Rocky Mountain Outfit — American Mountain Men (AMM) party of Colorado

Tom Karnuta

My AMM Requirements

  1. Clothing and Accoutrements — Must have a full set of hand-cut and sewn clothing and handmade accoutrements.

    My persona is that of a hunter/trapper for the American Fur Company, Rocky Mountain Outfit, as well as for the Bent St. Vrain Company. Although my main employ is hunting, I do trap on my own time. My pay consists of a dollar a day, plus hides and horns.

    Clothing, from bottom up:

    What covers and protects my feet depends on the location I am in as well as the activity encaged. By far my favorite foot wear consists of a pair of side seem mocs. My side seems typically come up to above my ankles and are made out of what ever type of hide I currently have. When the weather turns cold I wear a large pair of greased, center seem mocs as a "shoe pack" and line these with a double layer of old wool blanket that I stitch in a center seam fashion and stuff inside the shoe pack. I also wear a pair of single lath, leather soled, brogans when hiking in rocky areas and when working inside Bent's Fort.

    My pants consist of a pair of linen, narrow fall knee breeches held up by suspenders. They are covered with a pair of brain tanned, thigh high, fringed, leggings that are sawn up with linen thread. The leggings are held up by a narrow leather belt with forged buckle.

    I typically wear one of two shirts. One shirt is made of fustian and the other of osnaburg. They have both been dyed a natural brown color by a walnut die. Both shirts are long fitting coming down to mid thigh. At times these are worn tucked in but also are worn loose and gathered at the waist by a 2-inch wide, leather belt with forged buckle that's primary use is to secure my knife. During times of cold weather I also wear a heavy red wool flannel shirt. At times when I need to appear somewhat respectable, I wear a brown linen, short vest over my tucked in shirt.

    Around my neck I either wear a cravat of beat-up black silk or cotton cloth material. Although a bit more bulky, I've been leaning towards the cloth cravat since it nicely doubles as pot holder when working around the fire.

    I have two hats, one is a low grown brim hat and the other is a hand knitted and spun wool cap that I wear during cold and times.

    General Accoutrements:

    My basic accoutrements consist of a 8-inch Sheffield butcher knife in a very basic, stitched, leather sheath, secured by a buckskin wang wrapped around my belt. On my belt I also carry my tobacco and pipe pouch. This small pouch also holds flint, steel, char, and a looking class.

    My shooting pouch is tanned pig hide, hand stitched with linen thread. Contents within include, balls, patching, a measure made from the tip of a cow horn, vent pic, small bottle of oil rendered from a beaver tail, and extra flint. My powder horn is made from a buffalo horn, the wood plug was made with period tools in the carpenters and blacksmith's shops at Bent's Fort. A piece of brain tan secures the horn around my right shoulder.

    My firearms consist of a 31 balls/pound, 54 cal Lancaster style flintlock that I use for hunting and has been lucky enough over the past few years to harvest two elk and a whitetail with a total of 3 shots. For small game I use a 78 balls/pound, 40 caliber Leman flintlock. The lock on this rifle is very special since I hand made it from very rough cast parts using only period tools. It is buy far the smoothest and fastest lock I've ever fired. For general trekking or when a smooth bore is the call of the day, I have a 20 gauge, Northwest Trade Gun with a 28-inch barrel.

    My camp gear consists of one or two hand woven, 3-point wool blankets. One blanket is white with two wide dark blue stripes; the other is white with numerous red stripes. In addition I carry a piece of oil cloth for cover and a fur-on tanned deer hide to sleep on. For cooking I carry a tin pot and cup, and a forged spoon. If needed I also have a small light frying pan (Ferris, 1840) used for roasting green coffee beans and other treats.


