Bear Whitetail Hunter: My Piece of History

Bear Archery logo

The Bear Whitetail Hunter was a common bow in it’s day, and is now a relic I’m happy to own.

I’m not much of a collector. Sure, I collected football and basketball cards as a kid and still hold onto a few unique coins every now and then. Overall though, I don’t like to accumulate a lot of stuff. Recently though I’ve been building quite a bow collection. The first few were for utility and for hunting. More recently though I’ve been donated a few bows and now have some classic wall hangers. One of my new additions is the Bear Whitetail Hunter.

Not knowing much about this bow I sat down and decided to do a little research. The Web proved to be a bit stubborn coughing up information on this bow. After reading through the forums I was able to glean a little information. I also went ahead and got in touch with the folks at Bear Archery, and their prompt customer service got back to me within 12 hours. Though they didn’t have much on the bow, they were kind enough to e-mail the original owner’s manual. After doing my homework, I learned quite a bit about this bow designed by the legend himself; Fred Bear.

The Whitetail Hunter was a bow designed by Fred Bear as compound bows were starting to make serious noise in the archery scene. By the 1970’s Bear had earned a tremendous reputation from his quality traditional bows. It’s no wonder that when he released his first compound, the WH, people were quick to jump on board.

By the sounds of things, the WH was an extremely popular bow in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. On the forums lots of seasoned archers claim to have taken at least a few deer with them. Heck, some of them still shoot the same bow. No one brags about the performance of the bow, but that’s compared to modern equipment.

Hanging bow
The Bear Whitetail Hunter

Although compared to our equipment the Whitetail Hunter is nothing special, it was pretty advanced for its time. It had the ability to adjust bow the draw length and draw weight with the help of a bowpress. In fact at 28″ it had the ability to range from 35 to 60 pounds according to the owner’s manual. It has an ATA of 45″ and boasted of a 50% letoff. Though it seems a bit archaic today, the amount of creativity it took to get the product out would have been an accomplishment during its heyday.

As mentioned, some folks still hunt with their tried and trusted Bear Whitetail Hunter. For me, it will be a classic keepsake that stays on the wall. It draws fine and I’m sure it would shoot an arrow, but I’m just fine looking at it. Although most of my bows bear the Bear emblem (pun intended), this one is a bit extra special as I know it was designed by Mr. Bear himself. Sure it may have a few dings, dents, and chipped paint, but to me it only adds to the character. I may not be much of a collector, but this one just seems worth holding onto.

Anything I missed on this post about this classic bow?  Let me know in the comments below.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this article about the classic Bear Whitetail Hunter. If you like the content, I’d encourage you to follow the blog by subscribing at the bottom of the page. You may also enjoy this article about the hunting video that inspired Fred Bear to take up archery; the famous Art Young hunting film.

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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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28 Wild Foods Eaten By Mountain Man Rufus Sage

Buffalo

If you’ve ever wondered what wild food the mountain men ate, you’ll surely appreciate this list from Rufus Sage’s journal.

Food in America today is atypical from its historical place in people’s lives. Very few people reading this, if any, will wake up and ask the question, “Will I eat today?” Most folks will wake up secure in the fact they’ll have at least a few meals. Most of them will have snacks, fruits, and vegetables, all within arms length if they desire to. The biggest challenge we tend to have is batting away bad calories and trying to get just the good. As normal as this might be to the average American, it certainly hasn’t been the norm in our history.

One of the more interesting aspects of history to me personally, is how people were able to forge a living from the land. Be it pioneers, mountain men, or Stone Age hunters, just thinking about how much food they had to consume is a little mind blowing. Men on the Lewis and Clark expedition would consume up to 9 pounds of meat in a day. 9 pounds! I’ve never met anyone that could eat 9 pounds of meat in a day and still be worth a darn. It’s stories like this that stoke my fascination about how people of the past lived.

Recently while reading mountain man Rufus Sage’s journal, I started searching for the food he ate. Albeit, he doesn’t spend an extraordinary amount of time on the subject, he does address it occasionally. You see, Sage was not an experienced mountain man. He headed west in 1841 after the Rendezvous period had come to a close. He had bounced around the frontier states for a while, and eventually decided to see the great west while it remained unsettled. As he was new to mountain man life, he recorded it from a perspective of observation. As such, he could point out unique things seasoned mountain men took for granted. He sheds some light on the wild foods eaten by the mountain men because they were an oddity in his life. Just as they would be new experiences for us, they were likely the same for him.

