“Defending the Fort”

“Snapshot Saturday”

Smoke from a musket shot spews from a log fort.

Thick, white smoke flared from Old Turkey Feathers’ muzzle. The death sphere struck a British soldier mid-chest. Msko-waagosh scrambled to his feet, stepped to the right and grasped his powder horn. A settler homesteading near the log fort poked his rifle through the scant opening and took careful aim. The skirmish lasted all of five minutes… Old Northwest Territory, south of Laughery Creek, in the Year of our Lord, 1795…

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Oh, if it was only that easy!

Sun rays illuminated a rising mosquito. Grayish tan wings, longer than its body, blurred. Blood sucking mixed with a striking, natural beauty, this tiny creature of misery flitted up-and-down, back-and-forth with enchanting grace. Another drifted about, coming and going along a blue wool leggin. Still another buzzed and hovered near the woodsman’s left ear.

Two needle-beaked wonders tried to alight on bare skin, but instead flew down to a wet cowhide moccasin. The torturous onslaught demanded a swat, yet the thought of a wild turkey gobbler glimpsing such quick motion quelled that idea. Brisk puffs of breath from pursed lips shooed the beasties back. Some moved on, while others persisted. Ah, the torment of the forest…

Spider webs shimmered on that calm May morning in the Year of our Lord, 1796. Silvery dew drops shimmered as the rising sun’s spears pierced the cedar trees and hardwoods. Shadows skulked hinter and yon.

Dew drops shimmer looking out to the River Raisin's bottoms.A king bird warbled. A downy woodpecker rat-a-tat-a-tatted. Two wood ducks flew over, banked in unison, then veered to the west and the sanctity of the River Raisin. A mosquito landed on the returned captive’s chin. A twitch and two puffs dislodge it and drove it away. A single goose ke-honked. A bullfrog croaked, deep and loud. The king bird sang and sang.

A small white spider’s nimble legs crept over a band turned on the Northwest gun’s browned barrel. From whence it came Msko-waagosh, the Red Fox, did not know. Several geese disagreed near the lily-pad flats of the Raisin. The white spider marched along the ridge where the forestock touched the round barrel.

A lone white-tailed deer walked through a green patch of skunk cabbage, its fore legs black with wet muck to the knees, the back legs muddy halfway to the hock. A fox squirrel barked in a scolding tone. Two deer ears popped up at the juncture of a greening opening and last summer’s tawny, dry bent-over cattails. Both deer meandered toward the same secluded point of land in the river bottom.

The fox squirrel settled into a slow, contented chatter as it perched on a crooked maple limb that arched out over the clearing. Buds lined that tree’s twigs and branches, late by two weeks due to a cold April.

The woodsman held his right hand to his mouth, then clucked twice, “Ark, ark…” No answer. Minutes later a mosquito landed on the back of a finger, set back on his wispy legs and prepared to drill. A slow, sideways slide of that same right hand crushed that wanton attack.

Three geese flew low over the huckleberry swamp. The middle bird dropped its black head, eyed right to left, then returned its attention to the business of keeping up with the other two. The steady wing beats uttered hushed, rhythmic swishes, but like the turkeys the geese remained silent…

Another Step Back in Time…

Narrative passages sometimes bounce about the mind’s inner sanctum long after conscious reading. Before this year’s gobbler season began, I worked on what started out as a simple blog post dealing with wing bone turkey calls. The writing took on a life of its own; a handful of paragraphs grew into four separate documents, which unfortunately are still awaiting completion.

