Smoke Signals

                   Jul./Aug. '10


These little goodies are from old issues of the Colorado State Muzzle Loading Association journal "POKE & STROKE". Elmer Pope & Buck Conner found some of these old "How-Too" items as well as other information of interest.



#1 Tired of having your ramrod get stuck when cleaning, usually when dry patching to clear extra oil or moisture. Try this, install a brass or metal ramrod end on the rear of the ramrod (tubing works very nicely or a cartridge case cut down). Drill a 1/8 inch hole through the tubing and the ramrod, this gives you a hole to insert a small nail, awl or leather thong through, giving you extra gripping power to pull on, coming out.


#2 Here's a tip when your cleaning your smoke pole and the ramrod gets stuck at the breech plug and you can't get a good hold on the ramrod. Use a leather thong and throw 3 1/2 hitches on the ramrod end to give you a better grip, have seen several originals with shallow grooves on end of ramrods that would have been used for the same purpose. 


#3 After breaking several ramrods where the brass tip meets the wood. I found that by drilling a slightly smaller hole on through the the brass tip (bottom area) and into the ramrod, a small nail and some epoxy inserted into the hole will strengthen the ramrod considerably. Care has to be taken when drilling the hole to keep in line and parallel with the rod. 


#4 Many years ago I was trying to decide how to use all the parts of the beaver I trapped. I pondered over those big teeth (you thought I was going to say casters), when an idea came to me to make a different type of necklace using these teeth. Have seen many just drilled holes and hung them on a thong, but after a few years they start to crack and in time are gone.

  • I removed the two main cutting teeth, top and bottom from the jaw bones. The two top teeth when put together make an almost complete circle. I used a piece of apple limb from some trees that were near where this gentlemen had been working when trapped in a irrigation ditch. The twig was about 1/2 inch in diameter after the bark was removed and cut to a length of 2 inches. I drilled two holes in the twig, you will have to work a little on the holes to shape them to the size of the teeth, as they are not round and you want a good fit. After fitting glue teeth into their new found home in the twig. Rub with boiled linseed oil, wood and teeth, do this several times to help in having either one - wood and teeth from cracking.


#5 We have all used one form or another of a travois to move anything from equipage to firewood for camp, but have you ever used one to drag a deer ? Finding a deer and taken it in a small wood lot usually is not found to be a problem, but locating one in huge tracts of wild country is often difficult. When you finally down that fine buck how do you get him to an access road that may be many miles away through rugged country ?

There are several ways, one is to grab an antler or use a rope to drag the animal back, with a fair chance of multiple hernias and a possible heart attack depending on your condition. The second if your quarry is small is to hoist him over your shoulder and stagger off, providing an excellent target for other hunters in the area.

A third is to build a travois and bring the animal home in comfort with minimum of stress and strain. The only equipment you'll need to carry is a small belt axe (tomahawk) and a small coil of soft wire (twine).

To build a travois, choose a couple of tall, thin trees from a clump where they're already overcrowded. Silver maple, aspen and popular are ideal. cut two poles eight feet long for the side supports, then one more to be cut for the cross pieces. Since you're going to be hauling your game through timber or along narrow animal paths and trails, it should be no more than three feet in width, which is plenty for most game. Space cross bars at two foot intervals and secure with the wire (twine) securely.

Then use a final piece or two to tie your buck firmly to the travois and start dragging. Most of the weight will be on the bottom tips of your travois, and you'll be surprised at how easy you can haul even a large animal out.

  • This was originally published in a hunting journal from the New England states in the late 1830's called "A Gentlemen's Life in the Wild", the journal only lasted a few years as the New England states developed or hunting by ones self was not considered really a sporting way of life.


#6 Make that shot count when hunting bear, just the chance to see one in the wild is a thrill, so don't count on luck when you finally get a chance to shoot.