After reading the journals I was able to nail down these 28 wild foods he ate while on his adventure. This list may be incomplete, and other food may have been included. At times the journal hints that other foods were eaten, but never directly states the fact. Those food were intentionally left out. He also apparently ate farmed food, but that has been omitted as well. These foods are the wild foods that Sage directly states he had eaten.

If you’d like to read his account of the food, you can click this link and follow along in his journal. It has graciously been provided by the Mountain Men and the Fur Trade website.

Without further delay, here are the 28 wild foods eaten by mountain man Rufus Sage.

Buffalo
Buffalo were a staple food of mountain men. Image via Pixabay.

Buffalo (PG 43)
Buffalo was one of the mainstays in the mountain man diet. They consumed many parts of the animal from meat, to intestine, to organs. There are many cases where Sage records hunting the animals and enjoying their meat. This entry records his first taste of what would become his staple food.

Sage was impressed by the impact a diet of wild meat had on human health. Later in his journal (PG 280) he would write:

“Sickness of any kind is rarely known to the various Indian tribes confined exclusively to its use. These people almost invariably live to an extraordinary age, unless cut off by the ravages or war or some unforeseen event. Consumption, dyspepsy, colds, and fevers, are alike strangers to them. The same observation holds good in regard to the whites who reside in this country and subsist in a similar manner.”

Dog (PG 111)
Sage comments that Indian dog was not inferior to pork. He also notes that the thought of eating dog would have made people of the mid-1800’s “squamish”.

Elk (PG 122)
Of course elk was on the menu. Sage mentions hunting elk on several occasions.

Pomme Blanc (White Apple)(PG 122)
A root eaten by the mountain men. Noted to taste like turnip and look like sheep sorrel.

Commote (PG 123)
Another root. Like radish with leaves like a carrot.

Wild Cherry Bark Tea (PG 123)
Apparently very common and use for purifying blood. Sage notes it as, “Effective and necessary to general health.”

Deer would certainly have been enjoyed. Image via Pixabay.

Deer (PG 124)
Of course many deer were eaten. This is barely mentioned in the journal though, likely because it wasn’t that out of the ordinary in his life.

Prairie Dog (PG 126)
Sage describes them as tender and quite palatable.

Serviceberry (PG 131)
Highly esteemed for its superior flavor.

Box-Elder Sap (PG 132)
Noted as “Not inferior to that of maple.”

Bear (PG 133)
At several points in his journal Sage mentioned eating bear. He specifically mentions the liver, heart, kidney, fat, fleece and ribs as portions they ate.

Mountain Sheep (PG 139)
Described as good, tender and sweet.

Mountain Fowl (PG 144)
By the description, I’d wager a ptarmigan, though could be some other grouse as well.

Bilters (PG 153)
Buffalo gut-juice drink. Directions are to mix one pint water with 1/4 gill of buffalo gall. “A wholesome and exhilarating drink.” Sage also notes that on the first drink it “may cause vomiting,” though on the second or third trial the stomach accepts it. He also goes into depth about how the drink is believed to be very beneficial for overall health.

Bald eagle
Even bald eagles contributed to the diet. Image via Pixabay.

Bald Eagle Fledglings (PG 164)
Made “a fine meal.”

Waterfowl Eggs (PG 164)

Antelope (PG 175)

“Greens” (PG 175)
He doesn’t go into much depth here. You can imagine he had learned a variety of wild greens available, though as far as I can tell this is the only instance where he mentions “greens”.

Prickly Pear Cactus (PG 196)
Eaten after boiling. Described the practice as “not uncommon”.

Turkey (PG 203)
Killed by the dozens out of the roost. Sage gives an entertaining and descriptive account of hunting turkeys from the roost. On several occasions he talks about shooting multiple birds after discovering their roost tree.

Salmon (PG 248)
While spending time in Oregon, Sage notes the abundance of fish and other marine life in the area. Though many types of marine animals are noted, only the salmon are described as “delicious”. One could likely assume he ate other species noted as well.