A part of the background documentation led me to the eloquent words of Joseph Doddridge. I believe all living historians have “pet passages” that strike their fancy. Such missives recur time and again within the context of a character portrayal, either as a spoken statement of first-person reality or as a guiding light for 18th-century actions. As a traditional black powder hunter, Doddridge’s “…imitating the noise of every bird and beast…” is such a passage:

“One important pastime of our boys was that of imitating the noise of every bird and beast in the woods. This faculty was not merely a pastime, but a very necessary part of education, on account of its utility in certain circumstances. The imitation of the gobbling and other sounds of wild turkeys often brought those keen eyed and ever watchful tenants of the forest within the reach of the rifle. The bleating of the fawn brought her dam to her death in the same way…” (Doddridge, 122)

One of my personas, the hired hunter for a backcountry trading post, hasn’t seen much field time in the past couple of years. That said, he, too, relies on Doddridge’s educational tutelage, along with several passages from Meshach Browning’s narrative, Forty-Four Years of the Life of a Hunter. At one point Browning sums up the essence of spring gobbler hunting in one sentence. Oh, if it was only this easy:

“…I walked fast, and presently heard a turkey gobbler, when I imitated the cackle of a hen turkey, and as he came running to find her, I shot him.” (Browning, 229)

Sunlight clothes a slight knoll in the forest.On that calm May morning in 1796, Msko-waagosh, the returned captive persona, took a conscious moccasin step in the direction of a more meaningful portrayal: he left his single wing bone call in his shot pouch and used his mouth to imitate the soft, seductive cackle of a hen turkey beckoning a spring lover.

For the life of me, I don’t know why I haven’t tried this before. Nothing is ever lost with any lesson in the wilderness classroom.  Even failure is gain. As Doddridge says, imitating the noise of every bird and beast was a pastime. Why not learn as they did?

A mix of cultures exists in this action, in that the documentation for using the wing bone possesses Native American origins. That said there is ample implied evidence to support an individual who was raised by an adoptive Ojibwe family using his mouth to imitate the noise of a wild turkey.

C. B. Allman’s narrative, The Life and Times of Lewis Wetzel, relates the dark tale of the “Gobbler Indian.” Lewis Wetzel describes his preparations for this January, 12, 1783 “hunt.” In the build up to the finale, he states:

“…In a little while my call was answered and presently a large Indian came in sight and was leaning down and going to and fro, as if hunting a trail. I kept calling; he answered and came on towards me…” (Allman, 124)

And reading on in Doddridge, he makes similar comments when he writes:

“…The Indians, when scattered about in a neighborhood, often collected together by imitating turkeys by day and wolves or owls by night…” (Doddridge, 123)

Over the past decade the habits of the turkeys on the North-Forty have changed. The explanation for these changes is complicated and not needed for this post. Two-year-old gobblers are both call and decoy shy. The rampant coyote population has caused the birds to go silent on the ground, save for soft clicks, clucks and putts when the birds get close to each other.

Strings of yelps like those presented on modern call makers’ videos serve only to alert our turkeys to the grim reaper’s location. About eight years ago, a hunter on the adjacent property to the south unleashed a series of clucks, putts and purrs. A fallen maple’s root ball, in the River Raisin’s thick bottom land a couple hundred yards downstream, sheltered the post hunter’s deathly shape that morning.

Not five minutes after the first utterances, this woodsman’s eyes caught movement. A hen with her head down skulked through the skunk cabbage. Another followed, and then came a jake, all moving away from the caller. The lesson of that 18th-century morning confirmed what my alter ego suspected.

The toms are still hanging with the hens, just as the spring leafing of the trees is two weeks behind. When a woodland survival tactic does not produce a meal, a quick change is in order. The wing bone call is not working, so there is little lost attempting to imitate the noise of this elusive game bird. Perhaps Msko-waagosh will stumble upon the same enchanting tones used by Meshach Browning, and a turkey gobbler will come running to find the mysterious hen. Oh, if it was only that easy!

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

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“Evening Firewood”

“Snapshot Saturday”

Jim Aude (left) and John Booy (right) gather dry oak for the evening fire. Michigan Geezer Scout, Marl Lake, Old Northwest Territory

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One Cluck on a Warm Breeze…

Bushy gray tails swished. The two squirrels frolicked ten paces off the wagon trail. Elk moccasins paused. The squirrels both sat upright. The one on the left twitched its tail again and again; neither chattered or scolded. The one on the right bounded twice, then the chase was on. Around the old cedar tree, under the autumn olive and over an oak log the pair scampered and streaked. The still-hunt continued on.

