Give this Traditional Dandelion Greens Recipe a Try this Spring

Dandelion greens salad

This traditional dandelion greens recipe is by far the best way I’ve found to enjoy this nutritious green.

Dandelions are everywhere. They are in yards, parks, abandoned lots, and nearly everywhere you look. Unbeknownst to most, dandelions are not a native species to North America. Nope. The yard invaders trace their roots (pun intended) to Eurasia. They were actually intentionally introduced in North America by settlers. Even as settlers came west they brought this perennial herb with them, as they knew it would provide a dependable crop of greens each year. How times have changed.

Dandelion flowers
Dandelions are a nutrient packed food the pioneers made sure to secure.

These days folks spend lots of time and money trying to eradicate this prolific herb. The truth is, if dandelion were in the supermarkets they would be promoted as a Super Food. All parts of the plant are very healthy, but the greens are especially so. In fact, compared to a highly nutritious food like spinach, dandelion wins in nearly every department. When you start realizing the goodness sprouting up all around us, you might start to wonder why we spend so much time killing it. You may also think about enjoying some of it.

So dandelion greens are healthy, but in all honesty I find the taste a little powerful. Most information out there advises folks to boil the greens in order to remove some of the bitter taste. That works to an extent, but there always seems to be some strong taste holding on. Maybe that is as it should be, but it may be holding people back from adding this nutritious powerhouse food to their diet. If that is the case, you’ll enjoy this dandelion greens recipe.

This tasty dandelion recipe comes from the book Wild Seasons by Kay Young. It is very good, and might be a good way to slip dandelions past your palate. If you have a few yellow spring flowers budding I’d encourage you to give it a try.

Ingredients

4 cups washed dandelion greens (other greens can be mixed as well)
2 strips bacon
Salt, black pepper, and sugar to taste
1 Hard boiled egg (sliced)
Vinegar to taste

To start, boil you dandelion greens as you would in other recipes. 4 minutes is plenty. Once the greens are boiled, drain the water and pat dry some of the excess moisture.

As you heat your water, you also want to start cooking your bacon. Cook it to a nice crispy state. Once the bacon is cooked you want to pat it and to remove some of the grease,  then crush it into smaller pieces.

At any point you are also free to make your dressing by combining your salt, pepper, sugar, and vinegar together. The resulting dressing is delicious and worth adding to your regular salads as well.

With your greens boiled, bacon cooked, and dressing made, you can add everything together. Add any other greens as well. We added a few cups of spinach to our concoction which helped to offset the taste of the dandelions. Once you have everything stirred together, add the hard boiled egg and serve.

Dandelion greens salad
This traditional dandelion greens recipe is a good way to try this heritage food.

As mentioned, this traditional dandelion greens recipe is a great way to incorporate the bountiful herb into your diet. Maybe you are hesitant about trying dandelions? Maybe you have hard time stomaching the taste? Maybe you just want to spice up your diet with a more traditional wild food? Whatever your reason, I’d encourage you to give it a shot. It really isn’t as scary as you might think.

As with all wild food recipes, you are responsible for making sure the food is safe. Ensuring you have the right plant is the very first thing you have to get right. You might think there is no mistaking dandelion for anything else. Well, you may be surprised to learn that there are dandelion look alikes. Learn to tell the difference and get the right plant.

Secondly, because these broadleaf flowers are unwanted, make sure not to gather them from sources that could have been sprayed. The more isolated the location, the better.

Finally, don’t dive all-in when you first give dandelion greens a try. As with any new/exotic food, it is best to ease in and see how you react to it. Try adding just a few greens to your salad the first time. Then see how you like the taste and how your body accepts it.

At the end of the day I’d encourage you to give this traditional dandelion greens recipe a try. It is silly to think about how we discard this plant, and then go pay for less nutritious plants at the grocery store. It does have a strong taste, but you may find this recipe a good way to disguise it. The pioneers not only ate it regularly, but they made sure to bring it along with them. Its nutritional qualities were not lost upon them, and hopefully you can find a bit of that value as well.

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Why to Craft a Do-It-Yourself Primitive Arrow Quiver

Primitive bow quiver.

There are lots of reasons to start making your own archery gear. Making a primitive quiver is a great place to start.

Primitive bow quiver.
Making your very own primitive bow quiver is a great project to undertake.

