“He Came from the South”

“Snapshot Saturday”

A traditional woodsman with a turkey at his feet.

“He came from the south,” the trading post hunter said. “The bird followed the mid-hill trail. It was a warm November afternoon in 1794…” Old Northwest Territory, three ridges east of the River Raisin

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“They should be…”

Summer, 1763: Pontiac’s siege of Fort Detroit began Saturday, May 7, 1763.

Mi-ki-naak’s hunting exploits commence in the fall of that year. For the most part, this new alter ego’s journal pages are blank, containing the scrawled details of only a handful of deer hunts and wild turkey chases. “Snapping Turtle’s” outward appearance is incomplete; his physical substance is a mere skeleton lacking the time-traveling flesh necessary to claim a viable 18th-century existence. Mi-ki-naak represents an empty living history vessel awaiting the addition of historical nuggets.

Some living history simulations “just happen,” while others require a tad bit of planning. For example, last June we ventured to Friendship, Indiana, and the home grounds of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. Unfortunately, a knee injury ended that visit before Mi-ki-naak had a chance to create a lasting frontier memory during the Fort Greenville Match.

The Max Vickery Primitive Range includes a two-story log blockhouse. On Tuesday evening of the National Spring Shoot in June and the National Championship Shoot in September, eager participants gather in the shadow of the blockhouse to compete in the Fort Greenville Match.

Back in the mid-1990s, a group of re-enactors sat around a flickering campfire jawing about this and that. Someone wondered out loud if it was possible to re-create the conditions of a backcountry fort under attack. The discussion ebbed, but resurfaced now and again. The first Fort Greenville Match was shot in June of 1999 and became an instant success. The event honors the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.

A woodsman fires through the gun port while others load.Flintlocks, rifles in June or smoothbores in September, are required. Begrudgingly, smoothbores are also allowed at the June match. I say that because more than once “Old Turkey Feathers” has drawn disparaging remarks. The last time, that Northwest gun rang the clangor four times at 85 paces; the objector’s rifle hit twice, which ended the discourse.

Participants must wear period-correct attire. The match is shot from the second floor gun ports that face the range. Three-person teams are chosen by lot using 18th-century playing cards. All NMLRA safety rules apply. An eerie silence usually shrouds the defenders as they ascend the wooden stairs. The first team is assigned to the right window and the second to the left. Firelocks are loaded only on the range officer’s command, and the muzzles must be kept pointed up. An arm can only be primed once the muzzle is through the log opening and pointed downrange, and to do so, one must kneel on the rough plank floor. The match carries a five minute time limit. Each team attempts as many shots as possible. The team with the most hits on a target placed 75 to 100 yards wins. Shoot offs are common.

As was the intent of those initial discussions, the Fort Greenville Match affords a tremendous opportunity to experience what it was really like to live and survive in the 18th century, if only for five minutes.

In June of 1795, Msko-waagosh entered the fort’s trading house, consistent with the journal entries of John Tanner. Tanner bartered skins for gunpowder and thirty round balls. That scenario became Msko-waagosh’s intent. Instead, he found himself embroiled in a frontier drama that elicited feelings and emotions mirroring those Tanner wrote about. The racing heartbeats, the thunder of smoothbores and the crack of rifles, the flashing pans, the pungent stench of burned gunpowder and the swoop of an anxious bat chased from the rafters all flavored that pristine moment for the Red Fox.

This past June was supposed to be Mi-ki-naak’s turn to experience defending a log fort. The fervent hope was that somehow a lasting pristine moment might develop in the midst of war whoops and hanging, sulfurous smoke, a precious few seconds offering a taste of the siege of Fort Detroit. From the outset, I had no idea how the evening would play out or how the match would work its way into this new character’s mindset. I just knew defending the fort would be a noteworthy happenstance. After all, that is the fun of living history. Neither I nor Snapping Turtle could wait, and then a bum knee dashed those hopes.

Tuesday morning we hooked up the trailer and headed out. As we turned east on US-12 and began the last hour’s drive home, Tami said, “They should be drawing cards about now.” My gut twisted. I felt a great sense of loss.

“There’s always September,” I responded in a quiet, disappointed tone.

As the summer played out, hopes of attending the NMLRA’s National Championship Shoot faded away, too. Over the last two years, multiple family health issues have wiped out a lot of well-laid plans. Life is filled with choices, and family comes first.

