Fort Pitt

Fort Pitt
Center of the ohio country universe

Friday, June 22, 2012

Instant camp: just add blanket and ground....

 Some images showing simple camp set need for fire irons or squirrel cookers

Knife i just picked up. Same sweet shape as the "stalking turkey" 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.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Robinson Crusoe had a giant Cartouche knife and Friday knew how to read...

 1752 image   Mocs and leggings with a coat and hat

"St. John's" Image   nice camp scene

18th cent. Image of Robinson Crusoe...leather/hide clothes, beard, giant knife thing and axe tucked in a belt....SO many jokes...Ya I'm gonna walk away from that one

 So I got a pretty good response from the last posting. No hate mail (yet) and that’s always encouraging. I figured I’d point people towards some “must have” books this post. My advice for new folks is that you should spend more money on Books then you do quillwork. Of course after a while the books become more expensive then quillwork (I need a $300 book right now…I know need is a strong word but I NEEEEDDDD this book….unless I can get it thru Interlibrary loan)
     Anyhow…Over the years some books I find myself going back to time and time again to double check info or just reread. I find that the more I reread some books info pops up that I totally overlooked the first time. For some reason “scouwa” the James Smith Narrative is one of these books. I first read the book in 1995 in high school and for me it’s been a constant go to book  when the ADD kicks in.
A few other books I really think are  worthwhile investment for folks:
“Observations on the American Backcountry” By Donald Rettig:  This a “bearing is noble and proud” type book for reenactors. Mr. Rettig breaks stuff down such as hunting shirts, breechclouts, drinking etc from period Narratives. It’s a great jumping off point for new folks as well as a quick go to for when you think you remember a quote from that book, by that guy, about that thing.
“Contact Points: American Frontiers from the Mohawk Valley to the Mississippi, 1750-1830” Andrew Clayton:  This book is a collection of essays on the Backcountry by a number of respected authors. Ok I know some authors out there in the “hobbie” blast any modern historians work as some kind of Liberal conspiracy to make the backcountry a socialist utopia (while somehow their books are above critique and agenda free)  This book is a great starting point to lead you to some killer books that will really open up your eyes/mind to looking at the backcountry in a new way.
“Chainbreaker's War: A Seneca Chief Remembers the America Revolution by Blacksnake”  If ya like reading Shane/Draper interviews you’ll love this book. It’s An Interview with Blacksnake a Seneca who fought in the Revolution. Some really kewl little tidbits about backcountry war parties and native life. Now if you Like reading Francis Parkman’s stuff you might not dig it (Am I the only person who can’t stand Parkman’s stuff? )
Any of DALE PAYNE’S BookS:  Ok I don’t get a kickback from Dale for pimping his books. He’s done a great Job of compiling Info and letting it speak for itself. You can get his books from a number of sutlers or contact Prickett’s Fort at (304)363-3030
“Westward into Kentucky: The Narrative of Daniel Trabue by Daniel Trabue”   Awesome narrative (looks like it was written by Alan Krause) some great info on how folks moved into Kentucky as well as 18th century backcountry life.

“Textiles in America 1650-1870: A Dictionary Based on Original Documents, Prints and Paintings, Commercial Records, American Merchants' Papers, Shopk (Winterthur/Barra Book) by Florence M. Montgomery”:  Ok once again some folks will blast the idea of anything but nettles for cloth but….This book will answer A ton of questions that might pop into your skull from reading narratives, ledgers etc. This is a must have for anyone reenacting the 18th century and want to improve their kit in anyway. You don’t need to count threads to enjoy this book.
 SO that’s just a few books I recommend to folks. I’ll be posting some more as the summer goes along. Also don’t don’t, don’t forget about google books. A LOT of period narratives are on their and readable for free. This way you can save yourself a lot of $ to buy more books, its part of the sickness that is this hobbie. I’m running out of shelf space myself…and the piles of books next to my weaving chair are often the flashpoint for family debates.

      To add to the weirdness I got a recent update from Mr. Crowder. He recently received a copy of the “crazy crow” Cartouche Knife. His review of the product was pretty short and sweet…Don’t buy it. In his words “it weighs as much as a trade gun”.  Crowder is a pretty good judge of the minutia that goes into a trade knife so if you’re looking for a good copy of this knife…looks like you’ll be spending more then $30.  If you’re in the market for a Knife I do know “At the Eastern Door” has some killer scalpers made by Eric Schatzel drop him an email for details.

   This brings up a question I’ve been asked a few times this past month. How do I choose stuff to review? Well Normally it’s just stuff I need for my kit and pick up from a vendor after doing research into the item myself. Doing a little pre buy research I then know what to ask the vendor/craftsperson as far as their product goes. 99% of people making a quality item can then fill in the blanks for you on the product.
        A few items I’ve reviewed were given to me by the maker to do some “field tests” on (The South Union Mills stockings and Jed Wray likes how I try and destroy his stuff) But honestly if I didn’t like the item I would simply send it back to the maker or pay for it and put it in the bin of stuff I don’t use. I really don’t want to give anyone a BAD review so I simply choose to not review items I don’t like. I will however reserve the right to complain about blanket pins, squirrel cookers, woven garters with leather tabs, coverlet haversacks and Items from BIG vendors (like the crazy crow cartouche knife) as these vendors cover such a large cross section of hobbies me saying a knife isn’t quality really won’t hurt them at all.
     To add some eye candy I’ve posted two details of images I came across in a late night Coca cola fueled web search (ya I’m back on the soda…got its hooks into me again) One is a detail from a 1752 German image from an early Narrative showing a European man in a coat, hat and leggings and mocs.  The narrative can be found here (Thanx Joeseph):
   The second image is a detail from a painting entitled “a view of St. Johns…” and was done in the 1780’s. Nice detail of some natives hanging around a fire as well as some guys sleeping under a canoe. The whole image is pretty sweet Canadians, guys in canoes. It can be seen here:,-upon-the-Rive?sort=IMAGE_DATE%2Csubject_groups&qvq=w4s%3A%2Fwhat%2FArtifacts&fb_source=message

   Well summer vacation has begun so let’s see if having Jr. Gingi wrangler home helps me get more stuff finished.