Sunday 28 March 2010

The Travois.

The most famous use for the travois was for the transportation of the plains Indian's tipi and other belongings which was pulled by horse. Other uses not so well known was dog travois and the travois pulled by man, again for transporting belongings and for carrying game out of the woods.
I have no documentation for the travois being pulled by man or woman, but I have done so in the past, and I really can't imagine that 18th century man was any less inventive. I will however continue to research this subject, but as you can imagine it is not something likely to be written about and the travois use in the east is overshadowed by its use in the west.
Here is one I made recently. Note the curved ends that drag. This makes it easier to pull and it leaves less sign. It can also be pushed to manouvre.
I have purposely made it narrow, so it will fit on forest trails. The front is bowed out to make room for me to stand inside to pull. The original shape is kept because I think this design is what makes it so secure and sturdy.
I also made the cordage that holds the travois together.

Grey Owl and The Beavers Part 1.

Those of you in England may not realise that Beaver were native to Britain. They were trapped into extinction. The English countryside would be a very different place if there were still beavers!

Grey Owl and The Beavers.

The story of Grey Owl is well worth reading if you can ever lay your hands on the book. The short story is that famers in this particular area were running out of water and green pasture mid summer. The reason for this was because all the beaver had been trapped out, and the beaver dams were no longer in place to flood upper pastures, and to retain water for the summer months! Some people just do not see how their actions effect the ballance of nature.
Grey Owl was responsible for the reintroduction of the beaver in this particular area.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Bird Hunting & Trapping for Food.

Bird Hunting and Trapping for Food.

Bird hunting and trapping have been a part of most nationalities living skills especially for the poor. This occupation continued from very early times into the present century. Trapping a variety of birds was often the only way poor people could obtain meat. Children learnt from an early age how to trap and hunt birds, using simple pull-string traps and hunting with slings, throwing sticks and later catapults.
One of my jobs as a kid in England was to hunt wood pigeons for the table and to stop them eating our cabbages.
My Father was born in 1904, and he used to hunt blackbirds, he said they tasted like chicken. Other boys he told me used to hunt sparrows in the hedge rows.

Wood pigeons existed in great numbers in England and may still do so. I hope so.
The partridge and the pheasant are probably the most well known game birds, especially in England and the New World. 

The Blackbird, common in England and the New World.
The humble sparrow. Not a lot to eat on a sparrow so I suspect the kids had to hunt and trap quite a few of them the make a meal.

We have twice a year the pleasure of catching pigeons, whose numbers
are sometimes so astonishing as to obscure the sun in their flight.
Where is it that they hatch? for such multitudes must require an
immense quantity of food. I fancy they breed toward the plains of
Ohio, and those about lake Michigan, which abound in wild oats;
though I have never killed any that had that grain in their craws.
In one of them, last year, I found some undigested rice. Now the
nearest rice fields from where I live must be at least 560 miles;
and either their digestion must be suspended while they are flying,
or else they must fly with the celerity of the wind. We catch them
with a net extended on the ground, to which they are allured by what
we call TAME WILD PIGEONS, made blind, and fastened to a long
string; his short flights, and his repeated calls, never fail to
bring them down. The greatest number I ever catched was fourteen
dozen, though much larger quantities have often been trapped. I have
frequently seen them at the market so cheap, that for a penny you
might have as many as you could carry away; and yet from the extreme
cheapness you must not conclude, that they are but an ordinary food;
on the contrary, I think they are excellent. Every farmer has a tame
wild pigeon in a cage at his door all the year round, in order to be
ready whenever the season comes for catching them.

Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crevecoeur. 1735-1813.

Passenger pigeons. These are the birds that were hunted and trapped by Indians and settlers for food in the 18th century in the New World.

The Indians captured the pigeons in large nets and by the 1630s the settlers of New England were doing the same.

"When a Pigeon is seen gliding through the woods and close to the observer, it passes like a thought, and on trying to see it again, the eye searches in vain; the bird is gone."

"I positively brought myself so much among the pigeons and in the woods of America that my ears were as if really filled with the noise of their wings..."
John J. Audubon

"For three miles together, the pigeons' nests were so thick that five hundred might have been told on the beech trees at one time; and, could they have been counted on the hemlocks, as well, I doubt not but five thousand, at one turn around."
Richard Hazen, New England,1741.