Primitive means first, not worst. I first heard this statement as I was just getting my feet wet with primitive skills. As I’ve learned more and more, this statement has become more and more clear. Our ancestors were every bit as intelligent as us modern day folks. They just had a different education. Where we learn reading, writing, and rithmatic, they learned plants, animals, reading the weather, and the ways of the natural world. With that being the case, people all across the globe developed creative and unique ways to solving the problems they faced everyday. Some of the developments they made are still ideal solutions to the same problems.

As history unfolded near the end of the Stone Age, some societies developed agriculture and dealt with all the challenges that came along with settling down in one place. Farmers and pastoralists faced problems such as how to erect adequate structures, deal with human waste accumulation, and eventually issues like city planning. Not only that but they accumulated knowledge about animal husbandry and successful farming practices.

Other groups of people continued to live by hunting and gathering. They continued to use the natural bounty surrounding them. Although greatly different from agriculturalists, these nomadic hunters also faced challenges. Nomads faced challenges related to travel and frequent movement. One area where nomadic groups of primitive people excelled was understanding how to travel light. They developed practical methods of transporting their gear, comfortably and functionally, across distances. One item they developed to fit this lifestyle was a functional bow and arrow combination quiver.

To a lesser degree we as hunters still have to meet the same basic demands as those nomadic travelers. While on the hunt we still likely want to travel light, comfortable, and our gear needs to be functional. Today we are fortunate to have many businesses competing to provide us with exceptional hunting gear. Sometimes though, the best answers are some of the most ancient. That’s why I set out to replicate a primitive bow and arrow quiver based on the design of nomadic people who moved for a living.

Alfred Jacob Miller painting.
Primitive arrow quivers are featured in paintings by Alfred Jacob Miller.

The design I started with is based off concepts found in Douglas Spotted Eagles’ book Making Indian Bows and Arrows…The Old Way. I also came across the same design in a book titled Little Chief’s Gatherings, which contains pages of photos from the Smithsonian’s archives of Lakota artifacts. Finally, this type of quiver is seen often in the paintings of Alfred Jacob Miller. Historically, most sources indicate this style of quiver was widely used in the past.

Although the overall design is based off a tried and tested version, I wanted to make a few customizations. First off, the bow I shoot (a Bear Montana) is much longer than the bows used by the Lakota on the plains. Mine would have to be much longer than older versions. Not only that, but I want to carry the longbow at a different angle than a short bow could have been carried.

The extra length did create a problem when my bow was not in the quiver however. I had too much excessive buckskin dangling around me. To solve the problem, I created a small fastener on the back of the quiver. Now I can tri-fold the bow quiver up when not in use, and it folds down smaller than my actual arrow quiver. This keeps it tucked neatly out of the way when not in use.

Primitive bow and arrow quiver
My bow quiver is based on a historical design, but suited to my individual liking.

The second major change I made was putting two willow limbs above my bow quiver. From what I can see, most of these bow quivers only attached limbs above their arrow quivers, and the bow quiver hung free. I not only wanted the bow quiver to be supported, but I also wanted to be able to hang my blanket off the quiver. This would allow me to travel with camp on my back without adding a backpack and other gear. If I needed to use a backpack, I wouldn’t be able to use the bow quiver.  Being able to accommodate the blanket was a must, and the two limbs accommodate that need. In the end I was able to create a bow and arrow quiver, that not only is beautiful, but functional for my needs as well.

Spending time on these kinds of projects has a few great benefits. First off, at the end of the day I have a custom made bow quiver that should last me for years to come. It is designed by me, so any future changes or repairs can be easily accomplished. Secondly, in regards to repair, the quiver is made from all-natural materials. I shouldn’t ever be caught in a situation where it cannot be fixed in the field. As long as a few sticks are present, I can make a bit of cordage, and have a simple sewing kit, I shouldn’t ever be stranded with busted equipment in the field. Lastly, after spending the time to create this project from start to finish, I have exercised a body of old knowledge that has been around for millennia.

Although I can’t claim to be an expert on the subject of primeval knowledge, I do claim these projects open a new understanding on the subject. I always knew people made quivers from animal skins. That’s the “book larnin” everyone knows. After several years practicing these sorts of skills, I now have a much deeper appreciation for their knowledge, skills, and perspective on the world. It truly does open up a window into another world.

If you choose to invest the time in building your own primitive bow quiver, you may be surprised how much you learn. Not only will you explore history, but you’ll get a chance to see how ingenious our ancestors really were. Along the way you’ll have to problem solve and figure out what you want. You’ll get a custom made quiver to your very own liking, and also open up a world that we seldom get to experience in the modern age. You may also develop a new recognition of truth in the phrase, “Primitive means first, not worst.”

