This is a journal of my personal experiences in the research of 17th & 18th methods for wilderness living and travel. My main interests are canadiens (especially those involved in the fur trade) and First Nations people of the North during this period.

It's also the home page for the Company of Voyageurs and Hivernants, a small Living History unit that gives demos at various historical sites.

“I would hold back all the voyageurs and employees of the Far West, gaining two thousand excellent men.” Bougainville, September 1758

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Book Review: "The French Trade Gun in North America: 1662-1759 by Kevin Gladysz


Folks on the French side of the hobby have been waiting for this one for quite a while. I just received my copy yesterday and I must say I'm impressed.

Ever read something so full of information that it's difficult to absorb any of it? Or see so many illustrations that you find yourself skipping ahead to look at them and read the captions? That's what I've been dealing with...

There are excellent illustrations, pictures of guns from various collections and quotes from tons of primary sources. This is a MUST READ for anyone portraying a milicien or sauvage in New France, Acadia or Louisiana during the period.

But be prepared. You'll want a new fusil from St. Etienne soon after opening this book...

You've been warned.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Lessons Sam Hearne taught me... Part 1


Samuel Hearne is not a name you hear often these days. As a matter of fact, I stumbled across his name purely by accident. Born in 1745 he joined the Nay during the French and Indian War and signed on with the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1766. His biggest claim to fame is being the first European to traverse the Arctic/sub-Arctic region west of Hudson’s Bay, all the way to the Arctic Ocean. He also brought a new method of travel to the forefront. Peter Newman put it well: “He pioneered a new technique of exploration- the propensity to go native.”

It took Hearne 3 attempts to accomplish his mission. The first 2 times, he was governed by a very European way of thinking. Haul all the provisions you need. Travel without any women along. Both theories caused him to turn back. It is impossible to carry sufficient provision for a journey of this duration. One must live mostly off the land. Women (from the Cree and Athabaskan tribes) were indispensable. They helped in camp and processed the hides and furs the men procured so that they could be utilized to replace worn out clothing.

Having traveled in the sub-Arctic forest and tundra my years in Alaska, I have a very good idea what Hearne and his guides went through. I wish I had found out about him earlier. What follows will be some tips & techniques I came across reading his journal, A Journey to the Northern Ocean.

Guns for the Traveling Man

“It is, however, rather dangerous firing lumps of iron out of such slight barrels as are brought to this part of the world for trade. These, though light and handy, and of course well adapted for the use of both English and Indian in long journies, and of sufficient strength for leaden shot or ball, are not strong enough for this kind of shot…”
November 1st, 1770. pg 50

Any student of trade guns of the 18th century does not see this as a shock. Although, Hearne's recommendation for one for Englishmen is telling.

He continues:

“…and strong fowling-pieces would not only be too heavy for the laborious ways of hunting in this country, but their bores being so much larger, would require more than double the quantity of ammunition that small ones do; which, to Indians, must be an object of no inconsiderable importance.”

Hunters and warriors from Athabaskans to Seminoles wanted light guns. Easier to carry, used lighter weight ammunition (a costly item in the Far North). We see this throughout the colonies as well. Sir William Johnson of NY sent back guns that he deemed to wide in the bore, because the Iroquois wouldn't buy them.

Currently, my main firelock is a Carolina Gun/Type G made by Mike Brooks of Iowa. It follows the description of an order for Sir William:

“400 Indian Fusees London provd blue Barrels Walnut stocks polishd Locks Brass Furniture 16/320”

Inventory of Sundry Merchandise…, London 5 Sept 1770
SWJP Vol VII, pg 885-888

It is also very close in style and weight to the Bumford Trade Gun in the collection of Colonial Williamsburg. (see Mullins, Jim "Of Sorts For Provincials" or Gale, Ryan "For Trade and Treaty"). Bumford also was a supplier of fowling guns to the HBC, Hearne's company. There is no direct evidence that puts this exact type at Prince of Wales Fort (Hearne's base), but it would make sense.

Anyhow, at 6lbs 2oz, I can carry it all day. It's balance keeps the 48" barrel from seeming unwieldy. Looking back to my time in Alaska, it would have worked well.

Traveling Light

"...but as to myself, little was required to be done, as the nature of travelling long journies in those countries will never admit of carrying even the most common article of clothing; so that the traveller is obliged to depend on the country he passes through for that article, as well as for provisions. Ammunition, useful iron-work, some tobacco, a few knives, and other indispensable articles, make a sufficient load for any one to carry that is going on a journey likely to last twenty months or two years. As that was the case, I only took the shirt and clothes I then had on, one spare coat, a pair of drawers, and as much cloth as would make me two or three pair of Indian stockings {leggings}, which together with a blanket for bedding, composed the whole of my stock of clothing." page 12.

And modern backpackers think THEY travel light???? This is the ultimate test in the belief of the "The more you carry in your head, the less you carry on your back" school of thought. By "iron-work", Hearne means ice-chisels (for getting through the multiple FEET of ice on the lakes and rivers), files for sharpening tools, knives, hatchets, and awls.

Basically, you take tools to build rather than the items themselves. Build the canoe, snowshoes, etc as you need them. Travel light and move faster. I wish I had come to believe in this method when I was in Alaska. There was a fairly large pool of knowledge among the elders of the Athabaskan villages. Sadly, most of the younger generation doesn't care and the elders are passing away every day.

Duplicating this journey with only the few things they took would be the ULTIMATE scout for the Historical Trekker. Let's see if "Out of the Wild" picks this one up next season...