At the westward dogleg in the rutted trail, the returned captive ducked under a grape vine, then stepped over a rotting, thigh-sized branch with no bark. Wary eyes scanned the descending slope. The still-hunt progressed. Not far off the ridge crest, a red squirrel navigated through the upper boughs of a half dozen young cedar trees. Dead needles and duff showered earthward. A crimson cardinal twittered away farther down the slope and to the south.

A traditional woodsman clucking on a single wing bone call.Two steps…a pause…two steps…a pause… Canada geese ke-honked on the River Raisin, from the echoing sounds, beyond the lily-pad flats where the channel deepens. A crow cawed, then another and another. A grape vine kinked and curled upward beside a thick red cedar tree. Years before a hired hunter for a meager trading post whacked away the lower branches with a  keen-edged ax, forming a hollow in the tree’s dead, lower branches.

Those same eyes surveyed the hillside, both up and down. Satisfied, just as the hired hunter was, Msko-waagosh dropped his portage-collar-bound bedroll in the forgotten nest, then sat cross legged upon it facing down the slope where three trails exited the big swamp and entered the cedars. A while later, a wing bone call touched the woodsman’s dry lips. “Arrkk,” one soft cluck drifted on a warm, early-May breeze in the Year of our Lord, 1796…

When a Simple Pursuit Takes a Second Seat

That evening wasn’t about killing a wild gobbler, but rather about just crossing time’s threshold and venturing back to yesteryear. Sure, if a wandering, love-sick, long-bearded tom turkey marched over the rise, the death bees awaited. I amazed myself with how still I sat, how relaxed, how at peace I felt.

The doings of modern life fill my days and press on into my nights. All take a top priority, except traditional black powder hunting, it seems. Even my daily writing schedule looks like cheap Swiss cheese—all holes and no substance. The notion of saying “no,” cutting some activity short, or scrapping a “must do,” is not possible, at least not at this time. And to be honest, I played hooky and slipped the bonds of 21st-century life that evening. I had to, for my own sanity and the tranquility of home life.

Yet, despite the frustration, the exhausting efforts, I feel a sense of positive progress on many fronts. What began as two simple blog posts flowered into multi-page postings, but as yet, not completed to my satisfaction—thus this update. I trust regular readers will understand and find the delay worthy of their precious time.

Mi-ki-naak has a new sash coming, after Martin’s Station, maybe. The sheath design for his scalping knife is finalized, the leather chosen, but not cut or sewn. A large powder horn, used but repurposed, hangs over the work bench. The outline of a crude snapping turtle, cut with a knife, adorns that artifact’s body. Two straps for the horn have come and gone, neither deemed appropriate when viewed through his discerning eyes.

The coarse-woven fabric for his outer trade shirt is washed, folded and anticipating a scissors snip any day now. Late one evening a tired hand miss cut the buckskin for his shot pouch—that project needs attention, too. Oh, and a cardboard box containing a plain maple stock with an inlet smooth-bored barrel leaned against the back door yesterday, the start of an English fowler he can someday call his own.

Red Fox binds the rolled canvas pieces that once covered his wigwam.Msko-waagosh’s wigwam is down and the canvas packed away. On his jaunt the other night, he spotted a couple of trees suitable for two bents; he just needs to find a dozen or so more—all a bit stouter than the ones that deteriorated and broke. A different and distinct sleeveless waist coat looms on the horizon, but no rush there. Once he sees Mi-ki-naak’s new sash, I expect he will want one, too. While viewing photos, I discovered his dark brown sash is a shared accoutrement with the hired trading post hunter. This is a minor oversight on my part.

The crusade for “different and distinct” affects all three historical characters.  A few tweaks like these are in order for both of my existing personas. And it has come to my attention that the hired hunter for Samuel’s trading post should have a name; he deserves that. Yet these details are all part of the living historian’s constant process of critical evaluation, to say nothing of the backwoods insight gained through the hands-on lessons of the wilderness classroom.

