This is going out to a good many of my friends, as an example of what I have been up to lately. It’s long (they don’t call me “Magpie” for nothin’! LOL) so get some coffee and kick back for a bit while you read it. And you’ve always got a delete button if you aren’t interested. 🙂 if nothing else, reading it will make you appreciate a real bed, central heat and air, and hot and cold running water. 🙂
I started going to Rendezvous in 2003, renactments of mountain man/buckskinner/trapper Fur Trade Era life, 1795 or so up to 1840 time period in the northern Rockies. Everything in camp has to look like it was made on or before 1840, clothing, camp gear, dress, weapons, etc. Way fun to participate in. Then about 2-1/2 years ago, I got into the Women of the Fur Trade (WFT) group, and about the same time my boyfriend Cuz (Phil Trumble) and I got together. Phil is a member of AMM (American Mountain Men), and the AMM/WFT gatherings are a little more strict and strenuous that a regular Rendezvous, as to accuracy and documentation of gear and such. All of it is great fun to me.
Here’s a website on the AMM: http://www.xmission.com/~drudy/amm.html
The following is an example of what goes on at an AMM weekend camp.
Cuz and I got back yesterday from a weekend with the Red River Brigade of the AMM up in northeast Texas near Linden. Had a great time of course. Cuz made us a travois to drag our stuff in on, just a prototype, to see if it would work – with a few minor refinements, I think it will work out great for us. He laced the platform up with string instead of rawhide to save trouble if it needed to be modified. He made it with the longer side poles nearly parallel, with a square platform of sticks toward the back of it. It had a crossbar in the front to keep it stable. That way one person could step inbetween the poles, like where the horse or dog would go, and pull it along by holding onto the crossbar and pushing that. Or two people could do it by grabbing the long pole or the crossbar, one on either side of it, and pull it along that way. We had all our gear on it, water canteens, bedrolls, dried food, etc., wrapped up in the larger 9×9 diamond fly. My bedroll was in a 7×7 oilcloth tarp, his was in an 8×8 oilcloth tarp, so that gave us enough canvas to construct a Taj Mahal of tents if we had wanted to.
We cut cedar branches and laid them out with the brushy end pointing toward the foot of the bed area, stick end toward the top, then overlapped the next batch of branches over that so that the sticks are covered. Then we gathered a tarp full of dead leaves to put over that, as insulation from the ground cold. My 7×7 tarp went down as the bottom layer of the bed, to keep out the ground damp, then Cuz’s two blankets under us and my two on top, plus his 8×8 over that to keep out the wind and make that air space under it still and easier to keep warm. We used the white 9×9 canvas as a diamond fly. Slight overkill, but last year in the same spot for a week in January, it rained, sleeted, snowed, and was 19 degrees with a stiff wind blowing all night long. You never know with Texas… This year there was frost on the ground Friday morning, 32 degrees Saturday morning, but it warmed up to the 60’s in the daytime. We had some pine trees for a slight windbreak, that helped cut the chill some. Clear skies sure made that abundance of stars a great sight at night. Starlight, with or without only a thumbnail moon, was bright enough to get around camp without a light.
Cuz and I camped with Yip and Blackpowder Jim and shared a cooking fire with them. Jim brought his 18-week old speckled Catahoula/Blue Heeler pup named Dawg (who got the camp nickname of “Camp Dawg” – synonymous with “mooch” – at the last Rendezvous) and Dawg was in charge of dishwashing and the head of the entertainment committee. Dawg was also in charge of early wake-up calls with a cold nose and wet kiss. 🙂 He’s the only one I’d let get away with that…besides Cuz. 🙂
I fixed venison posole (venison jerky and hominy and dried onions and peppers and other stuff) at our camp Thursday night, Saturday night we had black-eyed peas and sausage, both supplemented with a mess of small wild onions gathered on site. SMELL them ALL as you gather and clean them, and make sure they are all onions and not crow-poison or death camas or some other bulb, could be fatal if you don’t. I fixed hoecakes (hot-water cornbread) in the grease left over from breakfast to go with Friday night’s supper. Breakfast was fried salt jowl with grits and brown sugar, Mexican chocolate in the coffee, all made on the fire of course with pre-1840 gear (copper tin-lined 1-quart pots, one 3-quart copper kettle, small folding-handle hand-forged skillets, tin cups and gourd cups and canteens) and dried food except for the pork. Everybody contributed to the fixin’s, and as usual, we had way more than enough. Lunch was either supper/breakfast leftovers or dried fruit and pecans.
