Family Recipe: Uncle Dean’s Famous Smoke Rub

Smoked venison

Uncle Dean’s famous smoke rub may easily become a family favorite.

Few things bespeak traditions like a family recipe passed down. Although I can’t claim this recipe comes from the “Old World”, it is one that my uncle gave to me. We use this rub on almost all of our smoked wild game recipes with only minor alterations. It would work well on the grill as well, but the rub combined with the smoked flavor is about as good as it gets for smoked venison.

Ingredients

Here are the ingredients you will need for Uncle Dean’s Famous Smoke Rub:
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1/4 Cup White Sugar
2-3 Tbs Salt
1 1/2 Tbs Cumin
2 Tbs Chipotle (or substitute any rub of choice)
1/2 tsp Black Pepper, Garlic Powder and Onion Powder

Steps

We first like to tenderize the meat.

Next we soak it in milk over night or for at least a couple of hours.

When it is done soaking in the milk we rinse off the meat and pat it dry so the rub mix will stick.

Now it is time to add the rub. We usually place the meat in a large zip lock bag and shake, or combine the rub with meat in a bowl. The meat does not necessarily have to marinate in the rub, but we like to let it set for at least a couple of hours.

The meat is then ready to head to the smoker.

It’s best to have your smoker preheated before you put your meat on to cook. When it comes to smoking the adage is “low and slow.” Keeping the heat low and cooking it slowly will lead to great tasting stuff.

Our smoker doesn’t get much lower than 225 degrees, so that is where we set it and let it preheat.

Once it is up to temperature we go ahead and lay the meat on the racks. We typically allow for around three and a half to four hours of cook time for smoked venison and add our wood chips the last hour.

Once the temperature of your meat is up to par, 180 degrees for venison, it’s ready to enjoy!

So next time you get together for a family gathering, have some friends over, or just want to dine on delicious smoked venison, use Uncle Dean’s Famous Rub to give your wild game a delicious taste that will have your mouth watering.

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I’d love to hear any other smoking recipes you like to use in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy using this traditional recipe for dandelion greens.

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The Legend of Wendigo: The Trapper’s Demon

Wendigo

The legend of Wendigo is one that has frightened trappers and hunters for centuries.

The trapper’s attention snapped into focus. He scanned his surrounding for imminent danger. Surely his mind wasn’t playing tricks on him. Wind howled through the black night, sweeping snow through the endless silhouettes of black spruce. It was hard to tell for sure, but he swore he had seen it. Gripping the smooth stock of his trusty flintlock had always given him comfort, but this night was different. Would his gun even be up to the test?

Suddenly he caught a slight movement through the torrent of gusting snow. His eyes squinted hard to focus on the area. Being only as thick as a piece of birch bark, his adversary was near impossible to see. Though, with dagger-like fangs and ripping claws, it could sure enough kill him. His pulse quickened with the thought. How do you fight such a beast? Could it even be killed?

Hearing a noise behind him, he wheeled around to see it’s source. Now facing the wind, his capote hood was ripped from his head. Stinging snow pelted his face as he strained to see into the night. His heart was racing now, his chest rising and falling with every terrified breath. Bringing the butt of his rifle to his shoulder, he stared down the barrel aiming into the empty night.

Movement to his left. He swung the gun to fix his aim. Nothing there.

Now he caught motion to his right. Instinctively he swung the rifle and his finger squeezed the trigger. BOOM! The shot echoed through the black, sending a plume of blackpowder into gale. As it cleared he swore he saw a creature running to his left, circling his current position. Now, with his gun empty, he realized how defenseless he was. His only option was to bolt into the forrest.

He ran into the night, floundering through knee deep snow. Dodging through the maze of trees he lifted his legs high to gain extra ground. Suddenly he felt something grab at the sleeve of this blanket coat. Screaming, he tore his arm away and continued his mad dash through the woods. His legs pulsed with the effort, and his lungs filled with breath that was never enough. Keep going, he thought to himself.

Unexpectedly, he tripped on a branch that had been covered by the snow. His momentum carried him forward, and he fell hard on his chest. Instantly he rolled to his back, and then he saw it.