Oftentimes in his journal Sage gives advice on what future settlers should do. For example, he says some areas should be used for farming and mining. In the case of Oregon, he rightly assumes that fishing will become a major industry of that region.

Wild Fruits (PG 259)
Cherries, gooseberries, serviceberries, currants, plums and grapes.

Wolf.
Even predator meat was occasionally on the mountain man menu. Image via Pixabay.

Wolf (PG 296)
Interesting to read that mountaineers occasionally dined on predator meat. In this case it was for breakfast. One should note it was only after 2 days and 3 nights of not eating. Foods like this seem to be reserved for “survival” purposes.

Horse (PG 305)
Again, more of a “survival” food. There are many stories from this time period of men eating horse and mule. In this case a colt was slaughtered for being “unmanageable” and presented “an opportunity too tempting not to be improved in replenishing our stock, which induced us to encamp for that purpose.” An entertaining story follows with the owner of the horse showing up shortly after the colt was killed.

Crow’s Eggs (PG 320)
Six to ten dozen in an hour.

Catfish (PG 347)
Caught in great number. He also mentions that east of the Rockies there were few good places to fish.

Prairie potato (PG 355)
Prairie turnip in today’s nomenclature.

Nothing (PG 291)
Maybe the biggest aspect of the mountain man diet that stands out when you read their journals, is the fact they often went hungry. In this case Sage went 5 days and nights without eating. It certainly wasn’t uncommon and Sage often notes not eating for days at a time. In a world where 3 hots at predetermined times  is the norm, it’s hard to imagine being constantly half starved.

While there are many takeaways from this list of wild food the mountain men ate, a few stand out. One, the idea that mountain men simply ate large animals like buffalo, elk, and deer is just not the case. Although buffalo supplied a large amount of meat, and was coveted, they ate a variety of food. Two, in a pinch they’d eat about anything. Three, their level of activity and diet of wild food had a positive impact on health that was not lost to men at the time. This shouldn’t be earth shattering for anyone to hear. Eat right, stay active, and you’ll feel good.

Finally, mountain men really seem to have enjoyed eating. Sage describes legitimate feasts in his journals. You can imagine that after not eating for several days, then finally laying down a cow buffalo, you’d fully appreciate your food. In our world of easy food access, this may be something we’ve lost.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this list of mountain man foods eaten by Rufus Sage. 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 I wrote about a frontier whiskey recipe that may open your eyes.

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Chief Compton: The Forgotten Father of Archery

Arrow quiver.

If you are a bowhunter, you may appreciate the story of Chief Compton, a forgotten figure of the sport.

Arrow quiver.
Image via Pixabay.

When you start talking the founders of modern archery, there are a few names that invariably come up. Names like Fred Bear, Howard Hill, and Ben Pearson generally enter the conversation. As you move a bit further back the classic names are of course Saxton Pope, Arthur Young, and the Thompson brothers. All of these individuals have rightly earned a place in archery lore as torchbearers through the dark years, a time when archery neared the edge of the abyss in America. Fortunately these folks not only picked up the sport and excelled at it, they promoted it in a way that made it appealing to many others. It’s wild to think that a relatively small group of people can be attributed with passing the torch of a sport that is so popular today.

There is another interesting aspect of a conversation about the roots of archery as well. It is about all of the folks who never made their way into the mainstream conversation. One gent I think of specifically is the hermit fellow who is supposed to have taught the Thompson bros. their elementary archery lessons. Who is this mysterious character who gave wings to the dream of two of the most famous bowhunters? Perhaps we’ll never know.

Another individual who has received recognition from the archery community, but is still largely under-recognized by the majority of archers, is Will Compton. Compton’s life is interwoven with some of our most famous archers and their stories are impossible to separate. When you discuss the early legends, his influence is everywhere. If you are not familiar with the story of Will Compton, you may find his story an extremely interesting one.

Will Compton, or “Chief” as he later would become known, was born in Michigan in September of 1863. Early on in his life the family moved to Nebraska where Chief’s life long love affair with archery began. In those days, The West was still wild and Nebraska was the frontier. To put it into perspective, when Compton moved to Nebraska, Custer was still riding the range, the first cattle drives had occurred only 5 years prior, Oklahoma was still Indian Territory, and the Homestead Act was in its infancy. Suffice to say Compton was born into the true Old West.