I haven’t picked rocks on the North-Forty in a number of years—more like a couple of decades, Miss Tami points out. It seems the chisel plow pulled by Scott’s big green tractor worked a bit deeper this spring, pulling up rocks that are not digested well by a combine’s delicate insides. Although my body aches, I have a nice pile of 18th-century cobblestones, and an appropriate stash of larger, flat rocks that will work perfect as foundation stones for a log, half-faced station camp.  Maybe by the fall?

At any rate, that is why blog postings are scant this spring. Dear reader, please bear with this humble traditional woodsman. In truth, that is why one cluck on a warm breeze was all that Msko-waagosh had left within him on that pleasant night in May of 1796…

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

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A Calamity or an Opportunity?

Dry leaves crunched on a sunny April afternoon. “Tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat…” A downy woodpecker’s rhythmic drumming filled the hardwoods east of the River Raisin’s bottomlands. Elk moccasins slipped over the rise and down into the bowl that sheltered the returned captive’s ruined hunting camp.

A wet, heavy snowfall, followed by a stiff northwest wind collapsed the wigwam mid-winter. The west-side bents and ribs broke first. Two lashed-in replacement ribs failed to stem the inevitable demise of the little domed structure. Canvas lay against canvas. The smoke-hole cover remained tight against the square opening, even in death.

A traditional woodsman holds a piece of canvas removed from a wigwam.The Northwest gun rested to the right of the entrance while the gray-haired woodsman assessed the damage. Fingers stiffened by rheumatism struggled to undo the wraps that bound the weathered canvas pieces to the broken cherry saplings that once formed the humble abode. A red-tailed hawk circled to the south. “Scu-reeeeee…Scu-reeeeee!” was that bird’s assessment of the woodland misfortune.

Frustration gave way to the butcher knife. Judicious slices and cuts severed the ties on the inside of the ribs. Msko-waagosh draped the first few canvas squares on the tripod that stood over the camp fire circle. A quick flip with a trailing wind spread the fourth cover on the leaves in front of the fleshing beam. One-by-one the tattered squares and rectangles found their way to that pile.

Simple knots tied a braided rope to each end of a straight branch that was sewn in the loose end of the smoke-hole cover. A clove hitch secured the rope’s center to a long pole. That oak pole adjusted the draft and the wispy smoke column that rose from the fire pit inside the wigwam, and when there was no fire, the cover kept the rain and snow out of the shelter. The smoke-hole cover required extra tear-down time, and once freed, Msko-waagosh set the smaller rectangle to one side.

An empty, oak-leaf and grape vine mouse nest fell from a jumble of fabric. Fortunately, no one was at home—an odd parallel to the demise of the wigwam. Now and again, a leather-clad toe bumped one of the apple-sized stones that circled the inner fire pit. Jagged sapling ends jabbed at wool leggins. At shoulder level, three spear-like remnants of ribs pierced holes in the worn cloth during the collapse. Two in particular threatened like rattlesnakes coiled and ready to strike.

An angry flock of crows cawed to the south about the time the final canvas square flipped in the warm afternoon breeze and settled on the pile. The smoke-hole cover with the branch still sewn in the hem topped the covering as Msko-waagosh dropped to his knees and began rolling the piled canvas. The braided rope wrapped about the improvised roll. The ends of his leather portage collar circled, then bound the canvas for the long journey back to the homestead…

At a Fork in the Trail

A small fire illuminates a wigwam at night.Each slice and cut of the butcher knife brought back memories of that tiny wigwam. On the one hand, I still believe those saplings should have lasted a couple of years longer, but for some reason they didn’t. On the other hand, this minor setback fits into the current state of my writing and of my living history pursuits: I find myself at a fork in the trail.

Taking a step back and a moment to ponder, the trading post hunter’s brush shelter, the one described by Meshach Browning, is gone, as is his duck camp and the canoe-tarp lean-to. The hollow oak that stood over so many “night-fall camps” fell fifteen or so years ago.

In the case of Msko-waagosh, his wigwam is no more. And poor Mi-ki-naak has yet to establish a “semi-permanent dwelling.” Hmmmm…all three personas are homeless—is this circumstance a calamity or an opportunity?