The grizzly is probably the most dangerous land animal in the northern hemisphere. Cunning, powerful, and unpredictable. Grizzlies and men have been at odds for centuries, we have all read the accounts of grizzlies and mountain men, and as often as not the bears have come out the winners. The hunter who tries for a grizzly is putting his skill against an animal that deserves the most of care and respect. A mature grizzly male will go up to 900 lbs., stand 3 1/2 to 4 feet at the shoulder, and measure 7 1/2 to 8 feet in length, pound for pound he is one of the most powerful animals in the world, a true fighting beast.

If and when that shot becomes available most experienced hunters will tell you if possible, bring your bear down with a shoulder shot. the proper ball, patch and powder charge will help to plow through hair, hide, muscle, and sinew to break the shoulder and with luck penetrate into the lungs and other shoulder. A shoulder shot is usually fatal, and incapacitates a bear so he can't turn on the hunter. Spine and brain shots are equally deadly, but present a smaller area to place that one shot, being excited and performing at your best, only you know what your capable of and which shot you can make.

Your probably thinking what about the standard heart, lung, and liver shots ? These shots will kill a grizzly, but not right away, this is something to consider if there's a chance your bear knows where you are and might decide to get nasty. 

  • A friend that has taken several good grizzlies, black and a nice brown bear up north, all with front stuffers has always lived by this rule, "don't ever take a chance with a bear and don't ever think you know what they're going to do, they themselves don't know".  This friend Norm Domenio says, " almost any kind of bear will fall down when hit, even if not a good hit. they're tough, and often take a lot of lead before staying down for keeps." As Norm continues "most likely your bear will do something in a hurry if he's not pole axed on the spot - either come after you or run off".

If you do things right your bear should drop in its tracks with one or both shoulders broken. If not done right it could become a little hairy, real fast, more than one hunter has lost his life in head high brush on the trail of a wounded grizzly. I have never personality hunted grizzly, but have killed black bear with both high power and muzzle loaders over the years and have been told by Norm and a few others, experienced bear hunters that I have been damn lucky with where they were shot and the distances shot from. I guess now that's behind me, there can be something said, for being dumb in this subject - isn't all bad !!!!!

Tracking is tracking - paw prints, blood, hair, broken brush, you have read it a hundred times so I won't go into it and bore you. Only one thing, a grizz has blunt claws almost 4 1/2 -5 inches long (rule of thumb standard measurement) and these sometimes leave tell tale scuff marks, even on hard packed ground.

Good luck and take a good look at the picture of how and where a bear's parts are located. Like an old rancher told several of us when hunting on his place in northern Colorado, "when the shooting stops, the work begins", and believe me in bear hunting that is so true.


#7 Make that one shot count when hunting mule deer, this fellow is a fairly sturdy animal, but solid hits in the chest cavity with proper ball - charge combinations will take effect quickly. The best hold claimed by many is a center of the lungs, since shots tend to go high, low, forward, or backward of the vital areas (I have used this same thought on buffalo over the years, taking 8 out of 12 with lung shots). Using a lung shot the chance of the ball moving from there into other vitals such as the spine, liver, heart or a shoulder can also help you. All of these locations are excellent hitting areas as is the neck or brain, provided the rifleman is capable of such pin point accuracy. If the animal is of trophy size you may want to stay away from the head and cape area; a few nice racks have collapsed like fallen trees when the old boy's were punched in the back of the head, brother does that make your day.

A lung, heart, or liver hit mulie may drop on the spot, but it's just as likely he'll go on a short "death run" without sign of being hurt. Brain, spine and shoulder shots usually stop a mulie instantly. I'm sure someone will have a different story or situtation that they have experienced, remember this is general information, nothing special. After hunting and killing white, black and mule deer since age 12, and loosing count after 50 plus animals (legal and questionable), in the 50's party hunting was legal in some eastern states. That's where the faster hunter usually filled everyones tag in their camp, that was fun as long as they did the work of cleaning and moving animals after the shooting. Tracking a wounded mule deer can be very easy or very hard, depending on the terrain, time of the year, and how hard hit. Mulies inhabit a variety of country, rocky to level, wet to dry areas. The ruffer and dryer, the easier to see and follow in most cases, no real sure and great way like many write. Alot depends on the country and your knowledge of the terrian, animal habits and so on, an endless list, all depends on who you talk to. As winter sets in a mulie's hair gets thicker, and stops the blood flow easier than when thinner in warmer areas. If you think you have a hit on your deer, can not find blood, look for tell tale gray hair in the area of the shot - this hair often will be found in his leaving tracks. Always follow a deer believed hit.