    • Ferris, W., 1983, Life in the Rocky Mountains, A Diary of Wanderings on the sources of the Rivers Missouri, Columbia, and Colorado 1830-1835, edited by Hafen, L.R., The Old West Publishing Company, Denver, Colorado
    • Gerrard, L. H., 1955, Wah-To-Yah and the Taos Trail, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman
    • Kurz, R.F., 1970, Journal of Rudolph Friederich Kurz, edited by, Hewitt, J.N.B., University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln
    • Larpenteur C., Forty Years a Fur Trader on the Upper Missouri, Xmission
    • Parkman, F., 1944, The Oregon Trail, Sketches of Prairie and Rocky Mountain Life, Oxford University Press, New York
    • Point, N., 1967, Wilderness Kingdom, Indian Life in the Rocky Mountains 1840-1847, Translated by Donnelly, S.J., Holt, Rinehart and Winston, New York
    • Ross, M., 1968, The West of Alfred, The University of Oklahoma Press
    • Russel, O., 1965, Journal of a Tapper, Edited by Haines, A., Bison Books, University of Nebraska Press
    • Various Fur Trade Inventors: Xmission

  2. Camps — Must have spent at least two days and one night in a primitive encampment during each season of the year.

    Winter, January 18 – 20, 2008
    This was my first AMM camp. The camp was set at approximately 9000 feet of elevation in approximately 2-feet of snow. We used a tipi for base camp and conducted snow shoe treks from the camp. AMM members included Bill Gantic, Brad Bailey and Vic Barkin. The summer issue to the Tomahawk & Long Rifle had a nice article written by Brad Bailey about this camp.

    Spring, April 18 – 20, 2008
    Bill Gantic, Brad Bailey and myself set-out on this camp with visions of bagging a nice turkey or two. Spring runoff caused a creek crossing to flood and blocked our way into prime turkey area, so we had to locate a back up area farther up the plateau. We had cold nights and warm days, but no turkey.

    Summer, June 28 – July 4, 2008, Skinner Meadows Montana
    Three of us from Colorado made the journey to the 2008 AMM nationals. We set up a great camp and had an opportunity to meet and make many new friends. Can't wait until 2009 nationals.

    September, 12 – 15, 2008
    This primitive camp was a solo camp in conjunction with muzzleloading (elk) season here in Colorado. I set up a great little base camp at an approximate elevation of 9000 feet, in an area known as Fossil Ridge. Although I had scouted the area for several months, and new where several small herds of elk were roaming, when it was time to hunt, no elk could be found. The freezer was not filled this year, but it's really just about getting out.

    Fall, October 10 – 12, 2008, Bent's Fort
    This camp was designed to demonstrate and teach the public what life was like at Bent's Fort. As a fort hunter/trapper we started out by bringing our horses (2) and pack mule (1) into the fort and packed up our gear. We then road a short distance to camp located in the cottonwoods. A very basic camp was set up next to the Arkansas River, the traps were broken out and as a demonstration several river sets made. The next day a beaver was skinned, fleshed and hooped to dry, a buffalo tongue was boiled and the daily life of a hunter/trapper demonstrated. As always Bent's Fort provides and outstanding camp.

    Winter, December 13 – 14, 2008
    Although the actual dates of this camp do not make it an official dated, winter camp; this camp was nothing less than a true winter camp. After all, dates like time, are nothing more than something fabricated by humans, and I feel the intent of this requirement is more to get us out on the ground during different weather and climate conditions, than it is to get us out on any particular date. The feel for this camp was set as we drove into the trail head in four wheel drive through an approximate 6-inch cover of snow and ice. We hiked in through a nice cover of snow and were able to find a dry camp site at the base of a large pine tree located on a south facing slope. Camp was set up, wood collected and a fire was started just as a light snow started falling. We woke up the next morning to a fresh cover of an additional 6-inches of snow. By wrapping our gear in our tarps and dragging them like sleds, and with the addition of our snow shoes we hiked back to the trail head through a strong gale force wind. This was a great camp that challenged both us and our gear.

  3. Must have spent at least one week in a primitive encampment in the company of other members at a territorial or the National AMM Rendezvous.

    June 28 – July 4, 2008 Skinner Meadows Montana
    Three of us from Colorado made the journey to the 2008 AMM nationals. We set up a great camp and had an opportunity to meet and make many new friends. Can't wait until 2009 nationals.

  4. Demonstrate Trapping Abilities

    My first experiences with trapping were as a young boy. Using money from our paper routes a buddy and I purchased several traps with visions of making loads of money from the mink we would be trapping. Most of our catches consisted of, coon, possum and rabbit. No money was made; we stunk up our bedrooms, pissed off our moms, but had a great time. Several years ago I had the privilege of learning how to make several different beaver sets, skin, retrieve castor, flesh, and hoop a beaver from a former AMM brother, Jimmy Sebastian. Although trapping is not allowed by law in our state, I have had on 5 different occasions since Jim's instruction the opportunity to demonstrate these skills to the public at different events put on at Bent's Fort. Each time we do these demonstrations we have been able to share different ideas, techniques and learn from each other.