. "They darkened the sky like locusts;"
 Along the New England coast, they were caught on the marshes by means of live decoys. In other parts, stuffed birds were used to attract passing flocks. Many a man boasted of ten, twenty-five, or thirty dozens of Pigeons caught in a snare at one time. One writer claimed that cumin seed or its oil was found by experience the best lure to induce the Pigeons to these nets. Particularly favourable for netting were the salt springs, at which the netters took as many as 800 to 1,500 or 1,600 at once in one net. These Pigeon traps were various in form and construction. One was made of nets 20 x 15 feet stretched on a frame. This was propped up by a pole eight feet long. When the birds entered under it, a boy or man concealed by a fence withdrew the prop with a string attached to it, and the falling net enmeshed the birds. To the nets they were also allured "by what we call tame wild pigeons, made blind, and fastened to a long string. His short flights and his repeated calls never fail to bring them down. Every farmer has a tame wild pigeon in a cage, at his door, all the year around, in order to be ready whenever the sea-son comes for catching them" (Crevecoeur, 1783).

"during the flights . . . the lower sort of Canadians mostly subsisted on them."
Peter Kalm.

"at the market so cheap that, for a penny, you might have as many as you could carry away; and yet, from the extreme cheapness, you must not conclude that they are but ordinary food; on the contrary, they are excellent."

"The farmers, besides having plenty of them for home use, and giving them to their servants, and even to their dogs and pigs, salted cask full of them for the winter."

"several Indian towns of not above seventeen houses, that had more than one hundred gallons of pigeon's oil or fat; they using it with pulse or bread as we do butter, . . ." Lawson,1714.

Dovecots. Pigeons would be kept and raised in dovecots for food. Often the young "squabs" would be taken before they could fly. This practice dates back to medieval times, and is still in use today.
On the snow to the right you will see a bird trap.

Children learnt at a young age how to trap birds.

I hate sad endings, but it must be said that due to commercial trapping in the 19th century, the passenger pigeon aventually became extinct. Well done humans, greed wins again!

Saturday 20 March 2010

Bee Hunting.

I take with me my dog, as a companion, for he is useless as to this game; my gun, for no man you know ought to enter the woods without one; my blanket, some provisions, some wax, vermilion, honey, and a small pocket compass.

With these implements I proceed to such woods as are at a considerable distance from any settlements. I carefully examine whether they abound with large trees, if so, I make a small fire on some flat stones, in a convenient place; on the fire I put some wax; close by this fire, on another stone, I drop honey in distinct drops, which I surround with small quantities of vermilion, laid on the stone; and then I retire carefully to watch whether any bees appear. If there are any in that neighbourhood, I rest assured that the smell of the burnt wax will unavoidably attract them; they will soon find out the honey, for they are fond of preying on that which is not their own; and in their approach they will necessarily tinge themselves with some particles of vermilion, which will adhere long to their bodies.
Brass pocket sundial compass.

Bee boxes were also used to catch bees. Once in the box they were tagged with a down feather from a small bird and then set free. The feather could be easily seen and so the bee traced to its hive.
 I next fix my compass, to find out their course,
which they keep invariably straight, when they are returning home loaded. By the assistance of my watch, I observe how long those are returning which are marked with vermilion. Thus possessed of the course, and, in some measure, of the distance, which I can easily guess at, I follow the first, and seldom fail of coming to the tree where those republics are lodged. I then mark it; and thus, with patience, I have found out sometimes eleven swarms in a season; and it is inconceivable what a quantity of honey these trees will sometimes afford. It entirely depends on the size of the hollow, as the bees never rest nor swarm till it is all replenished; for like men, it is only the want of room that induces them to quit the maternal hive. Next I proceed to some of the nearest settlements, where I procure proper assistance to cut down the trees, get all my prey secured, and then return home with my prize. The first bees I ever procured were thus found in the woods, by mere accident; for at that time I had no kind of skill in this method of tracing them. The body of the tree being perfectly sound, they had lodged themselves in the hollow of one of its principal limbs, which I carefully sawed off and with a good deal of labour and industry brought it home, where I fixed it up again in the same position in which I found it growing. This was in April; I had five swarms that year, and they have been ever since very prosperous. This business generally takes up a week of my time every fall, and to me it is a week of solitary
ease and relaxation.
Michel-Guillaume-Jean de Crevecoeur.1735-1813.