Within the last few years I have seen mulies act more like their brothers from the east (white tails) in escaping hunters. A good example was above Ft. Collins Colorado, we knew a small mulie was hiding in this creek bed, lots of brush, I was on a small hill and could really see what was going on in the area. a couple of friends went down into the brush to work the buck out, or so they thought. After an hour I had counted seven times he ducked my friends and finally got away, (could have shot him but he earned another day with his cleaverness). Two times by standing still they walked by him within a few yards, laying down worked several times, crawing down the creek bed past one friend worked once and a few other slick moves sure made my day, not so good for the friends.


#8 Simple mountain garters, copied from a ragged pair at the Museum of the Fur Trade years ago while visiting Charles E. Hanson, Jr., close friend, history teacher, researcher and just plain fun to be around. "Us mountain men is always huntin' fur a new place to hang a nuw foo-fer-aw or perty-up his skins fer struttin' in front of thee squaws and pilgrims" believe it or not a quote from Mr. Hanson in a rare mode on afternoon in his library. It was so surprising to have this gentleman say something so off the wall, I wrote it down, and would remind him from time to time of his "off the wall" statement in fun.

Back to the "how-to" of this article, a place most neglected, has great potential for fancying up, is a set of fur garters. Worn below the knee and above the calf, it's a natural place to show out a little bead work, or a special bead. One draw back is, its not a practical item worn when on the trail or making a trek (hate that word) trip in long grass or brush, good way to become ground tied. The pair I copied this pattern from looked to have had fur on them at one time, with some bead work (greasy yellows) and nice red thread stitching. This would be the makers choice in what was to his liking, personally I would think these could be very fancy for use in the settlements or at a rendezvous with different colors of trade wool, bead work, quill work or just beads hanging on leather thongs dangling down the calf.


#9 Making your first coonskin hat Davey. First determine your hat size, this is to be the diameter of your hat. Next lay the hide on the floor with the fur side down, hide side up. Now draw a circle the size you want so that it comes around just behind the ears of your animal (on the floor). One of Ma's pot's work pretty good to make the circle. Using a razor blade or sharp knife, cut along the drawn line until you come up to the animal's head or ear on each side. Next cut a strip from the remaining piece of hide about 3 inches wide, leaving the tail attached. This width can vary depending on how deep the hat is desired. On the hat's I have seen worn by some the rear legs with feet are left on. Now the use of Ma's pot comes in handy as a form to help in putting this fur together. Lay the top piece on the kettle which is turned upside down. The head on the hide now becomes the front of the hat as it folds down the side of the kettle. Place the other piece around the kettle and pin in place. Also, cut a "V" notch along side the tail on both sides and lace or sew together. This is so the back will be at right angles to the top. Now lace or sew the top starting at the tail. Start at the tail first so you will be sure to get it in the center. When you reach the head, the sides are laced or sewed to the cheeks on the hide. Fit the hide on your head first and adjust the sides to make for a tight fit. Then cut off any excess and lace or sew down the cheeks. I have seen old coonskin hat that have an old work hat without the bill attached to the inside if a liner is desired.


