The North American Frontiersmen

1750-1843

 

..... 

BILL CUNNINGHAM

Captain - Staff Writer

   Smoke Signals

                   Mar./Apr. '09

 

___________________________

FROM THE CAPTAINíS CORNER

By now, everyone, at least those who have maintained current addresses with the organization, should have received a nice, informative letter that contained the information of how to access the Smoke Signals magazine and news about the NAF, including this yearís annual rendezvous.  

I am enthused about the opportunity to participate with the Anasazi Free Trappers. They have offered to provide us with a separate camp area of our own and invited us to hang out our flags and pennants. These are very gracious folks. I have attended some of their events over the past 12 years and have always found them to be gracious, not to say friendly and extremely well organized. I hope you will be able to attend.  

I realize there can be difficulties with maintaining a feeling of comradeship within an organization as small as ours is at the moment. We have members spread over a vast geographical area and that means that in any given location there may be only one member. In a few areas in particular members are several hundred miles apart. It sounds like a flaccid thing to say in asking that you nonetheless contact your area booshway and encourage him to get a camp going that you may attend with other members and friends. But I do encourage you to try. At the very least, contact your booshway for a talk and for news. Find out who the other members in your area are and get in touch with them, also, if only to say hello and ask what they are doing. Share ideas and experiencesóit can be informative and fun. If you donít know who any of these people are, call the Chief Factor, Ken (Howdy) Davis, or the Secretary/Treasurer, Don Morgan, or me. Our phone numbers are: (Howdy) 970-824-6109, Don Morgan, 805-390-4677, or me, 970-240-6090.

 

For those of you who havenít received notification of the website redesign, it is being done by Daniel and Elaine Thompson. By the time they are finished I believe you will find that it is a user friendly site that will be a pleasure to visit. In the interim, Buck Connor has set the Smoke Signals, or on line magazine up as a separate entity. That address is in the snail mail letter referred to above. He is working hard in assisting the managing editor, Pat Quilter, to provide an interesting and informative publication for you. I urge you to take the time to help them out by writing down your experiences and research and submitting them to the magazine for publication. Everyone enjoys hearing about the camps and treks others have taken and they usually learn something from them. Research reports are always interesting and make for fascinating reading. Your help is really needed.

Until next issue, I remain

                                   Yr Obít &tc

Bill Cunningham

___________________________

 

Don Morgan

Secretary/Treasurer

MESSAGE FROM THE SECRETARY/TREASURER.

A - ho, NAF Brothers and Sisters,

 

Reading anything a treasure has to say is, to most people, about as interesting as watching paint dry.  However, a very important fact needs to be noted.  Henceforth, all checks incoming to NAF must be made out to DON MORGAN, and noted NAF on the memo line of the check.  Otherwise, checks can not be deposited into the account.  Please get the word out.
 
Now I will ruminate on a subject I do find interesting, a personal passion in fact.  The subject of knives.  
 
Our good friend Rex Allen Norman attests that every Mountain Man packed a "butcher knife",  a knife that has changed little in its form from the late 1700s to the present period.  Made in the hundreds of thousands in the great cutlery centers of Sheffield  and Birmingham, it was one of the premier trade items on the frontier and in the far west.  The American cutlery industry hadn't yet kicked into high gear, and on the Eastern frontier, from New England to Georgia, blacksmiths were called upon to produce good stout "butcher" or "hunting" knives from old files, buggy springs and the like.  Ref. Madison Grant's "The Knife In Homespun America" 
 
Davy Crockett, in his autobiography, refers to his knife as "Big Butcher", although it is known that he also carried a double edged sticker.  Did the term "butcher" refer to the form or the function?  Was a butcher only  a full or three quarter tang blade pinned to hardwood slab handles like the English trade butcher, or a forged from a file blade, rat tailed tang, and stuck in an antler handle as carried by a long hunter?  Or either?  
 
In the Rockies, Old Bill Williams refers to his "long butcher knife" as "this yar Toothpicker" (Alpheus H Favour).  Was it pointed?  In Uncle Dick Wooton's biography, by Howard Conrad, there is an account of mountain man Jim Baker, his rifle left in camp, killed not one but two young grizzlies with only his "butcher"  knife.  A busy morning, a brave heart, and certainly a stout knife.  
 
Francis Parkman speaks of the mountain men with whom he traveled caring butcher knives.
 
Now if we sit and study a typical butcher knife, which we are assuming (careful!) is approximately the same shape as those carried by red men and white alike, one thing is obvious.   This is NOT made as a "sticker" .  For skinning and slicing, an admirable tool.  but not a first choice self defense weapon.  The afore mentioned Jim Baker was a skilled blacksmith, and several knives made by him exist in museum collections (Carl P Russell "Firearms Traps and Tools of the Mountain Men")  and the larger one shown, with a pretty stout clipped blade could  be called a butcher knife, I suppose.
 
So, our Mountain Man is packing his Sheffield trade butcher for utility.  Only one knife?  I don't think so, Millers paintings not withstanding.  What would he want at hand when his single shot rifle and one or two pistols, went dry?  
 
It's a fact that trappers in the Southern Rockies, from earliest fur trade days, liked wintering in Taos.  Now, we've all read how our Anglo Saxon trappers and traders scorned anything Mexican, and that no trapper dressed "Southwest" ever showed up at a rendezvous, or at least none were ever recorded.  However,  we do know that the trappers greatly admired, and sometimes married Taos women, and were grateful for Aguardiente til the American whiskey still produced "Taos Lightin".
 
All this to say I cannot believe the Anglo trapper, for all his prejudices, would eschew the qualities of the native Belduque.  The belduque came unto the Southwest, Texas to California, as a Spanish not Mexican form, and could be found in all sizes.  The type originated in the Mediterranean  area , perhaps with marine applications.  The mysterious "Spanish Notch" found on many of the blades, could have been used as a fine strand separator for net mending, and the sharp point and long sweeping edge would serve admirably as a fish knife.  Having been, at one time, a deck hand on a sportfishing boat out of San Pedro, I can attest to that.  
 
In California, where no fire arms but for a few old escopetas, were found anywhere except presidio garrisons and mission cuartels, the vaqueros on the great ranchos used belduques to dispatch, or "neck" cattle driven to the metanza, the killing ground, for the hide and tallow trade.  
 
Ciboleros , the buffalo hunters of New Mexico armed with lances and bows and arrows, carried big belduques as their principle sidearm.  Comancheros traded them in large numbers to the Comanches and other Southern Planes tribes.
 
So I believe that the Anglo trapper of the Southwest,  would swallow his Yankee pride in the name of good ol' commonsense practicality, carry the ubiquitous butcher for utility an a stout, pointed, swept edged belduque, forged by a talented blacksmith of Taos or Santa Fe for the purpose of self-defense.                                    
 
But then, maybe a Bowie .....
 
Respectfully submitted by
Yr  Humble & Ob't S' V' T

Don Morgan  NAF #42 

 

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