenced. The goal was observation and whimsy, an opportunity to satisfy the call of the wild goose that beckons my soul to the forest as summer winds down.

Years ago, wedge upon wedge of Canada geese flew over the homestead on their way to a casual loafing on the River Raisin. This was exercise time for fledgling birds, and each string uttered its share of ke-honks, a haunting melody that teases my being, or rather that of the hired post hunter. Of late, the geese are few and far between, but now and again goose music reminds a lowly woodsman that the time soon will be at hand.

Joseph Doddridge captured the essence of this calling in one of my favorite passages taken from his memoir, although the weather is different:

“…As soon as the leaves were pretty well down and the weather became rainy, accompanied by light snows, these men, after acting the part of husbandmen, so far as the state of warfare permitted them to do so, soon began to feel that they were hunters. They became uneasy at home. Everything about them became disagreeable. The house was too warm. The feather bed too soft, and even the good wife was not thought for the time being a proper companion. The mind of the hunter was wholly occupied with the camp and chase…” (Doddridge, 98 – 99).

A few days ago I grabbed Jonathan Alder’s journal from the shelf in response to a living history telephone conversation. As an aside, I heard Canada geese ke-honking as they passed over the homestead—how appropriate. After finding a specific passage to illustrate a point, I set Alder’s journal to the left on my desk. An afterthought with regards to that discussion sent me leafing through the narrative in search of Alder’s adoption account, which is standard fare in almost all captive recollections.

As so often happens, the search for an answer to one question either poses another or produces an unexpected golden nugget. Such was the case with the cleansing preparation for Alder’s adoption:

“…The day before the adoption, my Indian mother had gathered a large amount of herbs of various kinds, and that morning she put them into a large brass kettle and strained the water all out and cooled it to about blood warm. Then, she took and stripped me stark naked and commenced rubbing me with soap, some of the finest British soap that could be bought…” (Alder, 45).

The hired trading post hunter returns to camp with a wild turkey. He placed it on a bale of trade goods that sat on Crate No. 36.

In “Crazy Thought Time…” I posted about the two fur-trade crates I made some years ago. The emphasis was on crate No. 47, which contained iron goods. Over the years, that crate’s contents have formed the basis of several published works. Not once have I given due consideration to the contents of crate No. 36: “84 lb. Castile Soap.”

For multi-day traditional hunts, the hired hunter carries a small linen sack with personal items, which include half of a four-ounce bar of Kirk’s Castile Soap. The company dates back to 1839; not quite 1790, but close. I have a daughter who makes soaps, so perhaps in the future a raw bar of homemade soap will replace the modern variety.

To put this quantity in perspective, at four ounces per bar, that’s 336 bars of soap. Count the bars on your grocer’s shelves to get a better picture of this volume of soap. Of course the fur-trade-era soap did not come in a fancy package, have rounded corners or the company logo stamped on both sides. And oddly enough crate No. 36 is about the right size for that quantity of bars with room for straw packing.

A quick search of other trade inventories or clerk’s ledgers finds no mention of soap or the trading value of that commodity, expressed in peltry. More research is required, which is part of the fun of living history—and part of the frustration, too. Thus, one answer generates one additional question. In addition, James A. Hanson’s The Encyclopedia of Trade Goods Volume 6: Provisions of the Fur Trade offers a brief discussion of soaps available in the trade, but again, no values.

In such situations, I tend to get down on myself for missing such an important detail, but this is not the first time, and it won’t be the last. However, the value of this little golden nugget rests in the use by Alder’s adopted mother and the fact that she prized “some of the finest British soap that could be bought…”

This discovery opens the door for Msko-waagosh to possess and/or use British trade soap or an American variety. As Mi-ki-naak’s material culture is developing, it is clear that his adoptive family dealt with the French traders. So the French journals might hold an answer.

