18th Century Historical Trekking. What Do We Get Out Of It?
Someone asked me recently how did I manage wearing sheepskin moccasins. What happens when I am in swampy ground and they get wet, do I have to turn them inside out to clean them? My answer was that I simply dry them slowly by the fire, and if there is no fire then they stay wet.
So what do I get out of Historical Trekking? I get a feeling of my own worth and abilities. I feel a strong sense of satisfaction knowing that I can cope. This is a feeling of self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Despite the fact that people know that we participate in living history so that we can experience an 18th century lifestyle as it was back then, they still can not get used to the fact that they will not be as comfortable sleeping on a bed of sticks and bracken fern as they would be on a modern camp mattress. Daniel Boone is quoted as saying:
“It was on the first of May, in the year 1769, that I resigned my domestic happiness for a time, and left my family and peaceable habitation on the Yadkin River, in North-Carolina, to wander through the wilderness of America, in quest of the country of Kentucke, in company with John Finley, John Stewart, Joseph Holden, James Monay, and William Cool”.
The key words here are “resigned my domestic happiness”, that means that Boone knew that his time in the woods, no matter how much he loved it and was contented with it, was not going to have the comforts of home. You have to be as realistic as you can if you wish to experience that 18th century lifestyle. Let us just for a moment place ourselves on the trail in the forest 300 years ago, what are we thinking? What are we doing?
When I go on a historical trek, I am aware of the dangers that existed back then, wild animals and perhaps unfriendly Indians. I walk as quietly as I can, and every now and then I stop and listen. On this particular trek I am working as a Ranger for a community. They have had trouble with raiding Indians and before the militia can muster, the raiding parties have disappeared back into the forest. My job is to look for sign, and if I find sign that there are Indians in the area, then I have to try and get back to the community and warn them.
When I make camp at night I will simply lay on the ground with no shelter unless rain or snow threatens. I may make a bed of fern, but that is all. I will not light a fire for fear of being seen, so I will find a place out of the wind, perhaps a place with natural shelter. My food must be eaten cold, for that purpose I have brought along some cooked meat, cheese and bread. I also have some dried food stuffs in my pack just in case.
I can not tell how long I will be out. This Ranging is a hit and miss venture at best. I could be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the enemy may slip past me without either of us knowing the other’s presence. But I must try, I must think of the various possibilities regarding where they may be coming from and which trail they may take.
It is Autumn, an Indian summer. The leaves are still on the trees and bushes, enough to give the Indians cover. One last raid before winter? Could be. It is getting chilly at night now, I have been out for a week and my cold rations are gone. Now I eat a little oats in cold water. It tastes good on a cold night. This is comfort, I have a good blanket and dry clothes. I have a spare woollen shirt and weskit rolled up in my blanket that I can put on over my other under clothes and under my frock if I get cold.
One time when a friend and I were on the Great Lakes in winter, our boat got swamped by a sudden storm. We were still a good 100 yards from shore, and had to get into the water and swim our boat to shore. The wind still blew a gale, and the rain hammered down. Whilst my friend unloaded the boat as fast as he could to minimise the damage to our supplies, I got a fire going and started to construct a shelter frame. Then we both finished the shelter together, I got my oilcloth over the frame and tied down, and my friend used the boat sail to give us more cover.
We stripped off our wet clothes and hung them over a rope to dry in front of the fire. I had made the fire large, so we could get warm fast and dry our clothes. We sat in our breechclouts, blankets and wool caps passing the port and watching our clothes steam. It was one of the best times I have ever had.