13,000 BC image of hunting for honey.

Australian natives bee hunting. Note the bags of honey they are carrying.

Diderot Encyclopedia, 18th century.

Monday 15 March 2010

Australian Natives The First People?


The Worlds Oldest Inhabitants?

The word "aboriginal" means "the first" or "earliest known". The word was first used in Italy and Greece to describe people who lived there, natives or old inhabitants, not newcomers, or invaders.

Australia may well be the home of the worlds first people. Stone tools discovered in a quarry near Penrith, New South Wales, in 1971 show that humans lived in Australia at least twelve thousand years before they appeared in Europe.

So far three early sites have been discovered in Australia, the Penrith one being dated about forty-seven thousand years old, a Western Australian site forty thousand years old and another in Lake Mungo, New South Wales, thirty-five thousand years old.

To put this in perspective, so that we can appreciate the time scales, since the first fleet arrived in 1788 there have only been 8 generations of settlers. On the other hand, there have been in excess of 18,500 generations of aboriginals!!!


Aborigines And Their Culture

More than 30,000 years ago the population of the world was small, and people lived in family groups, hunting, fishing and food gathering. There where no cultivated crops, animals were not herded for food and metalworking was yet to be discovered.

At that time, known as the last great Ice Age, Australia was joined to New Guinea. Islands such as Java and Borneo were larger than today, sea passages between them narrower. This made it possible for the ancestors of the people now called Australian Aboriginals to reach Australia from lands to the north.

It is not known from where the Aboriginals began their journey, but it is certain that people with some kind of water craft crossed the 100 - 160 kilometres stretches of water between the islands to the north; and reach the southern continent. This sea voyage is the earliest evidence of sea travel by prehistoric man.

As the ice flows of the Ice Age began to melt, the sea level rose, isolating Australia, and making the sea passages too wide for crossing by the simple forms of watercraft available at the time. About 10,000 years ago, Tasmania became separated from the main land, thus isolating the people there, and about 5,000 years ago the Australian continent took on the shape of that it has today.

Nobody knows how long the Aboriginals took to reach Australia, or how they settled the continent when they arrived. At present archaeologists are searching ancient camping sites for evidence of their history, and each new discovery provides links in the history of the thousands of years before the white man reached the Great South Land. New discoveries also are changing previous ideas about the length of time that Aboriginals have been in Australia, and modern scientific methods of dating have provided new possibilities for further research. It is certain that man reached Australia more than 40,000 years ago. Australia, once called the "lost continent of prehistory", is fast losing that title.

A Perfect Environment

The first Aboriginals found an Australia with a better environment than today. Large animals, now extinct, provided more meat than the animals with which we are familiar. Some parts of the continent were richer in vegetable foods, but the land contained no cultivated crops, or animals that could be domesticated, such as cattle and sheep.

Whatever their early history, Aboriginals had settled throughout the entire continent many thousands of years before the white man came and had evolved a way of living that was in harmony with the environment, and that satisfied their needs. Because Australia was isolated from the rest of the world, Aboriginals had little contact with outside groups from whom to "borrow" techniques, to trade goods, to acquire crop seeds, or animals, as was happening in the North of the world. It was only for a few centuries prior to white settlement that visitors came from islands to the north. However, the Aboriginals adjusted to the environment, learned to understand it and gained the maximum from it.

Land, The Ultimate Provider

Each clan grouping occupied a well-defined area of land, their "clan" territory with which they had close and dependent relationship. The group belonged with, or to, the land - like the animals and plants of the area; man was an integral part of a relatively unchanging environment. They had no concept of being able to buy or sell land, the land was given long ago in the Dreamtime. Land was not something to be bartered, and the future of the group was tied closely with the continued ability of the land to provide food for gathering, animals to kill, and fresh water.


Aborigines were limited to the range of foods occurring naturally in their area, but they knew exactly when, where and how to find everything edible. But food was not obtained without effort. In some areas both men and women had to spend from half to two thirds of each day hunting or foraging for food.