For the September shoot, the first weekend is always preempted with the Woods-N-Water News Outdoor Weekend, held in Imlay City, Michigan. In those rare moments when guests are not viewing the 1794 trader’s camp, looking through the traditional black powder hunting photos, or simply dropping by to say “Hi,” Tami and I sit and mark time in terms of our usual habits at Friendship. Comments like, “We should be picking up our shooter registrations about now,” “They should be starting the opening ceremony,” and “They should be gathering for the Gunmaker’s Match” are common, usually followed with a giggle or laugh. The whimsical “They should be…” suggestions have turned into a game of sorts for us.

As always, I had a great time at the Outdoor Weekend. The weather was cooler and the crowd a bit larger, I believe. The time flew by as I greeted each guest and answered their questions or listened to their thoughts on a wide variety of topics. On the drive home, I juggled all of the possible scenarios in my mind with regards to making a quick trip to Friendship for a day or two. In the end, there is still no way.

Shooting in the woods at Shaw's Quail Walk.So now we continue with the “They should be…” game. Tuesday evening, about 4:50, Tami said, “They should be drawing cards, or maybe climbing the stairs.” “Wednesday’s Covey,” a special match that I like to shoot at Shaw’s Quail Walk, popped into our conversations yesterday, and this morning she said, “This afternoon is the Feather Duster, right?” Each day brings a sigh and a new “They should be…” That’s all part of grasping at a vicarious opportunity that isn’t meant to be.

Traditional black powder hunting is, after all, a pleasant and enjoyable pastime. The journey down this path is at one’s own pace, intermingled with life’s twists and turns. As a traditional woodsman, I venture back in time when I can and dream about it when I can’t.

It doesn’t seem possible that three weeks ago I sat in a surgical waiting room hand-stitching a sleeve seam for Mi-ki-naak’s linen shirt—he’s using a hand-me-down shirt for now. A half dozen times I had the opportunity to answer questions and profess the joys of living history. Ya gotta admit a guy hand-sewing a French-felled seam is an oddity—if you even know what linen is or that style of seam.

One lady in particular asked questions for over a half hour. She was fascinated. Will she ever chase whitetails with a muzzleloader, I doubt it. But I enjoyed our conversation and the chance to share this glorious hobby with someone who never knew it existed. When I returned to sewing I wondered what adventures Mi-ki-naak would have while he wore that shirt…

Well, about now they should be opening up the registration window at Shaw’s Quail Walk…

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

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“A New Tomahawk Handle”

“Snapshot Saturday”

A butcher knife slices away cherry bark.

The butcher knife sliced away tender bark from a wild cherry sapling. Two buckskins (the equivalent of one prime beaver pelt) purchased the head. In the hour that followed, the post hunter fashioned a suitable haft for the new ‘hawk. Old Northwest Territory, two ridges east of the headwaters of the River Raisin, in the Year of our Lord, 1794…

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“Stalking the Great Cottonwood”

“Snapshot Saturday”

A traditional woodsman crosses a grassy prairie shrouded in a morning fog.

The morning’s dense fog began to lift as the post hunter waded into the thigh-deep prairie grass. The trail led to the base of the great cottonwood that towered over the clearing. Old Northwest Territory, in the Year of our Lord, 1794…

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“Shooting at Marks”

“Snapshot Saturday”

Smoke drifts as a woodsman fires at the 'mark.'

“Kla-whoosh-BOOM!” The round ball thudded when it hit the mark. ‘Pathfinder’ smiled as his smoothbore settled from his shoulder. “That’s how it’s supposed to be done,” Ted Jayson said with a smile. After hunting all day, the woodsmen camped at Swamp Hollow found time to engage in an 18th-century shooting competition before the evening meal…

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“Breakfast with a Story”

“Snapshot Saturday”

Ron LaClair holds a venison backstrap and shares a tale.

