Knife i just picked up. Same sweet shape as the "stalking turkey" knife...me thinks I need a repro of it with a pistol grip handle...Like I need another knife
Wow so this summer is off to a bang. Weirdness abounds in the world and it’s an odd feeling trying to be used as a source of faux controversy. I guess it is a sign I must be doing something right and along with the new rush of hate mail I guess I’m really getting this blog thing down. The best thing about hate mail is the same misspellings in multiple emails…sometimes I wonder if the same weirdo has decided to let me know in various ways his hatred of my take on a weird subculture.
One random tangent that has gone off in my skull lately has been camp set ups. I’ve been lucky to be fielding with two groups (The augusta county militia and the “Traders”) that really want to nail down “camp life” for a long time now. Whether a public event or our own little scout in the woods it seems that camp life is something that just has become second nature to each group. The lack of fire irons, cast iron Etc is pretty obvious. It’s almost second nature to the guys I head into the woods with what to do when we stop to make camp.
Everyone knows to “get to a task” Starting a fire, gathering firewood, setting up the gun rack, clearing a sleeping area, Etc. A few times we’ve had a large group of newbies in the camp and it’s always very obvious that these guys have spent more time in the cut lawns and firewood piles of battlefields then living “on campaign”. It would have easy as a unit to laugh at the newbs while they sat shivering around a smoldering log waiting for a kettle to boil but who would that have helped? They’d have spent a miserable night out, hated it and maybe never came out again. SO we jumped in showed them how to get a fire going in the rain, how to build a tripod and in the end everyone had a good time.
So I’ve decided to focus the next few posts on camp life/craft. Show folks documented alternatives to squirrel cookers, fire irons etc. And just how easy it is to be comfortable in camp/woods as well as just how easy it is to get out there and just do stuff.
Setting up a camp is one of the standard tasks in the period that often gets lost to the background in period journals. Many times it’s simply relegated to the short entry “camped at…” much like my favorite period description “in the common fashion”. It leaves A LOT (like everything) out and up to speculation (and when reenactors speculate you’re just a short hop, skip and jump from a Roger’s rangers coat trimmed in bear fur)
Now when most folks picture a hunters “camp” the Oft quoted Doddridge comes to mind:
“A hunting camp, or what was called a half-faced cabin, was of the following form: the back part of it was sometimes a large log; at the distance of eight or ten feet from this two stakes were set in the ground a few inches apart, and at a distance of eight or ten feet from these two more, to receive the ends of the poles for the sides of the camp. The whole slope of the roof was from the front to the back. The covering was made of slabs, skins or blankets, or, if in the spring of the year, the bark of hickory or ash trees. The front was left entirely open. The fire was built directly before this opening. The cracks of the logs were filled with moss. Dry leaves served as a bed.
A little more pains would have made a hunting camp a defense against the Indians. A cabin ten feet square, bullet proof and furnished with port holes, would have enabled two or three hunters to hold twenty Indians at bay for any length of time. But this precaution was never attended to; hence the hunters were often surprised and killed in their camps.”
Not gonna lie…this camp sounds pretty awesome. When looking at descriptions of “hunters” this type of station camp would be what you were working out of. Many folks when going on a scout try and set up something like this (usually without the bark roof and oil cloth I its place). However this type of set up has its limitations especially for those of us in the modern get back home Sunday night world. The important part of the quote most folks overlook comes a few sentences before this:
“Two or three horses furnished with pack saddles were loaded with flour, indian meal, blankets and everything else requisite for the use of the hunter”
Horses! Bingo! This isn’t the camp set up by a guy or two with just the stuff they have on them it’s the camp of a man with access to heavy equipment. Like I mentioned in a previous post market hunting/Long hunts were not the job of a single man alone in the wilderness, you needed some pretty expensive tools to make a go of it. However there is a simple solution to this…Just going to sleep on the ground. Ok hear me out before you call me a heretic or whatever.
Daniel Trabue gives us a pretty easy way around the massive camp for the weekend:
“we would go some distance in serch of our horses. So we set out on foot, took some provisions with us. We hunted all day but could not find them. I suppose we went 15 or 20 miles eastward…We took up camp in the woods, was afraid to make fire, wropt our blankets around us, and went to sleep and slept very well.” Trabue
Ok so Trabue and the Dutchman keep it pretty simple. No fire, just blankets and ground. Kind of hard to screw up. From reading A LOT of period journals this seems to be without a doubt the most common, everyday way of sleeping in the woods (or on the march) you’ll find. I know it sounds weird but so are the looks you get from people when you tell them you spent the weekend camping without a tent in the middle of nowhere.
Like I mentioned hunters worked out of a base camp coming back to drop off hides, resupply etc. More often than not they probably spent a night like Trabue and the Dutchman.