Through the blackness approached the yellowish figure. At least 15 feet tall, saliva dripped down its fangs from its open mouth. Heartless tawny eyes froze the man to the ground. The trapper knew his fate. Wendigo was always hungry. Hungry for human flesh. Slowly, stepping deliberately, the creature moved in on his fallen prey. The trapper slowly tried to grab for his knife. Wendigo moved closer. He felt his finger grasp the worn handle of his trusty knife. I may still have a chance, he thought.

Wendigo trudged one step closer.

The trapper waited.

Another step.

Just as he was beginning to draw his knife, the creature leapt at him with lightening speed. The force of the blow was like being kicked by an elk. Something ripped into his flesh, and he felt warm blood running down his chest. Pinned to the ground he saw the ghoulish head of his foe rise up till they were face to face. Blood dripped from the fangs onto the dying trapper. Then;

blackness.

Coming from the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain region, I never heard the legend of Wendigo until reading a book called The Beaver Men by Mari Sandoz. In the book she describes how the early French Voyagers of the North Woods told stories about this great demon of the forrest. Perhaps their fears were based on real events they saw in their lives. It could also be a few skittish men were influenced by the tales of the Native people they were staying with. Historically, the legend of Wendigo is likely Pre-Columbian, though we will never know for sure.

Legend has it, Wendigo were once human. Their transformation occurred as a result of their choice to turn cannibalistic. In fact, according to tradition, Wendigo aren’t a race of beings like Sasquatch, rather their ranks are constantly being renewed as people become Wendigo. What’s more, is that Wendigo are apparently easier to kill while in transitional form, which leads to another remarkable story. That of Jack Fiddler.

Jack Fiddler was a Cree who made a name for himself by killing Wendigo. By the early 1900’s, Fiddler had claimed to have killed 14 of the beasts during his life. Time has neglected to record much of his first 13 kills, but reports show his last was against an 87 year old woman who was “in transformation.” By this time the Canadian Mounties were establishing a real presence among the Cree, and when they found out about the murder Fiddler and his son were taken into custody. He revealed that oftentimes tribesmen asked him to kill their family members when they showed signs of change. If done according to ritual, the human would be saved, albeit killed, from becoming a Wendigo. Fiddler escaped the jail only to hang himself the next day.

There are those out there who still believe Wendigo is prowling the North Woods in search of their next meal. Others pass it off as hog wash, along with all the other stories of unexplainable beasts. In the end, the legend of Wendigo is a classic ghost story that has been spun countless times across the generations. It is part of the folk lore of the outdoors and may be a good way to make your new camping companions a bit uneasy.

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I’d love to hear your thoughts on the legend of Wendigo, or any other great ghost stories told by outdoorsman, in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article showcasing a poem written by mountain man Rufus Sage.

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Primitive Tanning Techniques from Mountain Man Zenas Leonard

Buffalo Hunt painting.

People interested in primitive skills and history might appreciate Zenas Leonard’s account of primitive tanning used by the Crow.

One of the primitive skills I find most useful in daily life is tanning. Tanning not only allows you to use more of each animal you harvest, but can help you to create useful products. Over the past few years I’ve made moccasins, quivers, pouches, and plenty of hunting equipment. Few things are softer and have a more comfortable feel that good brain tanned buckskin. It is a process that I enjoy and it also has real world application.

Raccoon fur mittens.
Primitive tanning can be useful to make beautiful products like these fur mittens.

Usually while brain tanning, I often wonder about how people of the past did primitive tanning. With the luxury of steel fleshing knives, plastic buckets, and other specially made tools for the job, I think about how Paleo people would have done it. I imagine the process certainly would be more difficult. As luck would have it, while reading the journal of mountain man Zenas Leonard I came across an entry that described in detail the process used to brain tan buffalo hides.

The entry comes on page 57 of his 59 page journal. Near the end of his time in the mountains, Leonard takes the opportunity to live with a band of Crows. One interesting dimension of Leonard was his fairly good eye for, and interest in, anthropology. He not only enjoyed living with the Crow, but he was eager to learn about their lives, and record it as well. His journal begins by describing the buffalo hunting process and all the rituals that surrounded it. One who wonders about bygone days can get a clear picture of what a buffalo hunt may have looked like from reading the journal.