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4 Uses of Soapweed Yucca, a Blessing on the Plains

Uses of soapweed yucca

In a land that may seem bleak, knowing the uses of soapweed yucca is a must.

One of the most alluring aspects of learning about skills of the past is the new perspective you develop about the world. You’ll see things you never saw before, and begin to see abundance where you once saw only barrenness. Where once you saw a forest, you start to see a multitude of individual treasures scattered all about. Some food here. Some fire starting material there. The more you learn, the more incredible a few simple acres of woods becomes.

The same can be said for the expansive grasslands of our prairie lands. Our great prairie is where I call home at the moment. Historically, this area has always been one of low human population. For good reason too. There is an obvious lack of timber and running water, two things that have always been vital for human settlement. Prior to the migration of European Americans, Native American societies called these grasslands home. They were also sparsely settled and many had adapted a nomadic life well suited to this vast land. When the first European Americans came through this land in large numbers, it was only to pass through our Great American Desert. The thought of actually staying didn’t even cross their mind.

The misconception of our Great Plains as a vast wasteland is a myth that some still hold today. In truth though, our great grassland can in fact be a difficult place to scratch a living from the land. This is especially true when you talk about primitive living. Although difficult, there are a variety of plants and animals available that humans have been using for millennia to subsist in this exapansive land. One plant that people of the plains have traditionally found very useful is the ever-so-common soapweed yucca.

Soapweed yucca is one of the many varieties of yucca on the North American continent. It is characterized by the same features of many species. It has thin green leaves that terminate with a sharp needlelike point. Soapweed also has a woody center from which the plant’s flower blossoms grow. Chances are, if you’ve been through the Great Plains, you’ve seen this prolific plant.

Although soapweed is not a plant that will keep you alive for an extended period of time, it is a plant that can provide a variety of materials we can benefit from. That being said, here are the 4 uses of soapweed yucca that you can begin to experiment with.

Cordage

The first way that I came to realize the utility of yucca, was when I started making cordage from the leaves. Yucca has strong and fibrous leaves that make it ideal for that sort of use. For an in-depth explanation of how to turn yucca into stout cordage, reference this article I penned for Offthegridnews.com. Within an hour you can make a good amount of cordage for future use.

Yucca cordage
Yucca makes a natural needle and thread.

Another way to use yucca as cordage is to put the naturally spiked end of the plant to work. Anyone who has walked across the yucca covered plains will testify to the prickly nature of the plants. However, what we classify as a nuisance, can quickly be turned into a benefit with a change in perspective. To use the natural needle on each yucca leaf, you still have to get the outer layer off the leaf to bare open the fibers. To do so, pound the leaf between two pieces of wood. As you do so you’ll begin to notice the outside beginning to flake off. At that point you just need to scrape off the waste to access the fibers. Pound the entire leaf except the last 2 or 3 inches. You can separate the fibers to make them more flexible, decrease the number to decrease the diameter, or leave them as they are.

After the quick process you’ll be holding an all-natural needle and thread in your hand. The point is strong and sharp enough to punch through denim, and can sew up nearly anything. This quick and easy cordage surely wasn’t lost on the ancestral people of this land.

Fire

Yucca hearthboard.
Soft yucca hearthboard.

Another of the many uses of soapweed yucca to start friction fires. It has one of the lowest combustion temperatures of any wood, which makes it a great wood choice. The portion to use is the woody stalk at the center of the plant. As with any wood, make sure to select dead and seasoned stalks. Personally, I’ve had the best luck using yucca as a hearth board and a mullein spindle when practicing my hand drill. That being said, many people out there can quickly bring a coal to life using yucca as the spindle and hearth board. It was one of the favored woods of people in the past for starting friction fires.

Soap

Perhaps the most well-known use of soapweed yucca is where it derives its name; making soap. The natural soap yucca provides has been used for eons on this continent, and still cleans just as good as it ever has. Within the root of the plant there is a compound called saponin. This compound is the agent that you need to get at to make soap.

To make soap you’ll first have to gather some yucca root. When digging, give a fairly wide berth around the plant to get as much of the root as possible. Once the plant is removed from the soil, take a few minutes to shave off the woody exterior of the root. Next, dice the root into smaller portions. The smaller you make the pieces, the easier making soap will be.

Yucca soap
All natural yucca soap and shampoo.