I sometimes engage in time traveling with Lt. Lang, a British ranger serving with Captain Joseph Hopkins’ Independent Company of Rangers out of Fort Detroit in the fall of 1763. Msko-waagosh is a first-person characterization who exists in the mid-1790s, almost a generation removed from the savvy ranger. That disparity in eras has always bothered me.

You see, dear reader, I look forward to sitting against a big red oak and discussing “recent events” with Lt. Lang, traditional woodsman to traditional woodsman. But it is impossible for a conscientious living historian to find total immersion in a moment that exists only across time’s threshold—enter Mi-ki-naak.

The creation of Mi-ki-naak, who is also a returned captive who grew up with his adoptive Ojibwe family, was supposed to be a simple, and I emphasize simple, accommodation for the disparity in time periods. In reality, just the opposite is the case. Researching the 1763 time period is a total restart. In contrast, the birth of Msko-waagosh was an extension of my 1790s documentation—different life stations, but the same geographical region and chosen era. I did not foresee that issue, so again, calamity or opportunity?

Further, to avoid confusion with readers, I decided early on that my two returned captive buddies needed to be two distinct and different people. As I’ve emphasized to Lt. Lang on a couple of occasions, I want the outward appearance of these two woodland wanderers to be different, to the point that anyone looking at the photos of a given adventure can immediately determine which returned captive they will be reading about.

And hidden therein is a tremendous opportunity! Choices always accompany the creation of any traditional black powder hunting persona, whether they deal with the clothing, accoutrements, arms, shelters, or other aspects of material culture.

For example, an individual decides on the style, color, weave, etc. for the trade shirt his or her alter ego will wear, based on primary documentation that supports that characterization. Over time that persona might acquire one or two other shirts, but one seems to define the portrayal best.

These multiple possibilities exist for each item a given character owns, and thus the combinations are endless. From the traditional hunter’s standpoint, a new persona represents a chance to try other artifacts passed over with the first characterization. “Try” is the operative word, because the wilderness classroom tests these choices, and sometimes proves them unworthy for backcountry survival.

At first, the birth of Mi-ki-naak was as difficult, if not more so, than Msko-waagosh. The two shared common clothes, but that mistake, if I should call it a mistake, brought to light the imperative need for distinction, differentiation and clear definition. The trading post hunter (does he need a name?) and Msko-waagosh will undergo some tweaking, with a couple of shared artifacts being appropriated by one or the other of these woodsmen. And Mi-ki-naak will become his own man, too.

The research is taking more time than expected, because all three personas are coming into question, which is all part of persona development for traditional black powder hunters. And as far as semi-permanent shelters go, each will have his own humble abode in the North-Forty—that research is already completed.

So, in the final evaluation, was the demise of Msko-waagosh’s wigwam a calamity or an opportunity? By all accounts a new opportunity…

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


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“Grape Vine Lashings”

“Snapshot Saturday”

A trading post hunter lashes rafters to a shelter's ridge pole.

A trading post hunter lashes rafters to a brush shelter’s ridge pole with grape vine in preparation for the fall hunts. Old Northwest Territory, two ridges east of the River Raisin, in the year of our Lord, 1797.

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“Late Morning Walnuts”

“Snapshot Saturday”

A trading post hunter sits at his brush shelter eating walnuts.

After a hard morning’s simple pursuit, the trading post hunter sat in the sunlight munching on walnut meats. The brush camp was new then, but now is only a memory… Old Northwest Territory, two ridges east of the River Raisin, in the Year of our Lord, 1797.


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“Perhaps is the promise of tomorrow…”

Saturday, 29 October 1763:

Five blue jays hollered on the ridge. A silent, chipping sparrow bobbed up and down on a dainty sprig. The ruckus intensified. Blue-feathered blurs darted about like bees hovering around fresh-bloomed posies. The calm, late-afternoon air felt damp, and the splintered red oak smelled of wet hound hair. The crotch of the tree’s east main limb offered Mi-ki-naak ample protection for ambushing a wild turkey dinner.

