Fort Pitt

Fort Pitt
Center of the ohio country universe

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"chewed bullets flying" and otter skin bags

Von reck image with otter skin bag
File and "chewed" musket ball

Otter skin pouch and some contents

Otter turban...not southeastern but i had to make it

"The leader, on each side, immediately blows the small whistle he carries for the occasion, in imitation of the ancient trumpet, as the last signal of engagement. Now hot work begins -- The guns are firing; the chewed bullets flying; the strong hiccory bows a twanging; the dangerous barbed arrows whizzing as they fly" James Adair

The snow really took a beating here this week. It’s starting to look a lot like spring and that means turkeys and events. Thank god if I heard about one more flame war on a msg board I think I was going to start collecting star wars figures. So one flame war I touched off a few weeks ago (my bad) was about the patching of smooth bore rounds.
I spent a lot of mornings this past week digging thru narratives and Thanx to a tip by Mike Galban this has now become a full bore research topic for me. The ultimate “doer vs. Librarian” Smack down. I’ve been looking over narratives/pension applications/journals/newspaper accounts for any references to natives shooting a gun (rifle or smoothbore) or any references to loading practices/mention of gun equipment for ANYONE. I have to say it’s been enlightening to just how much shooting lore in the hobbie is probably myth.
SO one thing I’ve heard mentioned a number of time was the practice of natives shooting “chewed balls” in fact the title of this blog (which would be an awesome title for an article or book) is from a mention from James Adair of south eastern natives at war. The physics behind this is that the dimples in the ball help it act like a golf ball and fly straighter. Get rid of the “knuckle ball” effect you see in a smooth ball.
So Last Wednesday I was able to head to my camp and spend a few hours shooting. I prepared 15 “chewed” rounds ahead of time by rolling the ball on a rasp to get the dimple effect (I chewed one and I like my teeth too much to do all 15. You can call farb if ya want) My plan was to take 15 shots with an unpatched round ball (14 from the bench one off hand) and the same with the “chewed” rounds. I was also going to clean my barrel in between the two groups to avoid any help the extra fouling may help the second group.
I was shooting 50 yards with 65 grains and a .60 ball in my .62 type G So the first 14 were s off the bench and they shot 3 inches low and slightly to the right off dead center (I kept a pretty nice grouping) and the off hand shot was 3 inches low from dead center. The chewed rounds really did surprise me. The 14 were an inch higher and dead center low. My off hand shot was like 5 inches low and to the left ( I don’t know what happened there I was a little mad at myself).
SO there was an improvement in the chewed ball. I think the dimples had an effect and the ball seemed tighter in the barrel due to the small raises. I spoke with John Getz for a few minutes this week and mentioned this to him and he mentioned that he would often rough up a round ball when shooting in smoothbore matches because of this reason. SO for me this is pretty kewl here we have the accounts and the actual practice lining up (crazy how that works).
A few other accounts I came across also pointed towards native shooting practices and gun equipment carried by natives. Heres is a few quick accounts:
William Clinkenbeard “you could always tell an Indian gun. Never were so heavily loaded, nor sounded so loud, cracked flatter.”
To me this one is something that makes a lot of sense. If you’re constantly looking to resupply your powder from a foreign resource you’re going to be a little stingy with your shooting. Also this could also account for why you also see natives being mentioned chewing their musket balls and using buck and ball loads. Anything you can do to raise your level of kill efficiency. This is also something to think about for those that like to burn powder in public battles. Maybe you should tune the level of powder you put in your cartridges back a little. Do ya really need 100 grains in your tulle?
Another quote that may support the use of half loads:
James Wade “The Bullet passed through 9 folds of the blanket he had rolled up and strapped on his shoulders, and then stopped made flat as a 9d. The force of the blow knocked him down again, but did not get through the blanket to the skin”

So here is some neat info I gleamed from a quick look for Gun equipment being carried by natives:
“ A very Nice Indian cap and a gun stick were found where they camped. The cap was made of two pieces of white colored cloth with two red tassles hanging down, one on each side of the head, at the corners that stuck up” June 1790’s in Kentucky James Wade

To me this cool on two fronts this is possibly a mention of a “wiping stick” or separate stick from a ramrod. I’ve seen these turn up a lot in info on later fur trade folks in the west but never on a native in the east. And second the use of a eared cap (happy birthday crowder now start sewing your cap…when my jacket is finished) in the south.