While in his childhood, the legend goes that he was brought under the tutelage of some Sioux near his hometown of Norfolk. From them he leaned about Indian lore, the ways of nature, and how to build Sioux style archery equipment. From the Sioux he learned not only to make plains short bows, but also craft his own arrows. Not being content with simply making gear, Chief started hunting at an early age. The story of his first deer at age 14 is a classic. It reads:

“When I peeked over I saw the tips of a deer’s ears about ten yards in front of me, and about twenty feet down. I know he was lying on a sort of shelf up from the bottom two or three feet and close in to the bank to get out of the wind. I nocked my arrow, got into position, and stood up suddenly in full view of Mr. Deer. He jumped to his feet and stood looking at me almost broadside. I remember that I drew steadily and loosed sharply. The arrow caught him just a little quartering and pierced his heart almost exactly in the center. He stood for a second or two as if paralyzed, and then gave two or three short spasmodic jumps and fell over backwards, as dead as Julius Caesar. I fell off the edge of that blowout–didn’t take time to climb down or walk around the opening to get my deer. I believe that nothing could have surprised me as much as that deer did when he fell down and did not try to get up again. When I got beside him I found he was a little spike buck. I never looked any further, and the only spots I touched between that butte and camp were the high ones. I knew father and Ames would be in camp curing jerky, and was more than anxious to get near something human to help share my joy, for it was far too generous in its proportions for me to handle alone. When I hove in sight, going at a speed no stop watch could catch, and the wind blowing straight through me–I had on no clothes worth mentioning–they both jumped for their old needle guns as they thought that about twenty young Sioux were on their trail. Old Dave said afterwards that no ‘Injun’ pony on the plains could have caught me. After they had disbelieved me for a while, we all went back to the butte, and when we walked into the blowout my deer was still there.”

As you can tell, Compton was a hunter at heart. Before he would reach his 20th birthday he harvested numerous deer, antelope, elk, and even is said to have arrowed a bison. Throughout the rest of his life Compton would chase many other animals, and pass on his knowledge of the sport to anyone who was interested.

Chief bounced around the west during his 20’s and 30’s, doing his best to make a living. He worked in many of the Rocky Mountain states and continued to hunt with his Indian bow. He eventually settled on the west coast to become a bowyer. First he lived in Oregon, then in 1900 he moved to California. While in California he met Saxton Pope, Ishi, and Art Young. In fact, the story goes that Compton is the person who introduced Pope to Young.  When looking back, we tend to think about Pope and Young.  During their lives however, it was much more Pope, Young, and Compton. Saxton Pope even wrote that Chief was, “the better shot of the three of us.” They hunted together, shot together, and fueled each other’s archery passion. Friendship among the trio was apparently an undying commodity.

How is it that few of us have ever heard the name of Chief Compton? He was certainly as integral in the promotion of early archery as Pope and Young, yet his name rarely comes up. This fact wasn’t even lost on his peers who called Compton the “root” of their archery community. In fact, when you consider that Art Young inspired Fred Bear to bow hunt, and Compton inspired Art Young to do the same, you begin to understand his role in the history of modern bowhunting.

Archery is a sport with some of the deepest roots in the world. You could rightly say it may actually be the oldest sport in the world. In America though, we tend to look to the period of the early 1900’s as the early years of modern archery. It was a time when bowhunting was as close to falling off the map as ever. There were a few notable figures who helped eek it through and reintroduce it into American society. We know all the big names save one; Chief Compton. Once you know his story, it is hard to separate the story of Chief Compton from the other great legends.

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Thanks for taking the time to read this brief biography of bowhunter Chief Compton. 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 I wrote about building a primitive arrow quiver.

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Did the Romans Colonize America? One Mountain Man Thought so.

Rufus Sage, a bonafide mountain man, felt strongly about a Roman colony in America. Does his argument persuade you?

Prehistory, or history before it was written down, is mysterious stuff. All we can definitively know is what we can find and prove. Sure there are lots of interesting theories out there, but unless you have the evidence, it doesn’t stand. It is wild to think that well over 97% of our history isn’t even really understood. Lots of mysteries abound from this period, and proving them true or false is the arduous work of archeologists and historians. One entertaining theory from America’s pre-history, is of an ancient Roman colony in America.