And if Mi-ki-naak takes on the mantel of an aged hunter reminiscing of his exploits in 1763, then his only option is British trade goods available at the year of telling. Oh, my, another issue that must be solved. For now, I’m satisfied with learning about the finest British soap that was shipped in crate No. 36.

Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.

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As Seasons Pass

Soft crunches…a steady cadence…upwind… Msko-waagosh paused. A foreleg stepped with no sound, a crackle, then the left foreleg stepped. An ear twitched. The doe’s head disappeared behind a thick oak tree. The returned white captive, taught the ways of the forest his adopted Ojibwe father, dropped to his right knee, taking the form of a bush, more than that of a man.

The doe, mature and healthy, angled down the steep slope, well beyond the distance of Msko-waagosh’s Northwest gun. She paused at the tangle of raspberry switches, testing the air with her nose while she surveyed the hillside. Twenty-five paces upwind of where she lingered, three hefty red cedar trees leaned against a fourth. The shallow roots of those trees gave way one gusty night after a March ice storm. Other cedars in that area lost tops or forked limbs.

With a flick of her tail, the doe began walking again. She stopped under the last cedar that grew at the edge of the big swamp. Again she looked about and sniffed. With one last glance to the south, into the wind, she started splashing along the trail that passed through the sedge grass. Brown eyes, those of an experienced forest tenant, watched and waited.

Msko-waagosh watches a doe from his cedar lair.

Mid-morning on that overcast November day in the Year of our Lord, 1794, Msko-waagosh grew restless. His quest for fresh venison began at first light. Buffalo-hide moccasins hustled up the rise and crossed the clearing. At the hardwoods, he paused, then started stalking on the trail that led east over the thin mound of earth that separated the nasty thicket from the huckleberry swamp. He spent the day’s first hours tucked in a rotting oak top that crashed down many years before. He thought perhaps the downed cedar mess on the east side of the ridge might prove a better location.

A dozen minutes passed. Msko-waagosh stood, stretched and continued his still-hunt to the windfall, satisfied the doe was the sole traveler at that moment. His left moccasin cleared away leaves. He eased the bedroll into the corner of “the rabbit form,” as he called it, sat cross-legged and checked the trade gun’s prime.

When he discovered the tented cedar trees, he spent time dragging cedar tops and limbs to the south of the opening, stacking them to form a lair that hid his deathly shape. That season, the tops retained their browning foliage. With the passage of seasons, the improvement changed to an entanglement of grey, dead branches, yet it still offered considerable protection from wary eyes. Comfortable and content, Msko-waagosh waited until early afternoon…

Fallen Timbers…

The opening paragraphs of what was to be last Friday’s blog post waited on the computer screen. I went to the basement on a fact checking mission. While down there, Tami hollered. With my bad hearing, I didn’t make out what she said, but the tone was that of great distress. I ran upstairs, thinking something had happened to her. Rain pounded the house roof. The wind howled, and a quick, passing glance through the kitchen window saw a white sheet of horizontal rain with an occasional green, leafy limb flying by.  

She told of seeing the steel-grey clouds, one group coming from the east and one from the west. She said she went out onto the back deck as the fronts collided, right over the house. Sheets of rain fell as she came inside. “Then the wind started,” she said with grave concern as she watched the torrent.

We live on the top of a hill, overlooking the village in the distance. We have a birds-eye view of all manner of weather, good or bad. We’ve had 80 mph winds before, but never pushing so much rain; three-and-a-half inches in a half hour, which is equivalent to over an inch of snow a minute from a Michigander’s perspective. A maple limb came down in our yard, and down the hill another blocked the road, and of course the power went off. We were fortunate.

Msko-waagosh touches what remains of a favorite red oak tree.

Once we checked the house and touched base with our neighbors—with masks and social distancing. Then my thoughts turned to the North-Forty, but with that much rain, I didn’t want to tear up the wagon trails with the tractor. I finally made it in yesterday.