With your yucca root chopped into smaller pieces, drop them into a sturdy container and add a small bit of water. Don’t overdo it on the water. You can easily add more water, while removing it once you start the process can cause you to lose some of the soap. Once your water is added, begin to mash the roots. You can use stones, wood, or whatever tool you can devise. As you mash the roots you’ll begin to notice a small bit of saponin secrete from them. Mix this with the water and soon you’ll have a very foamy soap you can use as needed. You can also use it as both a soap and a natural shampoo. Before you dive into using it though, you may want to do a skin test. Some people are allergic to the saponin that creates the soap.

Like all primitive skills, if you give making yucca soap a try, you’ll not only better understand our natural world, but you’ll have a better grasp of the past as well.

Food

The final use of soapweed yucca is its value as a food source. While this prolific plant doesn’t provide us with copious amounts of calories, at certain times of the year it does offer a small snack. What you’ll need to search for are yuccas in bloom. The flowers of soapweed yucca are a crisp and tasty treat if you catch them at the right time of year. Be sure to shake them out, as the creases of the flower are a great place for insects to roost. I’m sure you can cook the leaves somehow, but enjoying them off the plant provides a refreshing snack on a hot day.

As you can see, soapweed yucca is a very useful plant. Although it can’t be regarded as an abundant food source, it can provide other necessities that can add to your knowledge of primitive skills. It is a very useful plant in regards to cordage, and is one of your only option for fire on the grassy plains. You can also make a fine soap if you want to experiment with primitive skills. As with all primitive skills, it is one thing to know about the process. It is another thing entirely to practice it. By actually putting the ancestral knowledge into action, we can continue to keep our most ancient knowledge alive.

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Thanks for reading this article on the 4 uses of soapweed yucca.  If you enjoyed it, please follow this blog by clicking the button near the bottom of the page. For those interested in learning more about the uses of different plants, you might find this article useful about the 8 uses of cattail from hunting to dinner plate.

Frontier Whiskey Recipe…You Don’t Want to Try This Stuff

Whiskey barrels

While reading a classic Mari Sandoz book, I came across a frontier whiskey recipe that was too intriguing to pass up.

For good or bad, alcohol plays a substantial role in American history and culture. When Europeans first colonized Jamestown they were carrying a good deal of beer with them when they landed. It should be no surprise that beer was drank in celebration at the very first meal ever eaten at our initial colony. Also, it may not be a well-known fact, the Pilgrims at Plymouth also brought and drank beer. In fact, journal entries from the colony mention beer on several occasions, perhaps showing its general use by those folks. Another era where alcohol was noticeably prevalent was the fur trade.

The fur trade in America has a rich history and is important to understand. Most folks educated in history understand the significant role the fur trade played in encouraging European settlement of the new land. It started with the French Voyageurs in the east, and would culminate with the American mountain men of the west. Although culturally the groups were different, they both had some similarities. For one, both groups liked their drink. Voyageurs were noted as bringing copious amounts of booze in their canoes, and the frolics of the mountain man rendezvous have been well noted.

In addition to the use by the French and Americans, there has also been much written about the dubious use of frontier whiskey in trade with Native people. The use of frontier whiskey in trade was a hotly debated issue during the fur trade era. On one hand, traders wanted to use it in trade with Native people as this helped profits. On the other hand, the ethical dilemma of saturating those people with alcohol to essentially steal from them and debase their societies was not lost on people of the time. Using alcohol in frontier trade was certainly a hot issue in the 1800’s.

Again, for good or bad, the use of frontier whiskey was widespread during the fur trade era. What was it made of though? While there likely were numerous recipes out there, I came across two frontier whiskey recipes while reading Mari Sandoz’s book The Beaver Men that really grabbed my attention.

In her book, Sandoz is recounting a story in which William Clark had authorized Narcisse Leclerc to take 250 gallons of alcohol up the Missouri river. At the same time he had denied Pierre Chouteau Jr the same privilege. Once upriver, Leclerc turned the alcohol into frontier whiskey for use in trade. At this point Sandoz cites two frontier whiskey recipes Leclerc could have used.

Montana blend:
1 qt. alcohol
1 lb. rank black chewing tobacco
1 bottle Jamaica ginger
1 handful red pepper
1 qt. molasses, black
Missouri water as required

Boil the pepper and tobacco together. When cool, other ingredients were added and stirred. As the whiskey was drank, more river water was added.

Upper Platte recipe:
1 gal. alcohol
1 lb. plug or black twist tobacco
1 lb. black sugar or molasses
1 handful red Spanish peppers
10 gal. river water (in flood)
2 rattlesnake heads per barrel

After the Upper Platte recipe Sandoz goes on to note,

Variations in flavor might be a “brush” of vermout, wormwood of the Plains or, for an occasional real beaver man, a castoreum, for the musky perfumish odor.