#10 How many articles have you read on using natural dyes from plants, trees and the earth to color your favorite shirt, or how great walnut dye is. Seems everyone is into early camo, or would like you to believe that anyone in the woods from the Native American to the woodsman or long hunter were. Funny when I read the half dozen original "Pennsylvania Gazettes" from the mid 1700's or the three original "New York Tribunes" from the late 1700's; the advertising and the "wanted" lists for run-aways, show items for sale or being worn by this period of folks as being pretty damn colorful. Having read them many, many times and haven't found the dark brown and blacks some write about ? Lots of bright colors, stripes, plaids, checker and calico patterns, maybe what they are referring to is the original garment has gotten real dirty ! I have talked to many in the garment and cloth supplies and asked them about this, usually I get a smile and not much feed back as to the dark colored clothes we read about. Most of the time the subject is changed to what they have available, this is where the old saying comes in: "you never hear a huckster cry rotten fish" seems to fit very nicely doesn't it. I won't go any further on this subject, as several of our brothers have gone into great detail about what colors were available. At our last camp we got to talking about what the Native American had available to them in the way of color, then our editor was asking for articles of different things so I thought we would do a little lookin' and see what was around in native dyes. After looking over a half dozen books that cover "Native American Dyes" and figuring it would take something the size of a Sear Catalog (Spring issue) to cover this, plus it has already been done. So in a feable attempt I have shortened what information available at hand, to try and not make you to bored. The Ojibwa and the Chippewa tribes seems to have had some of the easier uses of dye: in making the dye and the process of dying the item. Most of the plants, tree root - inner bark, earth, and rusty iron depots they used were prepared by boiling the plant, root, etc. until it had released all the juices it had held previsouly. The removal of the resource material was the next part, at which time it maybe dried and reused at a later date. The liquid containing the juices (dye) from the first boiling was then the agent used for dying the articles to recieve the coloring, this may take from a short period a few hours, or soaking from a week to several or even a month to get the desired results. After the wanted color was achived the use of a securing agent was needed, so all your work wouldn't be washed out with the first rain or washing. This usually meant another boiling of your garment or article to set the color from the previous operation. So you can see to have an item with a wonderful color was not an easy task and may take quite a long period to get what you fancy. Some tribes didn't get as involved or just traded with ones that did to get what they wanted for color, then produced their personal article from the material traded for. It seems many of the tribes had like uses for different plants, trees and earth in the manufacturing of a dying agent. After comparing a dozen tribes across this great land I put together a list as follows.


#11 Common Name Part of plant used Article dyed Color

ALDER inner bark porcupine quills red & yellow w/blood root, w.plum, dogwood mix

BLOOD ROOT root / inner bark porcupine quills,wood red w/other plant mix

BUR OAK inner bark porcupine quills black w/hazel, butternut mix

BUTTERNUT root / inner bark wood, cloth brown w/hazel mix

CEDAR-RED inner bark wood, grass mats mahogany w/other plant mix

CHOKEBERRY inner bark securing agent for: red

DOGWOOD inner bark porcupine quills ight red w/birch, oak, cedar mix

GOLD THREAD root porcupine quills dark yellow

HAZEL inner bark securing agent for: black w/butternut dye agent "rushes" black w/hazel, oak dye agent "cedar" black

HEMLOCK inner bark porcupine quills, matting med. mahogany w/rock dust to set color

LAMB'S QTR whole plant securing agent for: green

LICHENS whole plant porcupine quills med. yellow

MAPLE rotted wood porcupine quills purple

PUCCOON dried root porcupine quills, face paint red

SUMAC inner bark / pulp porcupine quills, matting light yellow

WHITE BIRCH inner bark porcupine quills medium red w/dogwood, oak, cedar ash

WILD PLUM root porcupine quills bright, dark red w/blood root, dogwood, alder mix = bright red w/blood root alone = dark red

Please note; most are shown as being used for porcupine quills (most easily dyed), grass matting, or as a securing agent to keep dye in material dyed. I have tried several of these on cloth items and found that you have to let your article soak for a period of time to get the wanted results in the color wanted, don't forget the securing agent for a lasting color.

A few formulas for dyes are shown below, a Dr. G.P. Merrill of the United States National Museum in Washington had made tests with many recipes and found these to work as good as any tested.