Leonard next records how buffalo hides were cared for after several had been killed. He records;

“The Indians would go out in large companies and kill a great number of these animals (buffalo), when it would be the duty of the women to follow after and gather up the hides, which they would convey to the camp, and dress them ready for market. It is the duty of the squaws to dress the buffalo robes alone, which is done by stretching the hide tight on the ground and there let it dry, when they have a piece of iron or sharp stone, fixed in a stick, making a tool similar to a foot-adze, with which the cut and scrape the fleshy side until it becomes thin and smooth—after this they have a mixture composed of the brains and liver of the animal mixed together, in which they soak the hide a couple of days, when it is taken out and again stretched on the ground, where it is beat and rubbed with a paddle until in becomes perfectly soft and dry.”

If you are interested in primitive tanning you no doubt find the passage interesting at least. Still though, this passage raises a few questions in my mind.

First off, he says they “soak the hide a couple of days” in the brain and liver mixture. I have to wonder what is it soaking in? They didn’t have plastic buckets? I wonder if the hide was saturated and then folded upon itself to retain the moisture. That would make sense, and would be similar to the way I tan fur-on garments, except only one side is being covered in the tanning agent. Secondly I wonder if the paddle method is better, or worse, than the regular breaking method I normally use? Breaking is no doubt the most difficult step in the process and this method could be useful.This may be one of those questions I’ll have to answer by experimenting on a small hide.

Again, tanning is a great primitive skill to understand. It has utility and extends the bounty of the hunt. People have tanned differently all across the world to meet the same goal; material for clothing and gear. This particular primitive tanning method is laid out in plain fashion by mountain man who witnessed the process firsthand. For those folks interested in such things, we are fortunate he took the time to record it.

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If you have experience with this primitive tanning method, I’d appreciate your thoughts in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article about the Mountain Man Possibles Bag.

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27 Foods Eaten by Mountain Man Zenas Leonard

Black bear.

Whether you appreciate wild food or history, you might find this list of foods eaten by mountain man Zenas Leonard interesting.

For one reason or another, the foods eaten by mountain men are something I find intriguing. Perhaps it is because of the self-reliance it highlights. It could be because of what we can learn about our food from learning about theirs. It also could be because every so often you come across something so disgusting you just can’t seem to forget it. In reality, all three of these factors likely add to my fixation on learning about the foods of the mountain men and others who were/are self-reliant. Recently one primary source I read and learned from was the diary of mountain man Zenas Leonard.

Zenas Leonard left Missouri in 1831 during the height of the Rocky Mountain Fur trade era. His journals describe not only his experience with other mountain men, but the great adventure he joined with Capt. Joe Walker to California. If you read the journal (at this link) you will notice that Leonard was not only an expert outdoorsman, but he also had an eye for culture as well. On several occasions he takes the time to learn about different people of an area. Near the end of the journal (starting on pg. 51) he describes his desire to live with the Crow and learn about “their internal mode of living.” After reading the journal you get the impression that he was looking to make some money, but was just as much concerned with learning, experiencing, and adventure. It is a good read if you enjoy the subject.

As with several other journals, the Zenas Leonard journal devotes some attention to the foods he ate. This seems to be the case for several reasons. One, many of the foods were unique to him, and two, many times food was a huge issue in his life. While we sit down and eat 3 squares everyday, he and the other mountain men were never truly certain when their next meal would be. You can imagine how this would heighten your appreciation for a good meal.

If you are interested, here are the 27 foods that mountain man Zenas Leonard enjoyed, or otherwise ate, while living as a mountain man.

Corn (PG 1) – In trade from both the Kanza and Oto tribes.

Wild Turnips (PG 1) – From a band of Oto’s.

Muscles and Small Fish (PG 1) – Leonard mentions fishing on several occasions, more than the other journals I have read.

Horse.
Horses were commonly eaten during times of extreme hunger. Image via pixabay.

