In researching my clothing and other gear I have used descriptions from journals, trade ledgers, and artwork from period artists such as Alfred Jacob Miller. I always try to have more than one source of documentation for an item. I have made all of my clothing and most of the rest of my gear using period patterns and materials. Everything is hand-sewn using either backstrap sinew or linen thread. Leather items are all made from either buckskin or barktan that I have tanned myself.
My day-to-day clothing consists of narrow-fall buckskin pantaloons over cotton drawers, a linen or cotton drop-sleeve shirt, and a light grey wool felt hat. Around my waist is a 2" wide belt with a brass buckle. A butcher knife in a simple brass tacked sheath is tucked in the back and held fast with a buckskin whang. My pants contain pockets in which I keep a small barlow pocket knife. I wear a buckskin knee-length frock coat similar to the one depicted by Miller in "Antoine". My moccasins are either the pucker-vamp style with red wool covered vamps with minimal decoration, or the side-seam style. It seems I am always in the process of repairing moccasins or making new ones. In cooler weather or in the evening I will wear a buckskin wolf-eared cap instead of the wool felt hat. To keep my feet warm I have a pair of hand-knitted wool socks or wool side-seam style blanket socks. In addition I also have a red wool flannel shirt, and a blue wool melton coat such as depicted by Miller in "The Trapper's Bride".
My shooting bag is made from calf elk buckskin with some basic quillwork, all sinew sewn. It closes with a brass button that I got as the medallion at the first AMM Nationals I went to. My powder horn is made from a buffalo horn and has a simple cottonwood plug and spout. My primary rifle is a .58cal J.Henry Lancaster style patterned after one in the Museum of the Fur Trade and built by Larry Walker. I also have a 20ga smoothbore of a late 18th century Pennsylvania pattern that was built and given to me by my grandfather.
My camp consists of either a 7' x 9' oilcloth tarp or a 8' x 10' Russia sheeting tarp, both are completely hand-sewn. I most often try to find naturally sheltered areas and just wrap my tarp around my bedding, though sometimes I will set it up as various lean-to style shelters. I carry 1 or 2 blankets depending on the season or how light I want to go. My primary blanket is white with many red stripes, called Gonagora. I also have a 3pt white blanket with indigo bars, a 2pt red blanket with black bars, and a braintanned buffalo robe. My cookware consists of small tin kettles and a sheet metal frying pan. A tin cup and my butcher knife are my only other utensils. All food is packaged period correct and carried in cloth bags.
My saddle is a St. Louis style hybrid saddle built by Oliver McCloskey. It is similar to one shown in "Man Made Mobile" as an 1830s dragoon saddle made by Thorton Grimsley. It is a simple rawhide covered tree with minimal skirting and seat. It has iron stirrups which held using triangular hangers. I have a set of canvas saddle bags that I carry behind my saddle as described by Charles Larpentuer. I use the same blankets that I sleep in for under the saddle.
The traps I carry are modern Bridger #5's that I have modified by adding a square pan and a hand-forged chain. My beaver lure is kept in a bottle made from river birch and hung from my belt.
Some of the sources that I have used:
While it can sometimes be hard to balance family, work, and pleasure, I do try to get out on the ground at least once per season, if not once per month. I enjoy the challenge of all seasons and weather, and being comfortable with my gear at all times. Below are the camps I have completed in the past year:
Jan 17 – 21, 2013: Scott Walker, Steve Chin, and myself snowshoed with toboggans for 5 days near the headwaters of the Laramie River. Each day we packed up and moved camp to a different lake. Our total distance was about 10 miles. Steve pitched in and helped me lash my gear to my toboggan since I had severed a tendon in my left hand the week before. Lots of rabbit sign in this area, but all I was able to shoot was a pine squirrel.
April 5 – 7, 2013: Darko and myself headed out for a Spring camp. We ended up at "Brad's Hole" at the confluence of Fourmile and Sevenmile Creeks. Our intention was on hunting beaver though we had no luck. Sevenmile was dried up and little beaver sign was found.
April 26 – 28, 2013: Solo Aux Aliments du Pays in Sawmill Gulch. No edibles this time of the year and the water was still mostly froze over. I was able to find a small section of open water and caught 4 trout. Found turkey sign but no birds.
May 24 – 26, 2013: Steve Chin, my son, and myself did a 2 day, 20+ mile, ride along the Uncompaghre Plateau into the Happy Canyon rendezvous. Most of the ride was in the Spring Creek canyons. We stayed at the rendezvous one day and then rode back out a few miles. We saw turkey and deer.