Broken trees, all large, block the wagon trail in multiple locations, most leaning or tented and dangerous to an old sawyer. I shared photos with Tami, explaining what was down and where.

As we talked, I put dots on the property map. There are 70 trees of varying species broken, tipped or uprooted—and those are just the ones I could see from the tractor. The dots form two lines that suggest two tornado tails were aloft.

A broken read oak blocks the wagon trail.

Some of the tipped or damaged trees will live, some will not. All will be difficult to clean up, taking months. “Sad” was the word I used to describe the scenes, but such destruction is the nature of change in the glade.

I emailed a fellow living historian, “We can re-enact Fallen Timbers,” tongue in cheek. That episode of American history is thirty years in the future as far as his persona goes. But as so often happens, a few days before we were talking about Fallen Timbers, speculating on fighting in debris left by a tornado. The Good Lord has an uncanny sense of humor, or so it seems.

August 20, 1794, General Anthony Wayne and the Legion of the United States attacked the Native American confederacy under Blue Jacket, Little Turtle and other tribal chiefs close to the Maumee River near what is now Maumee, Ohio. Wayne’s defeat of the confederacy led to the Treaty of Greenville signed in 1795. For this living historian, the timing of this storm is ironic.

In our discussion, I referenced Jonathan Alder, taken captive in May of 1782 at the age of 9 years. Of late, Alder’s writings have taken a back seat to John Tanner, the prime inspiration for Msko-waagosh, and James Smith, Mi-ki-naak’s mentor. But Alder’s narrative tells of the confederacy’s attack on Fort Recovery and also gives a first-hand account of the events of Fallen Timbers, seen through the eyes of white captive.

“…Of those that was surrounded,” Alder stated, “some broke for the fallen timber while some plunged into the river. What did not get shot swam across and made their escape, while others who stood their ground and fought were either killed or taken prisoner…” (Alder, 115).

Careful North-Forty Considerations…

"Yellow Tree," included in many journal entries, lies on the ground, blocking the wagon trail.

After the disappointment and mourning passes—one of the red oaks that came down was the “Yellow Tree”—the normal reaction is to start cutting and hauling brush; get the job done! But this is a time to step back and consider the circumstances. There are a number of perspectives that must be pondered.

Clearing the access roads is the first priority of the modern property manager. Diseases or bugs entering the tree wounds are a concern, and mitigating that potential for additional damage is important. Habitat management issues arise, too, as some debris is best left alone. While some landowners consider rotting tree tops unsightly, they represent spacious condominiums for the forest’s smaller tenants. The question is, “Are those tenants desirable, or undesirable?”

Land managed for abundant wildlife comes with its own set of considerations. In the past, the removal of the autumn olive, an invasive species, resulted in burn piles as a method of dealing with the uprooted bushes. Then two years ago, I began piling the skeletons to create “rabbitat” to offer shelter for cottontail rabbits. The rabbit population is increasing, despite red-tailed hawks, foxes and coyotes.

And then there is the living history perspective.  Ice, snow and a fallen limb destroyed Msko-waagosh’s wigwam. A couple of years before that, an oak limb crushed the post hunter’s brush shelter, the one fashioned after Meshach Browning’s description. Mi-ki-naak’s peaked wigwam is not completed, and a young wild cherry with rot issues tipped over in front of it.

A young wild cherry tree was tipped over in front of Mi-ki-naak's peaked wigwam.

When I saw the foliage, my first impression was one of paranoia: “Why do trees keep falling on my camps?” I muttered. But when I drew close, the tree was well in front of the Mi-ki-naak’s future abode. Now the question is, “Do I clean up the cherry, or leave it as a reminder of the storm?”

A number of tornadoes ripped through southern Michigan, northern Indiana and Ohio on a balmy spring evening in 1965. My dad told of hearing “the rumbling of the freight train” as one passed to the south. We were young and in the basement.