  5. Must be able to demonstrate the ability to properly pack a horse, canoe (or bullboat), or a man for distance travel under possible adverse conditions.

    While working at Bent's Fort I have attending several workshops on packing both horses and mules, and have used these skills over the past several years for demonstrations as well as packing our gear from the fort down to the trapper's camp. This is a pretty sort distance and although I do have good packing skills the animals we use are owned by the Park Service and I do not own my own. Packing on a multi day trip is high on the list of things I need to do.

    We typically ride the horses and pack the mules. I've learned that just about everyone who has experience with packing animals has their own way to do it. Primarily, I've learned to pack larger loads with a basic sawbuck pack saddle, using a mantee and a double diamond hitch. For small loads I've used panniers. Whatever method is used the importance of equal distribution of weight seems to be the key to a happy animal.

    Since I don't own an animal (at this time) packing gear into camp on my back is just a way of life. This seems to be an evolving thing for me. I've experimented with a tumpline, haversacks, and most recently I've constructed a small pack frame out of aspen and lodge pole held together with elk rawhide. A similar design was shown to me by brother, Vic Barkin. Whatever method I'm using the basics are the same. Any extra clothing and cook gear gets rolled up in my blankets, and food and water typically get carried in a small haversack of some sort. These systems works fine weather on foot or snowshoes.

  6. Ability to properly field dress a game animal under primitive conditions.

    I've completed this skill numerous times and to date have field dressed two elk, a whitetail, and numerous small game animals. These animals were all taken with a flintlock rifle or smoothbore in period clothing, and dressed using proper fur trade era cutlery.

  7. Starting a fire in wet, as well as dry, weather using flint and steel using tinder and wood found under natural conditions.

    I've had opportunities to start fires using flint and steel, looking class and flintlock. My fire kit includes flint, steel, char, candle stub, and some dry tinder. In addition, my pipe and tobacco pouch which is carried on my belt contains flint, steel, char, and looking class. This is always on me.

    Whenever I am out and about I'm always keeping my eye open for dry tinder. My favorites include dry grasses and bark taken from the inside bark of dead aspen trees. Even in wet conditions I've been able to aspen bark dry enough to catch a flame. At night I've learned to make sure I have some nice dry timber tucked away in my blankets to get the morning coffee fire going.

  8. Ability to tan or Indian-dress hides

    Although I do not do a lot of brain tanning, to date I've brained tanned 1 elk, and 3 deer hides. The elk hide was a large cow that I shot using my Lancaster flintlock. It was my first elk and last elk hide I will tan. The hide was used along with the first deer hide I ever tanned to make a great jacket. I have been lucky to have brother, Brad Bailey to guide me in learning how to brain tan.

  9. Cooking a meal of meat using only the meat, fire, knife, and materials found in nature.

    We had fine meals at both our turkey hunting spring camp and at AMM nationals consisting of elk and venison roasted on sticks over a great fire.

  10. Ability to converse using Plains Indians hand talk.

    I first started practicing Indian sign while attending events at Bent's Fort. At the 2008 AMM nationals I attended several sign colleges put on by Gene Hickman. After the second college I was tested by and passed the test given to me by Gene as well as the other participants in the college. We continue to practice and gain experience in Indian sign whenever out on the ground.

  11. Hunted for and killed at least one game animal using a muzzleloading firearm under primitive conditions. "Made Meat"

    October, 17 – 20, 2008, Deer / Squirrel Camp
    This camp was set up for the primary reason of hunting doe and squirrels with my son. It was a 3 night, 4 day camp located on the west side of Independence Pass, Colorado. Although we did not harvest a deer both my son and I did a fine job bagging squirrels. This was also the first game that was taken with my new Northwest Trade Gun; this is always a good thing. We roasted our squirrels in camp and had a nice little feast.

I want to thank both of my sponsors for guiding me along through this process. To Don for his willingness to take on a new pilgrim, one he had only met on a limited bases. And to Bill, for all the knowledge he has passed along, and for his enthusiasm, without which making this happen would not have been possible.