As you can see, frontier whiskey was nothing to be played around with. Rank tobacco. A handful of red pepper. Beaver castoreum. Rattlesnake heads? One ingredient that is easy to gloss over is Missouri river water. In the same book, Sandoz recounts the complaint at the time the Missouri was, “Too thick for soup and too thin to plow.” Imagine the grime and grit that found its way into the whisky concoctions. It goes without saying that you shouldn’t try to make, or drink, this stuff at home.

Frontier whiskey was not for those with a weak constitution. It was for rough and tumble frontiersmen and was used to debilitate entire nations. These recipes can shed some light on how rough the frontier actually was. It wasn’t a place where the faint of heart lasted very darn long. While not all men of the time partook in its drinking, frontier whiskey did play a major role in the fur trade and settlement of The West. In conclusion, as much as I like to experiment with historical skills, this is one area where I’ll have to pass.

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Thanks for reading this brief dialog on frontier whiskey. It seemed too rich to pass up. If you enjoyed it, please follow this blog by clicking the button near the bottom of the page. Also, if you are interested in the mountain men, you might enjoy this article on the mountain man’s possibles bag.

Lessons from a Primitive Shelter in February

Primitive shelter

A recent overnight gave me the opportunity to experiment with a primitive shelter in mildly cold weather. The results were eye opening.

Primitive shelter
This primitive shelter served its purpose adequately on a fairly cold February night.

Time sure does fly. Days that seemed endless as a boy, now slip by in the blink of an eye. Weeks slide into months, and entire seasons pass by in what seems like a breath. Maybe it’s my middle-age starting to catch up with me, but the fleeting nature of life is beginning to sink in. Time wasted is just that; wasted. That doesn’t necessarily mean wasting time isn’t good for the soul every now and then. It just recognizes time is not something you get back, and you must strike while the iron is hot.

With that being the case, I recently decided now was the best time to practice living outside in the cold. I’ve always been curious as to how people of the past felt, adapted, and handled primitive cold weather camping. These day, most people, myself included, are getting further and further away from these types of trips. I’ve done a few cold weather trips, but all of them had been with modern gear. If I ever wanted to experience a semi-primitive cold weather camp, I needed to take advantage of the winter I was living in. I didn’t want to have to wait again until next year.

With a cold weather camping trip as the goal, I just needed to find a good weekend. I didn’t want my first trip to be in ultra cold temperatures of below zero temps. Call me timid I guess. I also wanted it to be cold enough to actually put me to the test. It happened to work out that my wife was taking our girls to her parent’s house one weekend in February. As luck would have it, the night temps were going to be right at 20˚. This fell smack dab into a Goldie Locks zone for me. Not so cold I might get in over my head, but still plenty cold enough to figure out if my approach was working. With everything coming together, I kissed my girls adios and got my limited gear in order.

I headed toward my favorite camping spot with high hopes. Although my primitive shelter building experience is certainly what you’d call limited, I had what I thought would be a good design in mind. I was actually going to steal my design from a bushcrafter on YouTube. The design was simple and I really felt like it would be a suitable shelter for the conditions. For the cold temps I was bringing along a Hudson Bay wool blanket and an oilcloth I made myself. Both of these were items used by longhunters of the 18th century and mountain men of the 19th century. I figured the trip would offer me a better understanding of their lives.

Once I arrived at my camp, I began straight away with construction. The structure used a tripod design with an extended rear leg. The rope that lashed together my blanket pack also held my tripod together. I figured this was a way to make what little gear I brought more versatile.

Framed out structure.
The basic frame and bedding. At this point is is still lacking the tunnel entrance.

With the tripod made, it was time to start putting the shelter up. It started with a row of sticks up the rear of the tripod. I started with very small sticks and gradually they got longer and longer. When it was all done, the original tripod looked like it had a ribcage. At that point I started to fill the structure with bedding. For this task I gathered dead cottonwood leaves that were lying all around. I filled the interior of the structure with dead leaves about two feet deep. These leaves not only gave me a soft bed to lie on, but insulated me from the worst heat-thief out there; the cold ground.

With the interior filled, it was time to start piling dead leaves on the structure’s exterior. I aimed for a depth of 2 to 3 feet covering the entire shelter. This provided obvious protection from the outside, but also served as a good way to trap heat on the inside. As I piled the leaves on, I was thankful there was no wind. I didn’t figure the leaf shelter would stand up very good against high winds. Before long that theory would be put to the test.

