Vol. 2, February 2007

Kevin outside tent cabinHis trade blanket laid out with sundry goods, he finds time to reflect upon a fine winter’s morning.

Welcome to the second edition of Around The Traps. Your responses to our first edition of last November have been most encouraging. We are now in a position to accept your membership enrolments, together with joining fees and pro rata subscriptions.

Your Committee has assessed our anticipated operational costs, determining that the initial membership joining fees be struck at a low of $20 per family unit. Obviously we will need to review subscriptions and fees annually to cover our public liability insurance premiums and minimal incidental costs. All adult participants will be subject to the subscription thus gaining necessary public liability insurance cover.

To commence, the subscription will be pro rata, that is, for six months only, and carries us through to 30th June – the end of our fiscal year. This will also coincide with our public liability insurance coverage, and enable annual fees to be adjusted (if required) in line with those, or any other, necessary expenses. The current annual subscription rate would be $20 per participant; however this is halved to $10 for this half year period. There are no fees for underage dependant children!

As our main activities will be on privately owned land, all participants must complete membership forms, and pay the subscription / insurance fee – a firm requisite!

2007 Rendezvous’ Calendar

Wow, four rondevoos are suggested for this year, and we can choose from four new locations. Mind you, prevailing weather conditions may force some late changes, and accordingly, mud maps to the exact sites will be issued to those members who indicate an intention to rondevoo, much closer to the event dates. We hope everyone will make a big effort to attend our 3rd Winter Rendezvous and at least one other event.

We expect quite a larger number of participants this year and providing an adequate area of camp sites and sufficient ablution facilities requires that you must advise the planning secretary in advance that you are attending.

Attendance is open only to SCFT members having the required Public Liability insurance, or by special written invitation from the Secretary. The dates have been selected to encourage young families to camp and any feed back on the number of rondevoos, dates and or general locations is welcomed by the secretary & committee.

See our calendar of events.

Who were the Eastern Longhunters of the middle 1700’s?

(A short introduction by Jeff Clarke.)
Perhaps no group in history, who have contributed so much to the knowledge of the topography of North America, have been so completely by-passed by historians as have the colonial long hunters. In almost every instance, when the pioneer settler moved toward the extreme frontier, he had long since been preceded by the long hunter.

A hunter volunteered to be part of a larger party of hunters making an organised Long Hunt into Indian tribal hunting grounds; usually these expeditions were financed by entrepreneurs back east, wealthy landowners or former long hunters who had made large profits on previous long hunts.

On top of the privations of living in crude shelters through the freezing North American winters, exposure, the inherent dangers of hunting, the very real likelihood of being scalped by Indians for hunting on their tribal lands, or falling ill with a fatal disease; there was the added problem that the French and the British were also at war, in the same geographical location, during the period – 1689 to 1763. (After the Colonial Revolution, long hunts were no longer organised, so the end date of the long hunter was about 1776. The new Americans obviously kept on hunting, but there were no organised long hunts ever again.)

That said, a settler farmer lived a hard mundane life and could earn little in the way of extra money. Going on a successful long hunt could return in the region of 1600 dollars – a small fortune. As you can imagine, sums of money this large were a big incentive to a man who lived hand to mouth on a daily basis.

Sometimes, however, the promise of adventure could, in itself, be a prime motivator. Several of the well documented long hunters were actually wealthy educated men, they had no need to make money, yet there they were, risking life and limb on the frontier. Perhaps it was the lure of the hunt or the spirit of camaraderie found in tight knit groups of men with a common goal and focus. We can only theorise.

The long hunter usually travelled in groups of no more than three members; to least arouse the notice of the Indians, with a horse and perhaps two packhorses for his equipment and carriage of harvested hides and pelts. He then found a good area for hunting the game of choice and made a rudimentary camp, perhaps a lean-to type shelter to sleep in, with a fire pit, and then put in a stack of wood for the cooking and heating fires needed during the winter. He would then go out during the day and hunt, usually killing several animals a day and skinning them on the spot. He took the skin, retrieved the shot lead ball, if possible, and usually left the carcases to rot, a practice that didn’t ingratiate him with the Indians.