It is little known today, that in the early 1800’s there was some support for the hypothesis that the Roman’s had colonized America at some point in the past. Personally, I first came across this theory while reading Rufus Sage’s Rocky Mountain Life. Needless to say, it caught my eye.

Sage was a mountain man who headed west in 1841 after the fur trade had passed its apex. While in the west he recorded his adventures, observations, and experiences for readers to enjoy. Most of the journal is what you’d expect from a mountain man’s life. Much of it covers description of the country he saw, the people he met, and how his life played out. However, at a few junctures, Sage expounds upon a theory of a Roman colony in America.

He first postulates this theory by comparing Sioux language to Latin on page 158. According to Sage:

“… enough, I trust, has already been said to fortify the position so largely warranted by the premises, to wit; that in former ages the Romans maintained a foothold upon the American continent, and had intercourse with this nation, either by arms or by commerce.”

Sage also goes on to state:

“It is by no means a conjecture of recent origin, that the ancient Romans did actually colonies portions of the American continent. The industrious researches of antiquarians have long since brought to light many items which prove and strengthen it, though none of them so tangible and obvious as those previously noticed.”

Following this in his journal, Sage goes on to note several pieces of evidence he feels backs up his claim that Romans colonized America.

Later in the journal, Sage once again picks up this hypothesis, only this time while spending time further west. His story begins on page 234 of the journal.

He recounts meeting a trapping party coming out from the Gila country of the present day Southwest. They have a friendly discourse with the trappers and discuss activity in the region. He then relates a tale the trappers told him about the Munchies, a tribe of white indians in the extreme northwestern part of Sonora. The wandering group of trappers even told Sage they had stayed with the Munchies for four weeks.

Sage recounts their tale of staying with this group of white aborigines, and how their skin was more fair than the whites. They reportedly subsisted through agriculture, and raised cattle, horses, and sheep. The Munchies had what would have amounted to a republican government, “arts and comforts of a civilized life”, and had a religion similar to other Native people of the region. Sage goes on once again to say:

“…are they not the remote descendants of some colony of ancient Romans? That such colonies did here exist in former ages, there is good reason for believing. The great lapse of time and other operative causes combined, may have transformed the Munchies from the habits, customs, character, religion, arts, civilization, and language of the Romans, to the condition in which they are at present found.”

It is there Rufus Sage ends the conversation on a Roman colony in America.

The Colosseum
Was there a Roman colony in America? Odds are, probably not.

What are we to make of this? Sage is providing us with a primary source from the time period. These are supposed to be our most accurate widows into the past. Did the Romans colonize America? Did trappers stay with a group of white Indians? Sorry to say, the answer to these entertaining theories is likely NO, at least in my mind.

Fist off, try researching the relationship between Lakota and Latin today. There simply isn’t anything out there on the subject. Today there are linguists who do nothing but study language, and they haven’t been producing volumes of work on the connection. In fact, I couldn’t find a single shred of modern evidence to back up a relationship between the two languages. That’s not to say there might not be any, I certainly couldn’t find it.

Secondly, Sage’s second report on the theory of a group of white Indians is second hand. It also came from trappers, a group with a hard-earned reputation for telling tall tales. There may be little doubt that trappers did in fact tell Sage this story. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it was true. I’d wager that the closer Sage leaned in, the wilder the tale actually became. My guess would this would be one of those instances where Sage got duped by an entertaining tale. He then felt compelled to either dupe more people, or he bought it hook, line, and sinker. That of course, is speculation on my part.

Although there are still modern attempts to claim Roman colonization of America, the claims are generally disputed. As with many aspects of prehistory, we may never know the answer to question of Roman colonization in America. It can be fun to think about though.

More than anything, the Rufus Sage journals can teach us about the life and thoughts of an American mountain man. We can learn about the theories of the time, their lives, and more about the world they lived in. When you read the journals you certainly get a better feel for the mystery the world still held at the time. Everything was new, much had not been documented, and people still lived vastly different lives depending on where you went.

Sage was gracious enough to have recorded his experiences, and reading them is a real treat. They certainly do offer up a great deal of knowledge about the lives of mountain men. If you have the time, and are interested in western history, they certainly are worth a read. When you read them, enjoy them for what they are; the wonderful adventures of a rambling mountain man.

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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.