June 28 – July 2, 2012: I joined Mike Katona, Jim Sebastian, Bill Bailey, John Van Paepegham, and Lloyd Britton for a 3 day ride into AMM Nationals at Sawmill Creek in Montana. Our route was about 30 miles along the Continental Divide Trail. Mike was kind enough to let me ride his mule Ernie.
July 24 – 28, 2012: Steve Chin and I did a 5 day, 55 mile ride in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness. We started from Chubb Park and the first day we camped at Davis Meadows. From there we headed west to Fourmile Creek and north to Buffalo Meadows. The third day we headed north Rich Creek and looped back to Lynch Creek and then camped at Willow Creek. Willow Creek was a highlight of the trip as we saw a cow moose, 2 calves, a bull moose, a black bear, and a herd of about 8 bachelor elk all within about 15 minutes and a couple hundred yards. From Willow Creek we headed southeast to Pony Park and then Salt Creek, to Brush Park, then camped near the source of Salt Creek. The last day we headed from Salt Creek back to Chubb Park.
August 18 – 19, 2012: Scott Walker and myself did a 5 mile trek from the South Platte River into an area where a RMO party camp had been called. We arrived at Willow Creek and found Tom Karnuta and Nathan Blanchard. A short while later Vic Barkin showed up and let us know there was some confusion and Darko had setup camp a couple miles away at Lynch Creek.
August 31 – September 3, 2012: I completed a solo Aux Aliments du Pays camp along Corral Creek in the Troublesome Roadless Area. See the documentation for requirement #19 for more details on this camp.
November 23 – 25, 2012: Bill Gantic and myself did a 14 mile trek from West to East in Big Dominguez Canyon. We travelled light using the manty style packing I had been experimenting with.
I have done many camps with one other person, but each year I try to get out and do at least one solo camp. These truly put one to the test since there is no one else to rely on but yourself. The camps below are ones that I am most proud of, because they were a challenge to me.
October 3-5, 2008 (3 days)
Aux Aliments du Pays. I made camp along Sevenmile Creek, an area of Pinon and Juniper forest east of Buena Vista, CO. The first day I collected rosehips and pinon nuts, but saw no game. The second day I spent all day out in search of game, collecting pinon nuts along the way. I saw a pine squirrel in a cottonwood but passed it up, and then regretted it. When I made it back to camp I was exhausted and took a nap. When I woke up I was determined to find some meat. As the sun was going down I was going to admit defeat for the day. I started making my way back to camp when I heard a noise in a nearby bush. I figured it was just a bird, so I continued on, when all of a sudden a cottontail ran out. My smoothbore was quickly raised to my shoulder and fired. I hadn't been hungry until I had to sit and watch that rabbit cook over the fire. I roasted some pinon nuts and had some rosehip tea as well. If I hadn't got that rabbit my backup was to eat some prickly pear pads and a cattail root I dug up. The last day I saw another rabbit but decided to let it go. The full version was published in the Winter 2009 issue of the T&LR.
October 2-4, 2009 (3 days)
Aux Aliments du Pays. Same area as last year, but unfortunately this year there were no pinon nuts. On the way into camp I jumped a rabbit and shot it. A great way to start! Saw lots of deer and some fresh bear sign. The second morning while walking on a game trail, some deer, including a small buck, came running down the trail toward me. I stepped off the trail towards a beaver pond and I saw a ripple. I cocked my gun, took a couple steps, and flushed a duck which I shot on the wing. Besides a rabbit and a duck, I also made some rosehip tea.
September 11-18, 2010 (8 days)
Elk and deer hunting in the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness. I packed in about ½ mile and camped at 10,400ft in a meadow on the source of Salt Creek, the namesake of the Bayou Salade (Salt Valley). The second day I passed up a shot at some elk about 75 yards and I did not get another opportunity the rest of the week. A small 2pt buck ran within a few yards of me one day, and I had a bead on him the whole time, but alas I only had a doe tag. After 7 days going for elk I decided to move camp the last day further South to Fourmile creek and try to fill my doe tag, but saw nothing. I put probably about 25 miles on my moccasins, which required frequent repairs during the week. Saw coyotes, beaver, and heard some turkey.
September 1-3, 2012 (3 days)
Aux Aliments du Pays. See requirement #19 for more details on this camp.
April 26 – 28, 2013 (3 days)
Aux Aliments du Pays. See requirement #2 for more details.