“Breakfast comes with a traditional hunting tale,” Ron LaClair said as he told of how he took the white-tailed doe. After the story, LaClair sliced the backstraps into steaks and fried them in a dab of bear fat over an open fire. “It’s a shame people gotta eat like this,” Norm Blaker said with a straight face and a twinkle in his eye. Swamp Hollow in the Old Northwest Territory…

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“Such was the forest fare…”

Leaves rustled. Quiet followed. The acidic aroma of fallen oak leaves perfumed that October afternoon’s woodland hush. Three delicate crunches coaxed the smoothbore’s muzzle uphill. The turtle sight paused at a gnarly shag-bark hickory tree festooned with muted gold foliage.  Two pops and a solid crunch betrayed the fox squirrel’s approach. But alas, the tangle of downed limbs, grape vines and arching raspberry switches concealed the evening meal’s exact location. Milkweed tufts drifted from the edge of the sedge grass.

A fox squirrel sits on an oak branch.Tiny claws scratched on harsh gray bark. The tip of a furry, auburn tail twitched past where the first main branch joined the hickory’s trunk. Another burst of solitude… Impatient fingers brushed away dirt from the stretched knee of the dark-blue wool leggin. Four stick-tights clung to the copper-colored silk ribbon that bound the leggin’s front flap. The woodsman’s thumb returned to the trade gun’s lock and traced lazy circles on the jaw screw.

A blue jay winged low, then swooped to an upper twig of a nearby red oak. That forest sentinel looked east to the big swamp, gazed beyond the massive oak top that hid the returned white captive, then glanced at the ridge crest. The bird’s blue-feathered headdress rose and fell as it surveyed the glade. Never once did those black eyes look at the squirrel or foretell its location.

Minutes piled up.  With a mighty, head-high leap, the fox squirrel left the seclusion of the golden hickory. It slipped under the leaves, popped up and bounded three times. With an abrupt jerk, it turned about and began pawing at the earth. Dirt flew, but only for a second or so, then off it ran in the same direction from which it came. And in that instant, the evening’s menu returned to a scrap of venison jerk, broken walnut meats and tepid water. Such was the forest fare on 22, October, in the Year of our Lord, 1796…

Where Do You Re-enact?

When I first started writing about traditional black powder hunting, a black powder magazine editor brushed off an article query with a statement that anyone who shoots black powder and owns primitive clothes is a traditional hunter.

Being new and wanting to represent the hobby in a true and factual manner, I set out to find out if his wisdom was true. That quest took over two years, and his opinion proved to be wrong. That discussion and the subsequent research led to the birth of this blog and a host of magazine articles presenting traditional black powder hunting as an alternative to modern reliance on today’s refined technology.

Recently I had the opportunity to converse with a veteran traditional woodsman. He said he attended a timeline event here in Michigan and told me all about the day. He said he entered into a conversation with a living historian we both know of who maintains a blog dedicated to the past.

In the course of the discussion, the living historian said he did not recognize my friend and did not recall seeing him at the re-enactments he, the blogger, regularly attended. After listing several events, it became apparent that the two traveled in different circles with different time periods and interests. Then the traditional woodsman asked, “Have you been to the woods lately?”

We both laughed, because we have both made that statement who knows how many times.  In most instances, the meaning is lost on the listener, and we have come to accept that. Once in a while someone will ask for clarification, but most often not. We recognize that traditional black powder hunting is a solitary undertaking—a living history venue where the participant simply disappears as he or she crosses time’s threshold.

A traditional woodsman concealed behind a oak tree.There is no organized re-enactment for traditional black powder hunters. There is no well-trimmed path to what once was, no full-color self-guiding brochure, no yellow arrows painted on brown boards, no cordoned off viewing area, no rustic benches. In the majority of cases, the trek to yesteryear is a one-on-one undertaking with no fanfare and no spectators.

Yes, there are events that feature re-enactors who portray hunters from various time periods. But portraying a longhunter, for example, and re-living the life of a longhunter are two very different journeys. The first occurs within the confines of a viewer friendly historical environment, the second “in the woods” complete with mud and stick-tights, scrapes and bruises, yet unscripted and unfathomable in nature.

On a cold November evening, I pulled Msko-waagosh’s red, wool trade blanket from the back seat of the truck. I draped it over the shoulders of a chilled family member. A few minutes later she remarked with a bit of surprise in her voice how she could feel the wool warming her body. When she went to fold the blanket to return it, she asked about the stick-tights embedded in the blanket’s weave. I laughed and told her Msko-waagosh’s blanket had participated in many 18th-century adventures—re-enactments in the woods.