A wild turkey hen wanders through the red cedar trees.That fall the birds favored roosting in several large oaks up on the ridge to the north, opposite the tamarack swamp. Every few days a small flock of nine bronze beauties pecked their way along the doe trail that bent around the tangle of flattened, curled and broken branches. Deer-hoof prints upon deer-hoof prints churned the earthen pathway; no three-toed, purple-legged tracks showed in the bare sandy soil that Saturday in 1763.

“Arrkkk!” A while later a bird uttered a sharp, solitary cluck to the south, about at the narrows crossing. A red squirrel inched out on the lowest limb of the second red oak to the south. It flexed its tail and squeaked twice, lurched farther out, then began a screechy, scratchy chatter. A second red squirrel answered from a red cedar tree halfway up the hog back’s east slope.

The squirrels bantered on, consuming a passel of minutes. Then leaves rustled, down the hill and to the south. Heartbeats grew stronger, only to ebb to normal when nothing appeared. The noise returned, then stopped. A gray squirrel hiked its way up a tall shag-bark hickory tree.

In a subconscious move, the returned white captive reached to his sash. At the least, he intended to scribble the blue jays antics, the red squirrels chattering and the afternoon’s vexations on a folded page tucked in a split pouch draped over the hand-woven sash. But his fingers failed to retrieve the deerskin pouch, because it simply was never there. Mi-ki-naak shook his head in disgust.

“Kee-honk, kee-honk, yonk, yonk, yonk…” Five geese winged westward. The familiar din faded as the geese flew beyond the River Raisin. An eerie silence fell upon the hillside. The woodsman’s right leg tingled and prickled. He rolled to his left, flexed the numb leg, then changed position on the wool bedroll. The glade slipped into a mediocre state of dismal—not light, not dark, not loud but not silent, either.

Thick, gun-metal gray clouds stalked overhead. A noticeable chill crept down the slope, enveloping the broken-oak palisade. The steady plod of split hooves on crunchy leaves foretold of a does arrival, upwind and to the south. The deer browsed and nibbled every few steps. It stopped beside the fortification, tugged at a twig and pawed in the leaves, all the while unaware death lurked so near.

A supper of dried venison loomed as darkness fell. Roost time came and went as the chill turned to cold night air. But nary once did the seasoned woodsman hear the sound of big wings. Perhaps that chorus of joyous forest noise existed beyond his humble ears. “Perhaps,” he thought as he scrambled to his feet, slung the bedroll over his shoulder and began the walk back to his evening shelter in the dimming light. “Yes, perhaps is the promise of tomorrow…”

Split Pouches to the Fore!

The split pouch after antiquing and aging.Split pouch questions wove their way in and out of several conversations the last few weeks. I’m amazed how one or two accoutrements keep popping into traditional black powder hunting discussions, often as a passing side note, or as a result of research.

When my 1763 persona, Mi-ki-naak (Snapping Turtle), reached for a split pouch that didn’t exist the modern me realized how far I needed to go with fleshing out this newcomer’s being. The mere act severed the portrayal’s bond with October of 1763. “Breaking the mystic spell of time travel” happens often as a new character develops. I faced the same problems with Msko-waagosh, and there is no quick remedy other than patience and careful research.

My other alter ego carries his journal pages in a buckskin envelope. A journal page consists of one sheet of paper folded in half, then folded again in thirds. This folding method yields twelve palm-sized pages, room for 800-plus words, and the written page is easy to set aside or hide when game comes near.

The practice evolved from the British military’s record keeping system called “returns,” where one page is folded in a specific manner and each resulting page is dedicated to the orders or happenings of the day. At the end of a given period of time, the daily returns were bundled together and sent off to the War Department in England. Mark R. Tully explains this method in more detail in The Packet article titled “Notebooks,” a discussion which is best left for another post (Tully, Packet, 16 -17).

At any rate, a journal is a key necessity for any character portrayal when a writer specializes in outdoor stories set in the 1790s or, as now is the case, 1763. Adding the third persona emphasized the perceived need to have each historical entity different and distinctive from the other two. That in itself has caused some problems, partly because I resist changing when I find or develop a hunting method that produces consistent results.