I have competed this twice:
AMM Nationals, Skinner Meadows, 2008. Along with me were Bill Gantic and Tom Karnuta.
AMM Nationals, Beaver Creek, 2011. Other Colorado Brigade members present were Bill Gantic, Tom Karnuta, Steve Chin, Nathan Blanchard, and Bill Bailey.
I have also made it to the Moose Creek AMM Nationals in WY, 2009, and I did a 3 day ride into the Sawmill Creek Nationals in MT, 2012. These I did not spend the full week at, but I try to make it to Nationals every year for a little bit.
Survival and primitive skills are one of my passions, and one of the main reasons that I enjoy being out on the ground. I like to challenge myself in all conditions and to feel self-reliant and independent. There are many aspects of the skills needed for survival. It covers everything from knowing where not to camp, edible and medicinal plants, fire starting techniques, shelter building, hunting, fishing, &c.
During the August 2011 camp I put on a "college" on various traps, snares, deadfalls, &c. At this camp we also did wild edible and found wild strawberries and grouse whortleberries. In other camps I have demonstrated making cordage from natural materials such as yucca or stinging nettle.
At the September 2011 camp I showed others that you could start a fire using a bow drill made out of aspen. I have also demonstrated bow drill fires using cottonwood during a horseback trip in May 2013.
At AMM Nationals in 2011, I showed other party members how to collect and melt pitch mixing it with charcoal and dung to make a useful "glue" in repairing gear. It is also a handy thing to have for fire starting.
These are just a few examples of skills that I frequently practice.
Since the Mountaineers were primarily after beaver, whenever I am near water I am always on the lookout for sign — lodges, fresh cuts, feed beds, trails, tracks, scat, scent mounds, &c. Unfortunately the state of Colorado does not allow recreational trapping, so it has been something I have had little experience actually doing. In March of 2013 I headed to Southern Utah with Oliver McCloskey to try my hand at beaver trapping. I did not actually end up catching any beaver on that trip, but I did have some sprung traps. I learned many valuable lessons about trap placement and technique and will continue trying in the future.
Besides steel traps, my interest in survival skills has taught me how to make many types of primitive snares and deadfalls. One of my favorites is the Pauite deadfall. I have demonstrated these to party members at the August 2011 camp and April 2013 camp, among others.
Whenever I am out in the woods I am always paying attention to tracks, animal or man. I can identify the species and determine which direction they were going, about how many there were, if they were running or walking, &c. Tracking is about more than just being able to identify tracks though. It is about being aware of your surroundings and being observant. What you hear, or do not hear. Misplaced rocks, bent grasses, eaten shrubs, &c. all give clues for use in tracking. When with others we often point out what we see along the trail to each other.
I am comfortable throwing my gear on my back and heading into the woods anytime. I used to use a bedroll and burden strap, but in the Fall of 2012 I came up with a different method. The way I carry my now is to first I fold up my blankets and gear, wrap it in a tarp, and manty it up. I then attach two shoulder straps. I have found this method to be more comfortable for long distance, as I do not have to fight and readjust it as frequently. In the Fall of 2012 I used this method of packing to do about 30 miles of travel.
My first multi-day horseback trip was in August 2011 with Mike Katona and Bill Bailey. It was a true Rocky Mountain College experience and Mike taught me how to pack and throw a diamond hitch. I was able to help pack during each of the 4 days on the ride. I learned the importance of making sure packs were balanced and kept under watch while on the trail. During my 5 day ride in July 2012 with Steve Chin I also helped to pack and load the panniers onto our single pack mule each day. After being put-a-foot for so long, I am used travelling light so I am comfortable without a pack horse. In that case I use my blankets under the saddle and the remainder of my gear is tied behind the saddle in my canvas saddlebags as described by Charles Larpenteur.
In addition to packing man and horse, I have also packed a toboggan. In January 2013 I did a 5 day snowshoeing trip in which I hauled all my gear on a toboggan. The way I pack a toboggan is that I first lay down a tarp, load up my gear onto the sled, and then wrap it with the tarp. I generally put the heaviest stuff in the middle of the toboggan. This is then firmly lashed down to the toboggan.
Since I have been in the AMM I have skinned close to 100 animals. The majority of them were deer and elk that I used to skin for a local game processor in exchange for the hides which I then brain-tanned. I have skinned a couple deer and elk using only flint.