I can’t emphasize this enough. You, some food, your gear, a blanket and the ground is ALL you really need 99% of the time when going on a scout in the summer. You start to add to the equation and your just making it way more complicated then you need to. Here is a challenge for you Just put on your normal gear as if you’re going hunting, walk off into the woods and sleep overnight. Do this once and you’ll start to really look at your method of packing for scouts differently.
****Ok now is a quasi-editorial that has little to do with the historical context of this post. I run into a lot of folks who want to “trek” but have never been on a “trek”. Stop overthinking it folks a scout is wayyyy easier to plan then going to an event. Most folks live within a few hours of a few state/national forests, DO some online research/emails/phone calls about guidelines (instead of reading page 25 of message board weirdness, or post 2 million by a guy waxing philosophical about how you’re never going to get it as correctly as he did back in 1987) of that park/forest pick up some water purification tablets, try and convince a friend to go and just do it. Walking into the woods and sleeping overnight is not rocket science. You don’t need to pass a jury, squirrels don’t bring up politics and the trees won’t mention Facebook. It’s awesome!*****
Alright I can already hear the self-doubt in some folks and the Bravado of others. In this weirdness people either fall into the “I’ve never camped before” Camp or the “I’m an expert woodsman” camp. Funny how that works…To put ones mind at ease as to the skills of the 18th century woodsman lets see what someone who saw them a lot thought of them.
“The Indians say, that when the white people encamp in the woods they are sure to lose something; that when they are gone, something or another is always found which they have lost, such as a knife, flints, bullets and sometimes even money. They Also observe that the whites are not so attentive as they are to choosing an open dry spot for their encampment; That they will at once set themselves down in any dirty and wet place, provided they are under large trees; that they never look about to see which way the wind blows, so as to be able to lay the wood for their fires in such a position that the smoke may not blow on them; neither do they look up the trees to see whether there are not dead limbs that may fall on them while they are asleep; that any wood will do for them to lay on their fires, whether it be dry or wet, and half rotten, so that they are involved during the whole night in a cloud of smoke; or take such wood as young green oak, walnut, cherry, chestnut, &c., which throws sparks out to a great distance, so that their blankets and clothes get holes burned in them, and sometimes their whole camp takes fire. They also remark that whites hang their kettles and pots over a fire just kindled, and before the great body of smoke has passed away.” Heckwelder page 191
So as you see it doesn’t look like everyone walking thru the ohio country swamps in the period walked out of special forces camp. Argh…It’s hot, too hot to be sitting here at a keyboard. SO I’m going to cut this short and revisit the topic in a day or two. But I have posted up a few nice images showing a simple camp set up. While they are images of native camps I don’t feel that a makeshift camp in the backcountry would look too different. SO next post I’m going to put up an interview with the folks at “Hot Dip TIN” and cover some quick and easy camp tools that can make life easier.
Oh and for Dave Barno and the rest of the folks getting ready for the Dunmore Stroll here is a version of the Dunmore camp song something that all Viriginia Militia should know. It also has the ACM shooting creedo in it (besides aim small Buck and ball!) “ Strive not to shoot often, But strive to shoot well” :
Point Pleasant Camp song From Newell’s journal
Bold Virginias all, each cheer up your heart.
We will see the Shawnees before that we depart,
We will never desert, nor will we retreat,.
Until that our Victory be quite complete.
Ye offspring of Britain! Come stain not your name.
Nor forfeit your right to your forefathers' fame,
If the Shawnees will fight, we never will fly,
We'll fight & we'll conquer or we will die.
Great Dunmore our General valiant & Bold
Excells the great Heroes - the Heroes of old;
When doth command we will always obey,
When he bids us fight, we sill not run away.
Good Lewis our Colonel, courageous and Brave,
We wish to command us - our wish let us have.
In camp he is pleasant, in War he is bold
Appeas like great Caesar - great Caesar of of old.
Our Colonels & Captains commands we'll obey,
If the Shawnees should run we will bid them to stay,
Our Arms, they are Rifles, our men Volunteers
We'll fight & we'll conquer you need have no fears.
Come Gentlemen all, come strive to excel,
Strive not to shoot often, but strive to shoot well.
Each man like a Hero can make the woods ring,
And extend the Dominion of George our Great Kink.
Then to it, let's go with might & with main,
Tho' some that set forward return not again;
Let us quite lay aside all cowardly fear
In hope of returning before the new year.
The land it is good, it is just to our mind,
Each will have his part if his Lordship be kind.
The Ohio once ours, we'll live at our ease,
With a Bottle & glass to drink when we please.
Here's a health to King George & Charlotte his mate
Wishing our Victory may soon be complete
And a kind female friend along by our Side
In riches & splendor till Death to abide.
Health to great Dunmore our general also,
Wishing he may conquer wherever he go.
Health to his Lady - may they long happy be
And a health, my good friends, to you & to me.