There are several pieces of sheet metal that still remain where they fell on that Palm Sunday. These are remembrances of the past. Now and again, one of my alter egos deviates from his time period and says a prayer in honor of those who died in that storm. And likewise, our dining room table, fashioned in the Shaker style, was made from a red oak that was damaged, but survived “the Palm Sunday tornadoes,” as they are known locally.

Using natural cover is a hallmark of all three of my personas—no tree stands or “people boxes” for these old codgers—just the blessings of the forest, used to their best advantage.  Each of the storm’s victims must stand on its own merits in a history-based sense, weighed against proper land management ethics.

In addition to wildlife habitat and historic building materials, these are the lairs for future pursuits, just as the three tipped cedar trees and the adjacent tops formed a wilderness niche that spawned outdoor tales over many years. It’s just frustrating that there are so many of them, but as the seasons pass, the blessings of the storm will be evident as the cherished moments add up…

Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.

Posted in Deer Hunts, General, Living History, Worth thinking about... | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Crazy Thought Time…”

A Tad Late Tuesday Missive…

Three deer matted frail grass. The largest depression rested higher up the hill than the other two—bedding not more than the night prior. “A doe and her fawns,” the hired hunter whispered, his breath drifting in a tiny cloud. He grounded the butt of his Northwest gun, knelt and surveyed the hillside from the vantage point of the old doe.

The late October air sliced through the linen hunting shirt, the wool, sleeveless waist coat and the osnaburg trade shirt. An involuntary shudder flew through his arms and torso. He decided as he crossed the ridge that he would unroll the crimson blanket once he found a suitable place to sit and await darkness. A single drip fell from his nose. Geese ke-honked to the south, winging their way to the River Raisin. “Too cold for October,” he whispered, “too cold.”

Twenty paces distant, at the crest of the cedar-covered knoll, an uprooted red cedar tree lay on the ground. The shallow roots, still filled with dirt, fanned upward, more than two trade gun lengths broad. The top’s full boughs, flush with fine, brown needles, pointed downhill. The obstruction was the only hindrance from that vantage point.

A dozen judicious whacks of the ax cleaved a lair where the trunk once met the ground. A buffalo-hide moccasin cleared the duff. The woodsman draped the trade blanket over his left shoulder and under his right, pulled it tight around his rump, and sat cross-legged. He checked the smoothbore’s prime and eased back.

A grey squirrel meandered cedar to cedar, well up, hidden in the shadows. Bouncing boughs marked its progress as it worked its way back to the solitary red oak that held its nest, a large clump of leaves, tight packed and woven among wispy branches. The backcountry hunter considered the squirrel, but passed, hoping a wild turkey might wander by on the way to its roost.

Snow, round and hard like ice balls, began popping through the overhead branches. A cold gust brought big flakes, slow at first, then a torrent like a spring downpour. Twenty minutes passed. The ground had a white coating with black circles under each cedar tree. Snowflakes gathered in the blanket folds.

A wild turkey hen wanders through the red cedar trees.

Then a bronze silhouette herky-jerked into view from behind the root fan, thirty-plus paces to the south. Another appeared, and another, and another. Two wandered in from beyond the tree-top foliage, perhaps twenty-five paces out. In all, fifteen wild turkeys milled about, clucking and popping and acting nervous. “The young ones first snow,” he thought as he squinted and avoided eye contact.

The Northwest gun, its firelock tucked under the trade blanket, near the black shoots that marked its value in beaver, remained across the woodsman’s hunt-stained buckskin leggins.

It was too dark to unleash the death bees, too risky, and experience dictated the birds would putt and fly at the first attempt to raise the trade gun. “No, it is best to sit, and wait until total darkness, then slip away,” he thought as the farthest hen flapped her big wings and rose up into oblivion…

Three Words of Importance

Happenstance sometimes traps a forest tenant. Such was the case on that cold October evening in 1796. The first turkey was too far out, the others added piercing eyes, all keen on detecting danger as the flock came to roost. The two that walked just beyond the cedar’s top were doable, if a half dozen variables all fell into place in a matter of heartbeats. Once again, a gamble that was too great to take.