Horse (PG 1) – Leonard wasn’t in the West long before he had his first taste of horseflesh. Later during his time in the mountains (PG +26) he describes this practice on many occasions when the men were close to starvation. He also describes the painful feeling of killing a horse this way (PG 29); “It seemed to be the greatest cruelty to take your rifle, when your horse sinks to the ground from starvation, but still manifests a desire and a willingness to follow you, to shoot him in the head and then cut him up & take such parts of their flesh as extreme hunger along will render it possible for a human being to eat.” Certainly a somber tone to that entry. It also shows a side not often recognized in the mountaineers.

Wolves (PG 2) – In order to keep from starving.

Wild Cats (PG 2) – Leonard is unclear as to what kind of cat, but you would likely assume a bobcat.

Antelope (PG 2) – A staple food of the plains.

Elk (PG 2) – His first mentioned elk was enjoyed after an extended period of near starvation. In the next sentence he mentions the party was “refreshed” and “set out with unusual fine spirits.” One can only imagine how good that elk must have tasted.

Buffalo (PG 2) – First mention of killing a buffalo, the favorite meat of the mountaineers. He set out in late April from St. Louis and recalls this meal was ate in late July after arriving in buffalo country. He recorded “the flesh of the Buffaloe is the wholesomest and most palatable of meat kind.” Later in the journal he describes killing great numbers of bison especially before his first winter in the mountains set in.

Deer (PG 2) – Killed nearly every day for a portion of the trip.

Bighorn Sheep (PG 4) – Noted killing bighorn sheep while putting up meat for the winter, and to use the hides in order to make moccasins.

Beaver Skins (PG 6) – During his first winter Zenas Leonard and a few comrades made a desperate attempt to reach Santa Fe in mid-winter. They set out from camp with few provisions and just a few beaver skins for trade. After a short time flogging about the mountains in incredible amounts of snow, the men were starving. He recorded they roasted and ate the beaver skins at this point in order to keep from starving to death. After killing a buffalo later, he notes in the journal the bull was killed after eating nothing but beaver skin for 9 days.

Black bear.
Most mention of bear comes once he made it to California. Image via Pixabay.

Bear (PG 9) – There are a few mentions of eating bear, but page 9 is the first reference. Later, once he got to California (PG 29), the party regularly killed and ate bear.

Beaver (PG 17) – During a strenuous trip across the Great Basin, Leonard mentions eating beaver. You would imagine this was common practice for mountain men.

Fish (PG 18) – Here Leonard mentions several specific fish species of trout and catfish. He also noted “others suitable for hook and line.” Again, Leonard mentions fishing on multiple occasions.

Rabbits (PG 23) – Also noted during his trek through the Great Basin.

Acorns (PG 28) – A welcomed meal after starving on the mountains. Later in the journal he would explain this is the principle food of the native people of the area. Folks who have read the story of Ishi no doubt remember this fact well.

Bread and cheese
While in California, Leonard got the chance to enjoy bread and cheese. Image via Pixabay.

Bread, Butter, and Cheese (PG 33) – When the party of mountain men reached the shores of the Pacific, in a stroke of good luck they met an American ship. After exchanging greetings the men were invited aboard the ship for a feast. In exchange for fresh meat, which the sailors were delighted to indulge in, the mountaineers enjoyed these three foods. Leonard notes it had been more than 2 years since he had eaten this sort of civilized food.

Flour, Corn, Beans, &c (PG 41) – Before embarking eastward back across the mountains and the desert, Capt. Joe Walker outfitted his men with these provisions to eat on the journey.

Beef (PG 43) – For the same reason as the above mentioned staples were purchased, a herd of cattle were brought along as portable provisions. Within a short time nearly all of these animals would be killed or die from the extremes of the desert.

Dog (PG 43) – Dogs were brought along for the same purpose as cattle. While moving across the desert it is recorded (PG 46); “The pitiful lamentations of our dogs were sufficient to melt the hardest heart.” Once again you can see that although dogs were used for food, it certainly wasn’t something the men enjoyed. It was simply about survival.