The game I have harvested from camps has been dressed out on the spot. I usually carry a small barlow pocket knife which I use, as I prefer working with smaller knives. Examples of game I have cleaned in the field are grouse in September 2012, pine squirrel in October 2011, duck and rabbit in October 2010.
When I have harvested deer in the past I have also done all my own butchering.
I believe fire to be one of the most important skills to have and I always have more than one way to start one. Besides my primary fire kit, I always carry a flint and steel in my shooting bag, and a burning lens in my gage d'amour. My fire kit contains cordage and a bearing block that can be used for a bow drill set. There are also multiple ways to start a fire with a flintlock such as firing the lock into a tinder bundle, or stuffing tinder down the barrel onto a charge of powder and firing it into the ground.
While out in the woods I am always on the lookout for good sources of local tinder. Some of the materials I have had success with are inner bark of cottonwood or juniper trees, bark off shrubs like the cinquefoil or sagebrush, dried grasses, old man's beard, bird nests, &c. When gathering tinder I always gather extra and stuff it under my bedding to protect it from the weather should it rain at night. I do keep some tinder in my fire kit, but I consider it to be for emergency purposes only and always try local materials first.
In the Fall 2010 issue of the T&LR I wrote an article about making char without a tin can. I use this method whenever I make new char cloth or punk wood. When using punk wood I have found cottonwood or aspen to work the best. It should be white and very soft and spongy feeling.
If I did not have char cloth or punk wood I would take my tinder bundle, wrap it in a scrap of buckskin, place my flint into the bundle, and pour a little black powder onto the flint. When I strike down on the flint with my steel, the powder is ignited and will ignite the tinder bundle. The scrap of buckskin protects my hand from being burnt. Using powder to start fires is mentioned in Warren Ferris. I have used this technique many times, including at the camp I organized in October 2011 in which I had set a rule of no char cloth to be used.
I have braintanned over 100 hides, mostly deer, but also elk, various furs such as squirrel, raccoon, marmot, fox, and coyote. I have also attempted 3 buffalo, and while not the best, the results were satisfactory. Besides brain-tanning, I am also experienced in making rawhide, bark tanned leather, and alum tawing furs.
I have done demonstrations at the Rocky Mountain College rendezvous on braintanning, and I also tanned a deer hide and did a college at the 2011 AMM Nationals.
My Hiveranno paper is about tanning and the use of buckskin among Mountaineers.
I completed this twice in the last year. In July 2012 Steve Chin and I did a 5 day ride through the Buffalo Peaks Wilderness. Then in January 2013, Steve Chin, Scott Walker, and myself did a 5 day, 10 mile, snowshoe trip near the headwaters of the Laramie River. More about these listed in requirement #2.
I have cooked many meals over a fire without any luxuries like a frying pan or kettle. Methods I have used include dingle sticks, spits, hot rocks, or just putting the meat directly on the coals. For example during the May 2012 camp on Sawmill Creek I caught 2 fish which I cooked by laying on the rock next to the fire. During my Aux Aliments du Pays camp in September 2012 I cooked a grouse on a spit.
During the AMM Nationals in 2008, I took Gene Hickman's college on sign language. Afterwards I passed the sign requirement test with Gene. I also went through Gene's college at the Nationals in 2009, and with Teton Todd at Nationals in 2011. During our party camps we will also practice sign language.
Additionally I have made an in-depth study of sign language and comparison between Tompkins and W.Clark. During this research I found that many of the Tompkins descriptions were taken word-for-word from Clark. I had created a website about Plains Indian Sign Language using my research, but it is no longer up and running. I hope to have it back online someday when time permits.
During my years in the AMM I have only managed to draw big game tags twice, and both times I have been unsuccessful. I have, however, taken much small game from primitive camps, including rabbits, squirrels, duck, and grouse. All of which I have eaten.
A duck, grouse, and a few rabbits were taken during my Aux Aliments du Pays camps. I also shot rabbits during the November 2010 small game camp and December 2008 winter camp.
I have harvested a number of Abert squirrels with my smoothbore. Besides eating them, I have also brain-tanned their furs. I made a pair of buckskin mittens and trimmed them using the squirrel pelts.
I officially became a Bossloper in February of 2009.
In September 2007 I went to the Colorado Trappers Association "rendezvous". They did demonstrations on skinning beaver and I was able to skin one myself. I cut the legs off, cut around the base of the tail, split it up the belly, and skinned it carefully.