White birch. Red-osler dogwood / outer and inner bark. Oak. Ashes from cedar bark. Hot water. Boil the barks in the hot water. Prepare the ashes by burning about an armful of scraps of cedar bark. This should make about 2 cups of ashes, which is the correct quantity for 2 gallons of dye. sift the ashes through a piece of cheesecloth. Put them into the dye after it has boiled for a period, then let it boil up again, and then put in the material to be colored. Do not let a man or any outsider look into the dye.


Puccoon, nine inches of dried root - pulverized. Hot water, 1 quart. Ochre, 1 teaspoonful. If being used for dyeing porcupine quills, let it boil up a little, then put in the quills, which have previously stood for a while in hot water. Let the quills boil half an hour to an hour, keeping the kettle covered, then remove from the fire and let the quills stand in the dye for several hours. If they are not bright enough they may be redyed, letting them stand in the dye as before. The process is substantially the same in dyeing other materials.


Bloodroot, 1 handful of root. Wild plum, 1 handful. Red-osier dogwood, 1 handful. Alder, 1 handful. The inner bark of the trees and the root of the bloodroot were used, all being boiled before the quills were put in the dye. Let the quills boil half an hour to an hour, keeping the kettle covered, then remove from the fire and let the quills stand in the dye for several hours. The list of formulas is endless with just about any color one could think of, processes are from simple ones like just shown, to ones that one would need the patience of a saint to perform. Go to your local library, you'll be surprised at the amount of titles covering natural and native dyes. 


#12  In the last couple centuries one of the simplest business operations that still works closely to the original plan is the growing and preparation of wild rice (manomin) in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Wild rice grows in lakes, ponds, and slow moving stream in these states and in the Atlantic and Gulf states, in the Mississippi Valley sloughs, as well as along the shores of the Great Lakes. The wild rice for many natives has become one of the staple articles of diet, along with maple sugar, water fowl and venison in these regions.

The presence of wild rice in the Great Lakes was cause for war between the Sioux and the Ojibwa, it made possible the extention of the fur trade in that region with the available food source for traders and trappers. The expansion of settlements and development of other resources where helped with the wild rice production throughout the area, as a food source, a trade item and an income source.

The preparation of wild rice has always been one of the most picturesque activities of the Native American and has been a cooperative enterprise by families, tribes and neighborhood groups.

The rice was gathered in the early fall just before maturity in canoes poled by women. With a pole or forked stick the kernels were knocked down from the stalks into the canoes, where blanket had been spread to catch the grain. Since the rice is being gathered before maturity it is necessary to cure it before removing the hulls, this is done by spreading it on the rocks and drying it in the sun or over a slow fire, or parching or popping it in large iron kettles while being stirred with paddles. In the old days the parched rice was then placed in a skin lined holes in the ground, a skin placed over the rice and "new" moccasined footed men tramped down the rice breaking the hulls. Today modern threshing machines do this part of the operation.

The rice was then winnowed by the wind as the women shook small quantities in birch bark trays, the clean rice was then stored in woven bags of cedar bark with a layer of hay placed over the top and sewed down to the bag. It was also packed in skin containers and put in caches for long periods of time.

The collection and preparing has changed to modern equipment with todays demands, still being conducted under the shade of the trees, but if one looks hard enough "old ways" harvesting can be found, even today, usually by small operations.

A word to the wise, I have gotten some wild rice done the old way and have found it to be of poor quality - do to having fine sand mixed within the bag of rice. Apparently when drying on the rocks or when being shaken in the birch bark trays the wind has blown in the fine sand. If you don't mind grit with every bit you eat, then I quess that's OK - does keep you regular.

So to our modern day adventurer, traveler and writer, yes wild rice is correct and was traded from the Great Lake states long before a white man ever came into this land, and yes it would have been in the diet of the trapper, trader and long hunter. It was listed on trade lists of supplies in St. Louis warehouses, on menu's of the hotels and found in the small settlements up and down the major rivers from the north.


As we find more we'll place them here in the NAF "SMOKE SIGNALS".

                                             We remain, Yr Svt's.

Elmer Pope & Buck Conner

I'm the original Elmer (damnit).


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updated  07/10/2010   

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