Different people have different ideas about how to go about doing things. This is my personal view on developing a persona for living history activities that do not include living history museums or other areas where participants may need to portray a particular historical figure, e.g. you are not interpreting George Washington, you are interpreting a soldier of the period.
Developing a persona must be a mix of historical fact and your own character. I see no point in being someone I am not, that would take too much work to stay in character all the time. I did my research after deciding on a period and a place, but the clothing and equipment I chose, though authentically correct for the period and my persona, is my own choice. For instance, I carry three knives, and I have good reason to carry three knives, based on past experience. I have not read anywhere that any particular woodsman carried three knives, but there is no historical reason why I can’t carry three knives.
My hunting knife.
My legging knife.
My friction blade clasp knife.
I carry a .62 caliber flintlock fusil with a 42 inch barrel. This choice too is based on personal experience. I don’t carry anything for the sake of “looks”; I base my choices on what suits me and my woodsman lifestyle keeping within historically authentic limits. The equipment and clothing I carry and wear, to my mind, is the very best for keeping me alive in the wilderness, and long term if necessary.
So why haven’t we read anywhere that a woodsrunner, man or woman carried three knives? Well for one very few people in the 18th century actually wrote about common things. When was the last time you read about someone making fire with matches? Sure, there are more people writing about these things now, and that is because there is a great deal of interest in living history, and survival. Go on any survival forum and you will see lists of modern gear that people think they need to survive the day when TSHTF. But 300 years ago that did not happen.
There are historical records regarding woodsmen who made bad decisions regarding their equipment and personal safety. Like the man who was trapping and failed to look after his gun, when he came to use the gun it would not fire. Does this make sense for someone living such a lifestyle? I seem to recall it was Simon Kenton and George Washington that set off through the wilderness with only one blunt hatchet between them! These were supposed to be experienced men. The fact is that some woodsrunners learnt from their mistakes, and some did not. Not everyone survived that first mistake. Where one woodsrunner may see the benefit of using a particular item, another may not. It was, and still is very common for someone to say “my Father did not need one, and neither do I”, or “my Father did it this way and if it was good enough for him, then it is good enough for me”.
My leather costrel is hung from my waist belt, not from a shoulder strap.
Now I know some of you are going to be wondering, why does Le Loup carry three knives. Well I will tell you. I carry a large light butcher blade for a hunting knife, this is carried under my waist belt. This knife is for dispatching game if the animal should not be killed outright, for skinning and butchering, and for defence or offense.
Another knife I carry in the top of my right legging. It has a much shorter blade and is easy and quick to retrieve, and is used as a back-up for skinning, butchering, and fighting. The third knife is a jack knife and I carry it in my weskit pocket. This one is used for camp chores and making trap parts. It is small enough not to be clumsy when used for whittling small items, but it is large enough to be used for skinning small or large game if needs be.
When you are out hunting, and you shoot some large animal for meat and hide, the last thing you want to do is remain in the area for too long. If there is anyone about, they will have heard your shot and will come to check it out. They may be friendly, or they may not. You do not want to hang around to find out. The first thing you do is reload your gun, all the while watching and listening. You place your gun close to hand where it won’t fall and you make your cuts on the hide. Again, all the time watching and listening. You start to skin the animal, or you decide just to take a leg or two and instead of skinning you cut skin and flesh down to the knuckle. One wrong move and you can strike bone. Remember, you are working fast and still looking and listening for any danger. If you strike bone and the now dulled blade slows you down, you do not have time to sharpen the blade. You put it away and draw out your second blade and finish the job and get out of there.
Only experience will help you make the right choices of clothing and equipment. For quite some time I tried using a scrip/haversack as my main bag. It did not work for me. I could have used a snapsack too, but I think I would have had the same problem, with it only having the one carry strap. The same goes for the market bag or market wallet which has no strap at all. I found that at times I needed a more secure bag, one that did not move about, and one that did not get in the way in regards to other equipment. But this is my personal choice, and after a good deal of experience, I chose to use the knapsack that I use now.
One field trip could show up all sorts of problems if there are any, on the other hand everything could appear to be fine. But anything that can distract you or get in the way can be a potential danger. What happens if you have to get over a fallen tree? In some areas in my forest it is a jumble of fallen timber, and a long way to go round. What happens when you squat or kneel to check out some sign? Does anything move or swing round to get in your way? Can you move you powder horn to your back before firing, or is something stopping it? Can you quickly and easily access your shot pouch, knife, and axe? So many things can go wrong in the field that won’t show up anywhere else. You only have to take a fall once and lose some items out of your shot pouch to convince you that despite the fact that many original shot pouch flaps were not secured with a button, if you had added a button you would not have lost some of your precious equipment.
You are an individual; you are an 18th century woodsrunner. You need to make personal choices regarding what you wear and what you carry and use. Making these decisions is a large part of developing your persona.
Woodsman By John Buxton.