Blood (PG 47) – While in the desert Leonard noted that thirst was the major want of the men and that; “… it became so intense, that whenever one of our cattle or horses would die the men would immediately catch the blood and greedily swallow it down.” This particular desert crossing (from California back to the trapping grounds) also put Jed Smith and his men into similarly trying times.

Good Old Brandy (PG 48) – Sort of a humorous entry at this point. He notes the men enjoy a small portion of brandy, which they drank in a few minutes, “deeply regretting that we had not a small portion of what was that day destroyed by the millions of freemen in the states.”

As you can see, it wasn’t always pretty, but the men did what they needed to do in order to stay alive. The diet not only included an ample amount of wild food, but on occasion he enjoyed some staples of civilization as well. All in all these 27 foods can teach us a good deal about what life was like as a mountain man, and perhaps a good deal about what our diets should look like as well.

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I’d love to hear what you think about these mountain man foods, and Zenas Leonard in the comments section below.

Also, thanks for taking the time to read this article. If you like the content you may enjoy this article 28 Wild Foods Eaten by Mountain Man Rufus Sage.

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Revere 6th Grade Shines During their Hatchet Survival Lesson

Recently the 6th graders from Revere schools got their hands dirty during a Hatchet survival lesson. The results were impressive.

Campfire
Stories around the campfire were just one high point of the lesson.

The best part about teaching is when you know you hit a home run. Whether it is a lesson that gets kids fired up, saying the right thing to a kid looking for guidance, or the well placed joke that lightens the mood, sometimes you can just feel good about what you do. In the past few days I was lucky enough to get that home run feeling with a lively group of 6th graders from Revere public schools.

Principal Brandon Marques got ahold of me several months ago and asked if I was interested in teaching an outdoor education lesson to the 6th grade at his school. Without any hesitation I told him I was certainly interested and we started planning the details. Over the course of a few weeks I came to understand that Mrs. Green’s class was reading the book Hatchet, and they were looking to take the lessons to the real world. Oddly enough, I had never read the book before. After reading it I realized how many great outdoor lessons were in the book. In the week’s preceding the class I worked with folks at Revere to get everything lined up for what was to be a great lesson.

It was Thursday night when we all finally got together. The sun hung high over Lake McConaughy and the weather was fantastic. After a brief hello to the class we got right to work. The first lesson would be in fire making, one of humanity’s greatest accomplishments. We first learned a little about fire, the three ingredients fire needs, and how important fire was to Brian (the main character from Hatchet). Since Brian had basically used a flint and steel set to get his fire going, the students would do the same. Before getting started we learned and reviewed the elements of a flint and steel fire including your tinder, flint, steel, and char. The kids quickly picked it up and soon we were ready to get started.

One important lesson we reviewed before actually beginning to make fire, is the importance of getting your fire ingredients organized. Kids used cottonwood cambium and dry grasses for tinder. Sky reminded us all that Brian had used a $20 bill unsuccessfully to get his fire going. Soon we remembered he used birch bark in the story to successfully create fire. Needless to say, by the time the kids were done they had created 7 excellent tinder bundles for their fire starting projects.

Josh holding fire.
All the students got the satisfaction of actually holding fire in their hands.

We let the kids decide between two different fire starting methods; flint and steel and a ferro rod. Both are similar to what Brian used. Within the first few minutes things were going great and Jenna was able to get a fire going on her very first try. Soon Allie and Nikko followed suit and we had several students actually holding fire. In addition to the fire, they also held a better sense of Brian’s accomplishments in their hands. Talk about bringing the story to life in Living Literature lesson. Eventually all students would get their tinder bundle burning. Some went on to create several different fires.

Around the campfire that night students ate a hearty meal and told countless stories while lit up by the primitive glow of the firelight. I learned about Mrs. Green’s 6th grade class, how Andy likes to put firecrackers in his mom’s microwave, and about all the awesome projects the kids have gotten to do. With our Neanderthal TV (fire) blazing, we got to feel the warmth and contentment only a fire can provide. Needless to say, with a warm fire burning and stars shining overhead, it was a great night.