The trick, it seems, is to select accoutrements that match the research with regard to who, when and where, but don’t affect the stalks and still-hunts in an adverse fashion. Developing three different journals does not appear to be that important, but as I found out on that Saturday in 1763, a time traveler from the future soon discovers what he expects to be isn’t always the case.

The obvious choice is to create a different split pouch for the newest returned white captive in my living history family. Adhering to the physical confines of known artifacts, I would make some changes to a split pouch for Mi-ki-naak, based on Msko-waagosh’s trials and tribulations in the wilderness classroom. But realizing the need to be “different and distinctive,” provides an opportunity to explore other period-correct accoutrements and learn how they perform while traipsing through the forests and fens.

John Tanner’s narrative was a guiding light for the development of Red Fox. James Smith’s journal is serving the same purpose for Snapping Turtle. Early in his captivity, Smith witnessed the aftermath of Braddock’s defeat. A Frenchman gave him a copy of Russel’s Seven Sermons, “which they had brought from the field of battle” (Smith, 26). This becomes part of what he calls “my books.”

“They seated me on a bear skin, and gave me a pipe, tomahawk, and polecat skin pouch, which had been skinned pocket fashion, and contained tobacco, killegenico, or dry sumach leaves, which they mix with their tobacco—also spunk, flint and steel,” Smith wrote when describing his adoption ceremony. (Ibid, 30)

In October of 1755, Smith traveled to Lake Erie:

“On this route we had no horses with us, and when we started from the town, all the pack I carried was a pouch, containing my books, a little dried venison, and my blanket…” (Ibid, 40)

Now this pouch had to be of a modest size, depending upon the size of the copy of Russel’s Seven Sermons, plus he refers to “books,” which included a Bible. In this passage he makes no mention of what the “pouch” was made of or how it was constructed—frustrating, but common. The story of this pouch continues:

“While we remained here, I left my pouch with my books in camp, wrapt up in my blanket, and went out to hunt chestnuts. On my return to camp my books were missing…” (Ibid, 43)

In late March of 1756, Smith and his adoptive family returned to the area where the books were lost. While they dug up a canoe stored for the winter and set about making another to transport their maple sugar, bears oil and skins, “a young Wiandot found my books.” Members of the party gathered together to examine the find:

“They called me by my Indian name, which was Scoouwa, repeatedly…they showed me the books…They then showed how they lay, which was in the best manner to turn off the water. In a deer skin pouch they lay all winter…” (Ibid, 54 – 55)

The result of this reading is that James Smith possessed a “polecat skin pouch” and a “deer skin pouch.” For safety, I have always avoided wearing any animal fur when hunting or when traversing the glade during an open hunting season. Thus, the polecat skin pouch is out, but Smith described the contents of that pouch, eliminating it as a possible repository for journal pages.

The “deer skin pouch” is another matter. It contained “my books,” which could include journal writings. In Msko-waagosh’s era, the 1790s, Charles Johnston became a prisoner of the Shawnees. He noted:

“While the Indians were busy with their cards, I tried to begin a journal of my travels. A copy of the Debates of the Convention of Virginia…had been found in one of the boats taken [by the Indians] on the Ohio…now I determined to write my notes on the margins of its pages. With a scalping knife I made a pen of the quill of a wild turkey. I made ink by mixing water and coal dust, and began my journal…” (Drimmer, 196)

Writing on a journal page with a brass lead holder.Finding a copy of Russel’s Seven Sermons and trying to scribble notes in the margins might be fine when viewed in the context of a first-person portrayal in a museum setting, but that solution is unworkable for day-to-day hunts. Carrying journal pages in a deerskin pouch, separate from the shot pouch, represents a viable alternative worth further study.

Perhaps the take-away from this research exercise is that an option exists to the use of a split pouch for Mi-ki-naak. Smith’s “deer skin pouch” satisfies the different and distinct criteria, too. “Yes, perhaps is the promise of tomorrow…”

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

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