Gathering the leaves for the structure took quite a while. This chore consumed the bulk of the time it took to build my structure. However, it wasn’t the last task I needed to complete. I built a little tunnel off the front of the tripod. This tunnel would trap in more heat, and allow me to somewhat close the gap at the front of the tripod. I used more small sticks for the tunnel frame, and then once again blanketed them with leaves. All told, the structure took me around 3 hours to build. I put my oilcloth and blanket inside while I still had some light. My other camp gear went inside as well.

With the structure complete I made a quick and unsuccessful hunt with my longbow. As dark descended I turned back toward camp. I was looking forward to spending the night tucked away in my night’s home. As I returned, I started to get worried as the wind picked up at dusk. Soon, the air was rushing all around me and stirring things up. Not only that, but I had faced my tunnel entrance to the east, doing my best to avoid a direct wind coming in my hut. Wouldn’t you know it, the wind not only picked up, but was dead out of the east. I guess it was just putting my experiment to the test.

Although the wind was high, I didn’t notice too much damage to my leaf exterior. Sure enough, it was holding up adequately to the wind. Also, it was still cozy enough with the blowing wind. As the night marched on, I eventually climbed into my shelter and wrapped myself in the wool blanket and oilcloth. I was anxious to see how the night would go in the fairly cold temperatures.

Interior.
This photo shows the interior ready for sleeping.

I got an adequate night’s sleep under the brilliant full moon. As morning approached, and gray light shone in the east. I emerged from my lodging to start my day. At this point, I was a little disappointed. I had hoped to test out the shelter and blanket/oilcloth combination in cold weather. It was hard to say for sure, but I didn’t think it had even dropped below freezing during the night. Thinking I had lost an opportunity to test my gear, I crawled out into the awakening world.

After emerging, I checked my water. To my surprise it had frozen almost solid during the night. I guess my setup had proven more than adequate for the cool February night. My pickup was close at hand, and curiosity was now getting the better of me. I opened the door, and turned the key to check the thermometer. Sure enough, it clicked on and 20˚ appeared on the glowing green lights. It had actually gotten much cooler than I had thought. The overall test was a success to me and was a pleasant surprise.

In truth, I did have a bit more than just the shelter, blanket, and oilcloth for warmth. Under my regular clothes I had knee high wool socks and a full set of long underwear. Not only that, but my young pup Huck accompanied me all night. He crawled right in the blanket with me and cuddled up. I’m sure the extra heat had something to do with my comfortable sleep.

All in all, I was satisfied with how my overnight primitive camp went. I had showed up with much less gear then I’ve taken on summer trips, but I had managed to stay comfortable. It helped teach me a little about staying warm in the winter, and put some of my historically proven gear to use. Although I couldn’t call the trip an accurate historical recreation, I can say it taught me a little more about ways of the past.

More than anything, I’m glad I made the trip because I capitalized on the moment I had. Had I let the opportunity slide past, I could have gone another winter without actually experimenting and learning. I know I’ve let plenty of learning experiences slip by in my life, but hopefully I’ll grab ahold of more as they come. I’ll look forward to doing some more primitive camping should I catch a free weekend.

Thanks for giving this post a read! If you enjoyed it and like to learn about the past, you may enjoy a similar post about Osborne Russell’s Journal of a Trapper.

Why To Start a Bow Drill Fire

Making a coal

Learning to build a bow drill fire can be a difficult endeavor. In the end however, you will be a much richer person for the effort.

Bow drill fire
Some may wonder “why” when it comes to primitive fire making. Well, here’s my take.

Frustration was beginning to build. Things weren’t going right, and my patience had evaporated. A tweak here, an adjustment needed there, and then an unsuccessful attempt. I needed a fire for today’s project; a primitive atlatl dart, and it wasn’t going well. When you build a primitive dart, you ought to build a fire by primitive means. That was the plan at least. The main problem was my bow drill set had been given away to an aspiring bow drill student of mine. My new bow was apparently still in the break-in period.

Soon though, I began to find the sweet spot. After a bit of experience with the bow drill, you can really feel when the wood starts burning good. Once the wood was rolling smooth, willow on cottonwood, I could start to smell the smoke rising. The old saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” doesn’t necessarily apply to a bow drill fire. Smoke is just the beginning. Once you get smoke, you still have the bulk of the work ahead of you.