Not long ago, I overheard a conversation at a living history event. It seems a gentleman who portrayed a longhunter sat around the campfire with an expensive, museum-quality wool blanket wrapped about his body. At the time, the blanket flapped in the breeze from the edge of his dining fly to “air out the smoke smell.” He was sharing how he planned to hang the blanket in his garage when he got home and was bemoaning the possibility of taking it to the dry cleaners to “get rid of the smell.”

I did not mean any disrespect, but I chuckled to myself. My friend, the traditional woodsman, and I take every opportunity to add smoke smell to our blankets and clothing as that beloved aroma is one of the best cover scents in the forest for deer hunting.

And upon further examination, that living historian’s outfit looked clean and well-laundered. The cut of his clothes was period-correct with a fair amount of hand-sewing. His accoutrements were from recognized artisans of the first quality. It was obvious he had done his research. There was some honest wear and tear, but no blood stains, no cuts or tears, no patches, no over-stitching, no dirt or grime or stick-tights.

I remembered being chastised at an outdoor show because the rump of the trading post hunter’s knee breeches carried mud stains and a reasonable amount of soiling. The side-seam was pulled apart a bit, a couple of button holes were frayed and the back of the thigh had a palm-sized patch. And that is just one item taken from the complete “kit” of a given history-based character.

As living historians, we all strive for the best possible time-traveling experience. We seek to drift around the bend and come ashore in our own personal Eden. Some do so within the confines of an organized museum-like setting, while others, like my friend and I, slip away and seek the solitary existence of life in the woods. Such was the forest fare…

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

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What a Strange Time Machine?

1959 Cadillac Sedan De Ville For Sale

Uncle Jerry's '59 Cadillac Sedan De Ville

Tami smiled. Discussions about “Uncle Jerry’s Cadillac” have been a part of her family gatherings for over four decades. The story of how Uncle Jerry acquired the car was always the same: the car was a gift from General Motors to a union executive. Uncle Jerry did odd jobs for the gentleman and admired that Cadillac. He hoped to own it one day, and did.

There were other tales of high adventure driving the ’59 Sedan De Ville. In the 1970s, Uncle Jerry added a clamp-on bumper hitch and towed a trailer heaped full with his and Aunt Barb’s possessions to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The clamp-on side mirrors are still in the trunk, but the bumper hitch is lost to eternity.

In her own special way, Aunt Barb shared fond recollections of Sunday trips to church, then out to eat followed by an afternoon drive. In the early 1990s, Aunt Barb oversaw the professional restoration of Uncle Jerry’s Cadillac, which took over a year. When the ’59 Cadillac returned to “bright and shiny,” Uncle Jerry babied it, but didn’t drive it like he did with the rust and dings of an active life. After he passed away, Aunt Barb moved the car from the garage to a heated warehouse. She talked about the Sedan De Ville for a while, then forgot about it.

Uncle Jerry's '59 Cadillac on the road.I realize this is a bit of a departure from romping through the 18th-century glade. But then again, swinging open a heavy, all-steel sedan door and taking a whiff of the aroma of the Buddy Holly and Bill Haley era does rival the captivating scent of drying oak leaves and wild mint. One has to settle in to that big, cloth-covered bench seat, grip the large, slender steering wheel and take in the view out over the massive hood of a ’59 Caddy at least once in this life. A couple pumps on the gas pedal primes the carburetor, a turn of the key and then 390 cubic inches of a long-forgotten Detroit V-8 roar to life with a gentle shake of the entire chassis. Touring the open road in a ’59 Sedan De Ville is time traveling, too.

Uncle Jerry’s ’59 Sedan De Ville is now part of Aunt Barb’s estate—the prime beneficiary is her church. As per her wishes it’s time to pass this historic piece of Americana on to another owner who will love it like Uncle Jerry did.

Dear reader, if you have a desire to step back to the glory days of American manufacturing excellence, or know someone who does, please respond to or forward my email address. Put “Uncle Jerry’s ’59 Cadillac” in the subject line. The ’59 Sedan De Ville is appraised at $32,800.00 (not including a trunk full of additional parts and a shop manual), and Aunt Barb’s personal representative is asking $29,500.00. The car is located in southern Michigan.

Travel back to the Golden Age of Rock ‘n Roll, be safe and may God bless you.

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