Inland, the quest for water was a life and death matter. Aborigines survived where others would perish. They knew where the water holes and soaks were in their area. They drained dew, and obtained water from certain trees and roots. They even dug up and squeezed out frogs, which store water in their bodies.

Within the clan grouping, all speaking the same language, or the same dialect, small bands of families carried out their daily living as a group. They moved around their clan country, from place to place, depending on the season and the availability of food. In coastal areas, and the more fertile parts of the continent, groups were relatively static, because food was readily obtainable, but in the desert areas vast tracts of land could support only a few people, and these had to travel long distances in their endless quest for food.

The necessity to be mobile meant that Aboriginals could afford only those possessions that were essential to their way of life. Many belongings were multipurpose - like the coolamon, a curved wooden dish, which was used to dig, to carry water or the baby; to toss seeds or collect the plant food gathered daily by the women.


Often, the men carried only a spear thrower, spears, and those weapons needed to procure the animals native to his territory. The women carried the rest - babies, household utensils - to leave the men free to use the weapons.

Full use was made of natural resources to produce whatever possessions were needed. String, cord and hair were woven into nets, baskets, mats and fishing lines. Wood and bark were used to make dishes, shields, spears, and boomerangs, to make dugout canoes, and other types of watercraft, such as rafts. Stone was chipped to form tools that could be used as weapons, or to cut and carve wood. Large pebbles and flat stones were used to grind seeds to flour. Pieces of bone were sharpened into spear points, and even used as needles to sew together skin for cloaks and rugs. Skins of animals were treated to carry water, and in some places human skulls were used for the same purpose.

Clubs, nets, snare and spears were used to catch different types of animals and birds. Large animals were speared or clubbed, smaller ones caught in pits and nets. Fish were speared, or caught with traps, and sometimes water was poisoned with plant juices. The foot tracks of animals - and of every member of the group - were recognised. After years of training, the Aboriginals developed extraordinary skills in tracking their prey, by following broken twigs, or by very faint markings, even on hard ground.

Many ingenious devices were used to get within striking distance of prey. The men approached their prey running where there was cover, or "freezing" and crawling in the open. They were careful to stay downwind, and sometimes covered themselves with mud to disguise their smell.

Mud also served as camouflage, or the hunter held a bush in front of him while stalking in the open. He glided through the water with a bunch of rushes or a lily-leaf over his head until he was close enough to pull down a waterbird. He prepared "hides" and, with bait or birdcalls, lured birds to within grabbing distance. He attracted emus, which are inquisitive birds, by imitating their movements with a stick and a bunch of feathers or some other simple device.

The catch of the hunter was in addition too, not always constant, to the daily plant food and small animals gathered by women. Women collected the larger part of the group's daily needs, and their skill in finding food, even in the poorest conditions, often kept the group alive. Fruit, manna, honey, lizards, snakes, witchetty grubs, roots, yams, grass seeds - almost anything grew, or moved could be use for food. The women then usually prepared and cooked the food in an earth oven.

As Aboriginals had to make use of the natural materials available in their area, huts were often made from bark and boughs, sometimes flimsy and sometimes more substantial, depending on the climate, the time of year, and the length of time that the group forced to remain in one camp.

Macassans: The First Visitors?

In northern Arnhem Land, and on Melville and Bathurst Islands, the Aboriginals carved special wooden grave posts. These posts were adapted from the masts of the Macassan boats that visited the northern coast each year from Macassar and Celedes to collect trepang.

The Macassan visitors came in what the Aboriginals regard as historic times, and their camps were both large and well organised. The campsites are still marked by tamarind trees, which grew from the seeds of the fruit, dropped by the fishermen.

The Macassan introduced the dugout canoes and taught the Aboriginals the use of steel in making knives, spear blades and tomahawks. The Aboriginals watched or took part in the entertainment and ceremonies; they learned to play cards, and began to adapt their song rhythms to the strange tunes and sounds of foreign musical instruments.

The Aboriginals learned more about the culture of the visitors by travelling to Macassar with the fishermen, returning with the fleet the following season; some of them remained in Macassar. The Aboriginals adopted some Macassan words into their own languages; for example compass directions, names of tools and parts of the boats. The names of Macassans are still remembered, and Aboriginals often adopted Macassan names as well as their own.