Back and forth, smooth strokes, rolled the spindle back and forth in the hearth. Brown dust collected in the notch as my muscles began to fatigue. Soon the brown dust turned to black and I knew it was time to push the pace. Quickening my speed, I tried to increase the internal temperature in the notch to the magical point where it would weld together and create my coal. Faster and faster I pushed until smoke filled my vision, and I could no longer monitor the situation. I was hitting the point of fatigue where I could potentially slip out of the hearth and knock the whole thing to pieces. All at once I stopped the sawing motion of the bow, and closely observed the dust pile for signs of smoke.

Sure enough, wisps of smoke rose from a pile of dust collected in the notch. From two bits of wood I had created fire. This still provides a sense of wonder every time.

I would guess more people know how to make a bow drill fire than at any time in recent history. So many people are participating in what I would call a bushcraft Renaissance, that this type of skill in not so unknown these days. With just a few minutes you can learn the basics of how to start a bow drill fire. In fact, I’m sure within a short time there may be a post on this site covering the subject. In my mind though, just as important as learning how to create a bow drill fire, is understanding why to.

There are a number of reasons why learning primitive fire making can be beneficial to a person. First off, this skill is certainly not one where you get something for nothing. Unlike many aspects of life where you may achieve, or not achieve, based on a myriad of factors not related to your actual performance, primitive fire making is sort of a pass/fail class. At the end of an attempt you’ve either made a coal, or not made a coal. This kind of accomplishment, especially for young people, can be a huge confidence booster. There is no one else to blame if a coal doesn’t get created, and no one else to take credit if one does. You know where you are in the skill and if you are proficient or not. Practicing primitive fire making can help instill a self-assured confidence only real achievement can create.

Another reason why learning primitive fire making can be beneficial is the knowledge of the natural world it creates. One of the biggest obstacles to create a coal consistently is to use materials that put the odds in your favor. Since all of those materials can be found in nature, you must learn not only to differentiate between woods, but to also know their properties as well. Some woods make good spindles, while others make good hearth boards. With some practice you can soon walk through the woods and spot resources lying all around you.

Smoldering coal
Making a coal isn’t something you can fake. You either get one, or you don’t.

You’ll also need to learn about tinder, and where to find it at different times of the year in different weather circumstances. The outdoors is not a static place. It takes practice to find the resources you’ll need at all times and situations in a year. In order to learn these things, you’ll have to explore your favorite nearby woods for materials throughout the year. This promotes more learning of the natural world and getting to enjoy nature. What could be wrong with that?

Learning to make a bow drill fire has a less concrete benefit as well. By learning a skill like this you help to pass a torch of knowledge into the next future. These types of Stone Age skills are obviously not common place today. As our lives become more technologically advanced, they will naturally get pushed to the edges of our knowledge. If however they are pushed out of our body of knowledge, they will likely be lost forever. It’s likely that people would know of the process, but there is a whole different level in actually knowing the how of the process. It would be disheartening to lose such a foundational skill to the human story.

The only way skills like this can last in an ever changing, fast-paced, and technological modern world, is by putting them into action. When you apply them, you are a literal link in an unbroken chain that extends back into the first chapters of the human story. Future generations will only have the opportunity to practice and apply these skills if someone today forges those links. Learning to start a bow-drill fire, will not only bring the past to the present, but will keep this foundational human skill alive. It is actually quite an honor when you think about it.

Primitive skills may not be for everyone. In fact, I understand why some people might even raise their eyebrow when they learn I spend my time practicing such skills. It simply isn’t something common. On the other hand, for me the pros of learning such skills overwhelm the cons. They are part of the human story that has always intrigued me. Though I’ve only put them into practice over the past handful of years I can see the benefits they bring. If you are looking to make a real accomplishment, increase your knowledge of the world, and bring forth basic human knowledge, learning to make a bow drill fire might be something you’d enjoy.

Thanks for reading this article on why to build a bow drill fire. If you find aspects of the Stone Age interesting, you may find this article “Build an Atlatl and You Build a Piece of Living History” interesting.

Understanding the Mountain Man Possibles Bag

Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia

The mountain man possibles bag was an essential piece of equipment those mountain adventurers simply could not live without.

Mountain man possibles bag
The mountain man possibles bag is a piece of historic gear that can still suit your needs today.

“It kind of looks like a purse,” I commented after I had completed it. I had just put the final few stitches through my first mountain man possibles bag and was admiring my creation. My wife just smirked as she tends to do when one of my projects is complete. As I ran my fingers over the supple brain tanned buckskin, I couldn’t help but a bit of pride creep in. About a year ago that particular piece of deer hide had been wandering the quiet land it inhabited before my well-placed arrow laid it down. Now it would help tote along gear I needed close at hand on my next hunt. Completing these kinds of full circle projects is always deeply satisfying.