John Rankins “The Indian came down to the lick; seen where our horses had been along, raised his charger and gave a whistle,4 other Indians immediately came up. “

I’ve seen this practice a few times in narratives. If you blow across the top of a measure you can use it like a whistle. Guys in my crew have used this as a signal quite a few times and you’d be surprised at how far that sound carries in the woods.

“we take sight and have them at a shot and so do the French they do not only shoot with a bullet but with big swan shot. They say the French load with a bullet and six swan shot” Christian Frederick Post page 169 Causes of the alienation of the [Delaware and Shawanese Indians], from the British interest
This shows once again the use of buck and ball by the french and natives. having shot quite a few buck and ball loads as of late I gotta tell ya it tears the hell out of a target backstop (gotta replace one at my camp now…too much fun shooting)

And here is some info I dug up on white guys shooting equipment. This info is mostly from Dale Payne’s book Frontier Memories 3 (buy his BOOKS!!!!! …I get nothing from Dale for plugging his books every blog but I swear to you if you buy his books and take a week off the message boards reading about boxwood, antler knives, 27 inch straps and blind elephants you will thank me.)

William Moseby (talking about a man shooting a bear) “…He then took his gun wiper and shot him in the side…” Page 127 FM3
James Wade (point Pleasant campaign) “ Many had to draw their guns because they were so out of order and several came to our camp to get the bullet screws for that purpose.”
“Bullet Drawers was a piece stuck on like they did to make a wiping stick, only the screw closer and much stronger. Sometimes broke them or if the powder was wet, it was very tedious getting a bullet out. We had several drawers in our camp, don’t know whose they were.”
“Esq George crooks tells of one Abraham Hornback that covered his bullets very neatly with buckskin in starting to go out in the late war & and that he killed an Indian with one of them. He only went out for 5 or 6 weeks to be in one battle”
Ben Guthri “He had shot a buffalo and had put in powder and ball without wadding to finish the killing”

Leather patched ball, unwadded shot, shooting wipers…great info from the folks there. Something’s I’ve noticed from looking for specific gun equipment these folks carry Less then you’d think….I’m really surprised at how little these guys carry (or mention they have) on them for their seemingly most important tool. Wipers, gun worms, bullet puller, shot, ball a few extra flints maybe a bullet mold seem to really be it. Which if you look at the size of the few documented shot pouches out there seems to work out.
So onto the stuff I’ve been working on….Well my fingers are bleeding from making stroud cloth (a mixture of tiger blood and blue dye…winning!) and I’ve been weaving like a mad man but I did take some time to knock out a few pieces of gear for myself. I’ve had a great otter hide since 2000 and have been kicking around the idea of making a quilled pouch out of it but….I’ve also wanted an otter turban since…well the first time I saw the Demming painting of Braddock’s defeat when I was in 2nd grade. SO thanx to a lead by Mike Galban and some info from Ike Walters I was able to knock out my latest fur cap.
Well since the otter hide was pretty big I also had to jump on the latest trend and make myself a south eastern otter skin shot pouch. These pouches were described by James Adair:
"On a Christmas-day, at the trading house of that harmless, brave, but unfortunate man, I took the foot of a guinea-deer out of his shotpouch -- and another from my own partner, which they had very safely sewed in the corner of each of their otter-skin-pouches, to enable them, according to the Indian creed, to kill deer, bear, buffaloe, beaver, and other wild beasts, in plenty..."
"As on a level place, all the savages sit cross-legged, so my visitors did, and held their guns on their knee, or kept them very near, with their otter-skin shot pouch over one of their shoulders, as is usual in time of danger. "
After looking at Takes on this by Jim Apple (canebreak mafia!) and Jason Melius I opted to go for the flap pouch over an open top bag. I also opted for a plain leather strap rather than weaving one (I wish I knew someone that fingerwove….for himself). You can see southern native shot bags in the Von reck image of native hunters and in the Commission given to Ostenaco by the French. So I tried and shoot for the middle of these two images.
The bag measures 6 by 6 and I took out shooting the other day and it worked out pretty well. I have it set up with loose shot and ball in the bottom, a French folding knife (back of blade acts as a turnscrew for the gun) made by Ken Hamilton, a small bag with flints in it and a cane whistle (made by Joseph privott) The horn I carried is a “millice” horn made for me by Mike Burke. Its based off some extant Canadian horns and scaled to hold one French pound of powder. Attached to the horn I carried a tin charger and brass pick (joseph privott) I recently picked up a pair of chargers made by hot dip tin but I haven’t had a chance to put those on a shooting rig yet. BUT they look pretty good and are based off an original example.
For the folks I promised info to this week here ya go a few examples of Tin Kettles at Fort Pitt