I took the plew along with 4 others home and fleshed them over my cottonwood beam. I gathered some willows at the nearby creek and made hoops and stretched the hides on them, lacing them in with buckskin and hemp cordage. I used two willows for each hoop, joining the butt ends with rawhide, and then bending the tips around to make a circle. This allowed me to adjust the size of the hoop to fit the beaver hides.
I would then have taken these dried pelts, folded them, and made into a bale. I have made a replica bale for demonstration purposes. It was covered with canvas and lashed with buffalo rawhide.
As one of the founding members of the Rocky Mountain Outfit party of the AMM, I have helped to organize and booshway many different camps. These are two that I put more effort into making educational and had a larger turnout for.
August 27-28, 2011: Rock Creek
This camp was located at the source of Rock Creek near Gore Pass in Middle Park. Steve Chin, Darko, Cliff Clary, Bill Armstrong, and myself were present. There was little water to be found except for some seeps, but we made do with what we had. There was an abundance of strawberries and grouseberries that we collected in addition to a buffalo tongue. I did a sign language college both days, and also went over a couple different primitive snares and deadfalls.
September 30 – October 2, 2011: Salt Creek
I organized this camp and 7 men showed up. Me, my son Zach, Steve Chin, Cliff Clary, Darko, Tom Karnuta, Gabe, and Bill Armstrong were present. One of the goals at this camp was to start fires using different methods besides the usual char cloth. I demonstrated a bowdrill fire and how to char punky aspen. Steve and I also made boudins from scratch, stuffing intestines with meat using a ramrod. Cliff, Steve, Darko, and myself all shot squirrels. We also saw beaver, and ducks, and heard many elk bugling.
During my years as a Bossloper I have completed this requirement 4 times. So far I have done it 3 times during the Fall, and once in the Spring. My goal is to have completed this during every season and continue to do so annually as I find it to be a challenging and rewarding experience. Here is my journal entry from my Fall 2012 Aux Aliments du Pays:
August 31 – September 3, 2012: My last meal was at 5pm before heading into the mountains. To challenge myself I decided to travel to an area I had never been to before. I picked a spot on the map between Middle Park and North Park, in an area called the Troublesome. I packed my gear in about a mile and setup camp on Corral Creek. This area has been devastated by beetle kill which made it difficult to find a safe place to camp away from widow-makers.
This morning I saw some rabbits, a bull moose, and a few deer on the way in. Lots of squirrels too, but they are not in season. Once making it to the creek I decided to go head into a drainage and start looking for grouse up on the ridge. Near the top I flushed 3 grouse but missed in my excitement. My poor shot cost me a meal. I came back and setup a camp near the creek. The creek had some small fish in it so I went and caught some grasshoppers for bait and dinner. This summer has been extremely dry and the wild rose, strawberry, and grouse whortleberry plants that I found do not have any berries on them. Near camp there were many dandelions so I gathered the leaves and dug up the roots. I tried to pick ones that were mostly in the shade as they are supposed to be less bitter. After getting camp setup I headed out to go fishing, and with no luck, tried another drainage looking for grouse. While I was out a storm rolled in and before I could make it back to my camp it started raining. When I left it was clear skies and sunny so I had let my guard down and not properly prepared camp. I was able to get a fire going with some dry tinder I had stuffed under my bedding and get things dried out before long. Cooked the grasshoppers in a tin for supper and boiled the dandelion greens and roots.
Woke up early, covered in frost. My gun got damp yesterday so I gave it some care, I hope that it goes off if I need it. Determined to find grouse I climbed another ridge. Found a nice 6pt elk shed. I circled back around to where I saw the grouse yesterday and found one on the ground a bit higher. I fired and luckily my gun went off. I saw 2 more flush and tried to find them but no luck. I headed back to camp, cleaned it, and cooked it on a spit for lunch. I hate half of it and the heart. I boiled the carcass down to make a broth. For supper I put the remaining meat in the broth along with some dandelion greens and roots to make a soup. Tried fishing in the afternoon but again no luck. A cow moose came through camp.
I went fishing in the morning, but no luck. It started raining so I headed back to camp and got things covered up. I huddled under a pine tree under the rain and hail stopped. It was a pretty good storm and lasted a while. As the wind blew I could hear trees snapping nearby. Once the storm passed I packed up and hiked out before the next storm rolled in. The storms in this country come in quick and can catch you unprepared.
This camp was a real endurance test, and quite a humbling experience.
My paper is called Dressed for Success: Hide tanning and the use of buckskin among the Mountaineers.