The next morning I showed up to see the class failing at their attempt to get their breakfast campfire going. They were testing out a modern form of fire starting and hadn’t planned for the fire very well. After a few quick questions the class realized where they had gone awry and rapidly rebuilt their fire base. Within a few minutes they had their fire going. The best part was they had done the problem solving on their own, and fixed their own mistake.

After a bite to eat the class and I ventured down the beach to find a suitable location for our morning shelter building project. During the walk the class learned that under the right conditions shelter should be the first priority in a situation where you are caught in the woods. Within a few minutes we found a great location with everything we needed within a close distance. After reviewing the basics of a shelter we got started building our debris hut. During the building kids learned about insulation, natural cordage, and how to break sticks. Big….actually, huge sticks. Josh took the lead as the master stick breaker and provided us with plenty of material for our shelter. Within the hour we had a good thing going and our shelter was coming along nicely.

We took a break to review the elements of a shelter and grab a bite to eat. The cinnamon rolls in orange peels were delicious and supplied us with some extra energy for the job. Throughout the Hatchet survival lesson we constantly talked about food, calories, and how Brian had to balance his time and energy while stranded. At this point Mrs. Green and I also were able to give the kids a crash demonstration in how erosion works. One fun thing about teaching this way is capitalizing on teaching points as they come up. It seems to help both teaching and learning.

After our second breakfast we headed back to complete our shelter. The debris hut required us to pile dead leaves thickly over the entire shelter frame we had made. Everybody chipped in and within no time we were making some progress. Hunter was someone who stood out during the process as a guy who you could depend on to get the job done. He was a big help throughout. Once we got the shelter built we only had a few minutes to enjoy our creation and then it was time to tear it down. With only a few hours left in our time together, it was time to begin our last lesson.

Debris hut with class.
Completed debris hut with the Revere 6th grade.

As Brian began to get settled in to his routine in the bush, he had to get food. Although he tried many methods, he quickly realized that fish were abundant in the area. In order to catch fish easily, and store them live, he decided to built a fish trap. During our Living Literature lesson on Hatchet, we would do the same.

It is worth thanking the Nebraska Game and Parks game warden Terry Brenzal at this point. You see, building fish traps in Nebraska is illegal. A few days before our lesson I called Terry and asked him if we could build one for the project. I explained what we were doing, and that we wouldn’t actually be trying to catch fish. After getting a feel for our project Terry gave me the go-ahead to build them in the name of education. It is important to note lots of good people were involved with bringing this lesson together, and Mr. Brenzal is one who deserves a thank you.

For the fish trap project I diagramed how the trap should be laid out, and gave a few tips on where it should be. Fish traps are pretty simple devices and the basics take only a few minutes to teach. As we got ready to build, I got a chance to see the competitive nature of the class take over. Rather than build one fish trap as a class, they wanted to build two separate one. Boys against girls of course. With the teams set, each party began earnest construction of their traps. Bouncing back between teams, I could see how each team was approaching the project differently. The boys wanted a build a big trap and wanted to go into deep water. The girls opted for a smaller trap, and used a dead carp they found as “bait”. It was fun to see them get into the project and see their creativity take over. After the traps were complete we took a few pictures then tore them down.

Girl’s fish trap.
Boy’s fish trap.

All in all, the Hatchet survival lesson was a hit. Students got a chance to actually live out some of the skills Brian used in the story. Throughout the lesson they were challenged to use their minds to solve problems, scan the world for things they could use, and work together as a team to accomplish a goal. It is safe to say that after our lesson, their understanding of the book went to a whole new level.

I’d like to give a huge thank you to Mrs. Green and Mr. Marquez for allowing me to be involved with this lesson. It was a great experience to teach an engaging outdoor lesson to the kids. Hopefully this lesson can highlight what the folks at Revere, and public schools all over, are doing to help kids learn. Thanks!

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Thanks for taking the time to read this article about the Hatchet Living Literature lesson. If you like the content, I’d encourage you to follow the blog by clicking the Follow button near the bottom of this page. You may also enjoy this article about the atlatl course I taught at Revere earlier this year.

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