Saturday night Bill “Catahoula” Vannoy, the booshway, cooked up a fine supper for the whole camp (20+ men, plus me and the landowner’s wife Patty) of posole made with the traditional pork and hominy and peppers, a huge iron kettle of black beans and another of pinto beans, and tortillas, with coffee from the two-gallon “bottomless coffeepot” named “Josefina”. Josefina kept the coffee coming night and day for us, all weekend.
Friday Cuz and I went walking around with Ed Cotton, a REAL knowledgeable gentleman regarding native plants of the area. I had asked him to show me some green things to eat at that time of year in that piney woods region since I’m not real familiar with what grows in that area. There was not much green stuff available yet, but Ed did dig up some sassafras root for tea and it was GREAT fresh, much better than the dried stuff that they sell in health food stores. Made two quarts (two boilings) of tea with just a handful of small roots and bark. Smells wonderful and tastes better! Found some paper birch bark for tinder, gathered some blackhaw fruit for the seeds to plant (kinda too dried to be worth eating but might do in a pinch if you were hungry, they were sweet still). Gathered some sumac berries for seed for my new place, I figure the edge of the woods along the power line clearing will be a good place for both. Sumac berries make a good tea, but these had been rained on all winter and most of the flavor would be washed out of them by now.
September/October is the best time to gather them here. Found some wax myrtle seeds too, Ed says they make a good gun lube, leaves on these make a good tea too. Learned that tea from dewberry or blackberry root is good for stopping you up if you have the…um…runs. Learned to identify dogwood in the winter by the little round seed cases left on the ends of the twigs, and to know eastern persimmon by the bark texture. Learned that a dried grapevine stem is an easy way to carry a coal from one campsite to another during the day’s travel, it smolders all day, once you light one end. I used to “smoke” grapevines as a kid, never thought of carrying fire that way though. 🙂 Ed is the nicest fellow, always a pleasure to learn stuff from him.
Saturday afternoon one of the AMM folks who had brought out his horse and mule, taught us how to pack a mule for travel with a packsaddle, panniers, breechings, and breast collar/martingale. Bill Vannoy & others assisted in the class. They also showed us how to tie a single diamond hitch and double diamond hitch.
Basic saddle and panniers looks pretty much like this pic, only this is on a miniature donkey, not a full-sized mule:
Pack saddle itself (sawbuck) looks like this:
Here’s a good page on packing a horse or mule:
Single diamond hitch to tie down the gear:
And double diamond hitch (takes two people, much faster with two folks tying a single diamond too, less walking back and forth around the mule):
You lay your folded diamond fly canvas on top of the folded bedrolls, which are on top of the panniers/pack bags, then tie the diamond hitch to secure all that and keep it together and balanced on the critter, and hopefully not scraped off by branches on the trail.
It is VERY important to keep the panniers of exactly equal weight and keep them centered kinda low on the mule. Hard to carry an unbalanced or top-heavy load and strains the mule. REAL hard to carry that load up a mountain on your OWN back if you sore up the mule! The critter can carry about 20-25% of its own weight in packs. About 125 lb. for the small sorrel mule that this gentleman had, but he said the army said they loaded up to 200 lbs or more on a mule. Musta had big mules. Depends on how far you want that mule to carry that load too, what kind of country (flat plains or steep mountain trails) and on what athletic condition the mule is in. Can’t get up off the couch and set down your beer and run a marathon, mule can’t either. 🙂
Here’s a couple of websites on what the US army expected of its mules in the late 1800’s:
“On our western plains a pack mule can carry 350 pounds without too great fatigue, but in tropical countries [Puerto Rico, Phillippines] it has been found that 200 pounds is load enough”
And in 1937 the recommended weight for pack mules and ponies was down to a 160-lb load.:
I also got to pratice writing with a quill pen, learned how to harden the quill by putting it down in hot sand and letting it cool off, and how to make black ink from oak galls. Boil the galls to make a brown ink, add rusty stuff to make the ink turn black, and add bran to the mix to thicken it.