Another factor that never makes its way into the post hunter’s journal entries, thanks to a healthy dose of measured compromise, is the influence of modern game laws. It was after legal shooting hours. That circumstance happens often, having game come in after hours. Over the years, depending on the situation, I prefer to sit and wait out the forest tenant, either hoping it leaves before I must get up or, as in the case of the wild turkeys, the birds fly up.

Being pinned down in the wilderness classroom affords time to mull and cogitate. “Crazy thought time,” as I like to say. This is the time to wonder, to ask questions that don’t occur in the course of normal research. This is “what if” time, too, as well as quiet moments devoted to working out problems or anomalies discovered under hands-on experimentation. And sometimes, crazy thought time occurs when one least expects it.

Not long ago, I was working on a drawing for the log lean-to that I hope to start when the weather tempers a bit. As I sketched out details, a thought occurred to me: “How did they drill holes?” I’ve charred small holes with irons heated red hot in the fire, twisted the awl and rubbed a square piece of steel back and forth in my hands, all creating the needed hole. I’ve never tried a bow drill.

A frontier gunsmith bores a tang-bolt hole in a rifle stock with a crude brace and bit.

Gunsmiths and woodworkers brought basic tools with them, gimlets and crude drills show up in personal inventories in the 18th-century. But what of the hired hunter, gathering meat for the trading post clerk? As an itinerant woodsman, personal possessions are meager at best. His only other resources are those packed into the backcountry by the trading company clerk.

In the process of working on the drawings, I consulted George Nelson’s description of the construction details of his trading post. As so often happens with any historical passage, multiple hints appear to other questions, some only a few words long. One of Nelson’s sentences caught my attention:

“…Our beds, two posts, at the head & foot with a stick fixed, one in the post & the other in an augar hole (when we happen to have such article) or forced into one of the chinks of the house…” (Nelson, 59).

A golden nugget, hidden in the midst of a couple of paragraphs devoted to explaining the construction of the trading post, caught the light and sparkled a bit. With heart pounding and deep breaths, more so than when the flock circled in to roost, I penned a quick note to myself and placed a marker tab on the page.

Three words and a parenthetical comment held the key: “…an augar hole (when we happen to have such article)…” Nelson’s post had one or more auger bits.

One of my “go-to” resources when I’m looking for a second primary source is the inventory of goods sent by William and John Kay to David McCrea at Michilimackinac in 1777. In this inventory, each bale or crate is numbered with a list of goods included and their cost. Knowing the inventory, I skipped to the end where the post supplies are listed.

Much to my surprise, the joke was on me. You see, dear reader, about twenty years ago, I put together two crates based on examples at Michilimackinac. At the time, I found myself in the middle of a great primary documentation conflab, which found resolution a few years later, but that is another story.

Two crates, No. "36" and "47" sit in the snow at the post hunter's winter camp.

The depth of the crates varied, the thinner one is marked “No. 36,” which held “84 lb. Castile Soap.” The larger one “No. 47,” held iron goods: “24 half axes, 24 Tomahawks, 3 Large axes, 7 Tranches [cutting knife], 2 Augures, 1 Tille [Slater’s hammer], and 1 Pioche [pick-axe] (Armour, At the Crossroads, 205).

And there they were, “2 Augures,” mixed in with the contents of the crate that sometimes sits next to the hired post hunter’s woodland campsite.

I have two “T”-handle auger bits in the shop, sitting behind my vintage, wooden moulding planes. Someone else’s household goods (a kind deed on my part) are stacked in front of that workbench, but the plan is to hunt down those auger bits, check the diameter and condition with the intent of boring “an augar hole” in a lean-to shelter’s log to accommodate a bed frame rail. Such are the fruits of “crazy thought time…”

Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.

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