The mountain man possibles bag was one of the trapper’s most necessary pieces of equipment. Besides his knife, and his rifle, it may likely his next most essential belonging. In actuality, without his possibles bag his rifle would likely have been almost near useless. Almost.

The History

Lewis and Clark on the Lower Columbia
Lewis and Clark would have carried possibles bags. Photo via wikicommons.

A possibles bag carried what mountain men referred to as their possibles. Possibles were all things the man might possibly need while out traveling. Things like shooting tools, fire starting materials, and bullets could be carried in this pouch. Oftentimes an interior pocket was sewn to the inside to allow for more organization to the bag. The possibles bag is a good representation of how resourceful the mountain men were. All of the basics tools they needed to survive in their rugged landscape was what they could carry on their person. It helps to prove that if you can take more knowledge with you as you travel, you don’t need nearly as many tools.

For my possibles bag I chose to blend a few bits of historic resources I had at my disposal. There was a photograph of an Lakota shooting bag in James Hanson’s book titled Little Chief Gatherings that caught my eye while reviewing the artifacts. Although I didn’t copy this shooting bag completely, it served as the guide for dimensions and basic structure. I also examined a few of Alfred Jacob Miller’s paintings and the possibles bags of the American Mountain Men Rocky Mountain Outfit. After viewing the historical examples I came across, I created my own unique bag to fit my taste.

Making the Bag

As mentioned the bag I designed was created from buckskin I tanned from last year’s deer. I hand sewed the entire project and used artificial sinew as my thread. My bag ended up being around 22 cm wide and 25 cm deep. The strap is 4 cm wide and 110 cm long also made of buckskin. One little accessory I wanted to include was a bullet pouch I noticed on the Lakota example. This pouch was 7 cm wide by 14 cm deep. Whether it is historically accurate for mountain men, it’s hard to say. I’m sure certain men had their own preferences when they constructed their gear. Either way I thought it would be a handy extra pocket to have to carry bullets, shells, or even extra arrow components.

Buckskin.
The bulk of the buckskin I cut to make my mountain man possibles bag.

When it came to putting the bag together the process unfolded pretty straightforward. I cut my front flap to the dimensions I desired. I then traced around that pattern and left extra material at the top that would become the flap of the bag. Next I needed to cut a piece of fringe material I would welt into the bottom seam. With that, most of my material was cut to size and ready for stitching.

Attaching this fringe was the biggest challenge I faced. When putting the project together I wanted to sew the project inside out to conceal the stitching. The problem was the fringe would have been trapped if I just sewed all the way around the edge. This was due to the fact I cut my fringe as a U shape. Looking back if I had simply cut the fringe straight it would have been much easier. I decided that if I started by sewing the bottom edge first I could manipulate the fringe piece easier as I sewed.

Once the stitching started it went pretty quickly. I first punched holes with my awl, widened them to size, then threaded the bag using a whip stitch. With the bag complete, I just needed to cut and attach my shoulder strap. Fellas used to wear this generally just below the elbow near the waistline. It just made it easy to access. Rather than sew the strap on, I attached it with a bit of buckskin so it would have the ability to “float”. I got this concept from the Lakota bag I saw. The bullet bag is connected in much the same way.

With the mountain man possibles bag complete I now have a major component of my gear complete. The bag accomplishes a few important things. One, it gives me a handy bag for lots of things I need while out and about. Secondly though, the possibles bag gives me some boundaries to work with. In today’s world we are so used to loading up bags, and pickups, and campers with gear that we think we have to pack along everything but the kitchen sink. It’s just not the case. The possibles bag gives me some real dimensions to work with when it comes to limiting my gear. It’s true that mountain men used packhorses extensively and they had much more gear than their possibles. It is also true however that with their knife, rifle, and possibles, they could stay alive for extended periods of time.

Possibles sack
This bag hangs just below my elbow and is a very convenient way to carry things whether on a traditional hunt or just tromping around.

The mountain man possibles bag is a great piece of gear. Not only it is a historically accurate aspect of gear, but it can force you to really scrutinize your gear. Finally, the possibles bag is a very functional piece of gear. Even just the first few times I wore it, it became apparent how convenient it would be on hunting and trapping trips. All that being said…I still think it looks like a purse.

If you liked this brief how-to on making a mountain man possibles bag, you might enjoy another article I put together titled 18th century fire starting with a Twist.