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When Our Present Basics Were Frontier Staples
This entry was posted on March 4, 2013.
I am re-reading one of my favorite books - "The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace". This book, originally published in 1871 tells some of the life stories and adventures of William "Bigfoot" Wallace, who came to Texas from Virginia in 1836. Bigfoot came to Texas to avenge the death of his brother and a cousin, both of whom were killed in the Texas War of Independence from Mexico.
Bigfoot Wallace was an occasional Texas Ranger, surveyor, and scout. He took part in the failed Mier Expedition and came close to drawing a "black bean" during one episode. He survived captivity in Mexico City and returned to Texas where he lived, hunted, and scouted until he died at the age of 77 and was interred in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. If you want some very informative and entertaining reading – find a copy of this book!
Of the adventures related in this book, and in many more books and stories of this type based on frontier life, I am always struck by the simplicity of their tools and supplies. A musket, a pouch with bullets, lead and a bullet mold, a powder horn, a fighting knife, a skinning knife, a flint and steel striker, and maybe a few plugs of tobacco in a “possibles” bag and maybe a rolled-up blanket.
As I peruse the many Survival items we distribute to agencies, organizations, departments, and people all over this planet, I meditate on the simplicity of what our fore-fathers took into the wilderness on a regular basis, and not only survived with, but actually thrived. This makes me really re-evaluate my personal stock of Survival equipment and my personal level of the ability to survive with the most basic of tools.
One of the things that made wilderness living easier on those folks of yesteryear was an intimate knowledge of the flora and fauna of the wilderness they we living and travelling in. Just as important as knowing what animals were good for eating (most of them, it turns out) was knowing what plants were edible. The Internet, your local library, or your local book store should have this information for you and if you want to take it a step or two further you could always contact a local hunting or fishing guide and see what sort of help they could offer or refer you to. Many Survival bulletin boards on the Internet could help steer you into the right direction.
The most basic Survival kits are going to have several things in common, but it all boils down to the essentials – fire, shelter, signaling, and food gathering.
With the knives and perhaps a hatchet or axe, using available materials to construct a lean-to or tipi-type shelter was possible. With the flint and steel, you had both your heat and cooking medium ready, and with your snares and/or musket you had the means for meat. Knowledge of the local plant life resulted in some sort of vegetable supplement to your diet. A length of line and a hook would likely provide fish as well if near a body of water large enough to support a fish population.
The fire could be used for signaling if you were in distress because both the frontiersmen and Native populations were both curious as to the presence of smoke in their vicinity. We will not address the issue of attracting the unwanted sort of attention a line of smoke would sometimes attract in the all but late 1800’s in Texas for both the travelers and Native Americans of the time.
Now I look at my personal Survival and Bug-Out kits. I always have been an “over-packer” and in all my portable prep items this is apparent.
But, in my and the Survival products industry defense, I have to say that if Bigfoot Wallace would have had access to US MilSpec ParaCord, Fresnel Lenses, button compasses, prepared tinder, Cylalume Light Sticks and other staples of well-stocked Survival kits – he would have carried some!
So, it is seems like some of the things we carry are luxuries, that we have gotten too used to having “everything” at our fingertips. It may seem that way, but for certain it is better to have something and not need it, than to need something and not have it.
And, it is not always what you have with you, but what you are willing to do to ensure your Survival. This was brought to my attention as a mid-teenager. I learned at a younger age that the meat we bought from the market did not grow there, but was formerly attached to live animals. And, although I never had to hunt and fish for the family’s sole source of sustenance, I knew how to do both.
As a kid, I went to a Survival campout as a representative of my church’s Royal Ranger outpost. (Royal Rangers... basically a Boy Scout-type organization with the emphasis on the Assembly of God church’s doctrine and influence) Part of this week-long Training session was a Basic Survival over-nighter where we were allowed to take a knife, a fire-starter, and a sleeping bag (this was winter in Northeast Texas and it was actually snowing) and nothing else.
To make the food-gathering a little more interesting, the staff had gone and procured several large domestic rabbits and released them in our area and it was up to us to do what would come natural to a hungry frontiersman or Survivor. Although the bunnies were big and fat and friendly, these fine traits for a bunny rabbit were overruled by the fact that when properly prepared, they were also nutritious and very tasty. This was 1977 – you could not get away with this slaughter... I mean teaching method nowadays.
I am proud to report that out of the 12 or so in my group, only one other fellow and I knew what to do both with a live rabbit and a dead one – as always, some sensitive folk could not “stomach” how me and the other guy dispatched the bunny and proceeded to skin and eviscerate the potential meal. I rolled the skin up with the intention of tanning it later, but I left it a short distance from my hut and a fox swiped it.
So, there was plenty to eat for both of us. I constructed my shelter using the fallen cedar tree method using a recently felled tree to hollow-out an area and using the displaced brush for ground cover inside the shelter and additional roofing / insulating material. While enjoying the roast rabbit we cooked on a spit over a campfire it began to snow and me and the other young Frontiersman sat back full, warm, and comfortable while we listened to the continued retching of those who got sick at the sight of the blood of our noble entree’.
If I had the Survival equipment I both own and help market and sell on that and other occasions where I got the opportunity to prove my mettle in the outdoors, I do not believe I would have learned to be as self-sufficient as I turned out and try to be.
As I stated in an earlier blog, no one should miss the opportunity to try out and become familiar with their Survival gear BEFORE they need it. A clear understanding of the absolute basics of Survival should be had by anyone who may have to put their equipment and themselves to the test.
You do not have to take yourself out to a wilderness area with only a knife, match, stone axe and loin cloth and live for months at a time (although it would be interesting) to test your abilities with the basics. Simply learn how to start a fire without a match. Learn how to use native materials to construct a Survival shelter. Learn how to use Snare wire to set snares for small woodland animals and then study on how to prepare them for consumption. Learn what edible plants grow wild in your area, then go find some.
There is a curious satisfaction that comes over us while we are sitting by a campfire near a shelter we built, with water we found (and purified), and watching what we hunted or trapped cooking over the fire. It is the knowledge that for now, for this moment and regardless what may come tomorrow... for this moment we have what we need to Survive and if we did it today – we can do it tomorrow.
I do not believe I have ever read of someone who spent most of their life in the wilderness dying of a heart attack brought on by years of bad nutrition and poor exercise habits. It is too apparent that their way of life – though much simpler – was simply healthier for body, mind, and spirit.
To say we can be content with just these basic needs met is not an understatement.
The question is can with live with just the basics. It would be best to find out before that trial presents itself.
"Fortuna favet præparaverat - Fortune Favors the Prepared!"