Fort Pitt Aug 7th 1765
John Cambell For 1 large tin kettle “7”6

Fort Pitt may 1767
James Kelly Batteauman
2 ½ yds Russia duck…@ 3/6…8..9
2 coarse shirts 20/ 2 skeins thread 6….1..0..6
1 small tin kettle .3..6
3 quarts of rum at diff times….9…
To Hutchinson Taylor……..3
(sounds like he’s getting trousers made to me)

Well I should be sewing but on the self promotion front Myself and few friends (Mike Burke and Joeseph privott) will be at the Horner’s Guild meeting at Fort Roberdeau this coming weekend. So stop by and say hi. Also I’ve been asked to do another talk at the Longhunter school on period shooting equipment (this is what happens when ya open your big mouth) so if you’re coming bring your shooting rig and We’ll be talking about what we carry, why we carry it and if THEY would have carried it.


  1. I've read the Adair "guinea-deer" comment over and over, and don't know what a guinea deer is. It's probably not a deer from Guinea, or a "chevrotain" from Ceylon ( as it was defined in the period.

    Ideas? Foot of a female deer or a fawn or ??

  2. Excellent post.

  3. All things considered, I don't believe I'd make a habit of chewing on lead. Excellent post, though!

  4. Very nice. I do not own a flintlock, yet, but I'm definitely keeping this filed in the back of my head for when I do.

  5. Followup on Chewed Bullets

    The British in the 18th century apparently considered a chewed bullet to be more lethal, see the quotes below from various period sources:

    "This Day the Lord Fairfax sent a Trumpet, complaining of chew'd and poison'd Bullets being shot from the Town, and threatening to give no Quarter if that Practice was allow'd..."

    A Tour thr' the whole Island of Great Britain, divided into Circuits or Journies. By a Gentleman 1724

    "Bullet chew'd, why does it wound incurably?
    Q. What's the reason that a Wound in any part of the Body by a gnawn or chew'd Bullet, proves incurable? A. If it be really so, the reason may be, because the roughness of the Bullet, and its many unequal edges tare and jag the Flesh in such a manner, that 'tis impossible it should ever close again, or admit of any Cure besides Amputation."

    The Athenian oracle; an entire collection of all the valuable questions and answers in the Old Athenian Mercuries. Printed for Andrew Bell, Cornhil 1706

    "The Guernsey had sixteen Men kill'd, and three wounded; among which was the Lieutenant, who died the same Day of a Wound he recieve'd in his Thigh, with a Musket Ball chew'd, which made the Wound mortal."

    The Voyages Dangerous Adventures and Imminent Escapes of Capt. Rich. Falconer. 1784

    "For though the law of arms doth bar
    The use of venom'd shot in war,
    Yet by the nauseous smell, and noisom,
    Their case-shot favor strong of poison,
    And doubtless have been chew'd with teeth
    Of some that had a stinking breath;"

    "HUDIBRAS" in A Complete Edition of the Poets of Great Briton, Volume the Fifth, Robert Anderson 1795.

  6. The guinea deer are probably small malnourished deer from over polopulated deer areas. Like at some places where deer don't get hunted they'll get small.

    Just a theory. Unlikely.. but a theory.