There is no doubt that it was cold hard work, the hunter would be covered in the dried remnants of blood, fat and animal hair from the manual processing of the skins. His clothes would also have smelled from lack of washing, the smell of sulphur from the burnt gun powder and of wood smoke from the cooking fire. Woollen garments would have needed repairing, so would moccasins and other leather work, it would have been a time of heavy wear and tear on a man’s equipment. No doubt his clothing and equipment would have looked like a patchwork quilt of repairs by the time he returned home in the spring. (Something we should bear in mind in an interpretation.)

At the end of the winter, the long hunters would have to avoid the wily Indians, who waited for them and their horses laden with the fruits of their winter labours. They would return home and sell their pelts and skins, pay off their financier(s) and hope to make a large profit. The plain truth is that, often, no one came back at all, with the whitened bones of the long hunter’s group being found, years later, by other long hunters on other hunting trips.

Duck Season

Black powder gunners please note – the Brack’s government has cancelled the Victorian duck season for 2007 “due to the drought”. Come to rondevoo instead!

Volley fire
That’ll curb them pesky rabbit varmints from their fornicating! Photo by Myrtle.

Persona and Authenticity

Several years ago, Jeff Clarke voiced his passions for developing a re-enacting persona, but, I suspect, few of us took a great deal of notice, and even less action! Now consider this – Unless we choose a persona, we are likely to get “Lost in Space” just as if we are in the movie-land time machine.

By persona, we do not necessarily mean a particular person, such as Liver Eatin’ Johnson, although anyone wishing to tackle that one would be quite fashionable. We can be Joe Blow nobodies, very ordinary people of our era, but we should choose a type of person, an approximate year, an occupation, and our family history or background.

Example. Joe Preacher, a god-botherer from the east, travelling with a group of trappers to the Green River, in the year 1838, intent on saving some poor lost souls. Think now, how would such a person be clothed? What accoutrements would he carry other than the good book? Example 2: Joe Merchant, how would he dress, and how much trade goods would he attempt to fetch along? He would require pack horses and or a wagon. But, “Ya can’t get wagons through the mountains!”

Looking more critically at my own past camps, and, if I can also pick on several very good friends, without intending hurt or embarrassment, I’ll just mention some obvious anomalies that may not have been so obvious until we start to think “Persona”.

Like – most Mountain Men and Longhunters did not have rust pitted, broken-down old traps; they purchased new traps, which soon acquired a well used, but appreciated, working patina. They did not carry a 20th century styled axe or spade with Trojan labelled handle. Neither did they wear a Hoss Cartwright movie star Ten-Gallon hat – a fashion/style not yet created. They certainly would not erect the British Union (Jack) flag (we’ve seen several) or a Southern Cross (Eureka) flag over their camp.

The latter is clearly out of our time frame, the former would have been unpopular in the extreme, due to recent wars with King George’s forces – unless the portrayal is of the very early Longhunters’ period; and even then would be unlikely except for military use and barracks and public halls. A poor Longhunter or lowly Trapper would be suspected of theft should he somehow acquire a flag and be brazen enough to fly it above his abode.

By choosing a persona, we can lock into a time frame so that our re-enactment becomes an authentic portrayal of our chosen era. When asked, we should be able to state just who we are, and the year, and the place that our camp and accoutrements represents. In the last edition of Around the Traps I wrote about Alfred Jacob Miller’s portrayals of the real Mountain Men. I can only recommend further study of Mister Miller’s art, and other similar works, should you be serious about your re-enacting.

Group at winter Rvoo
Longhunters, Free Trappers, white women and whiskey, and an old black dog. Photo by Myrtle.

A little Trivia:

The Mountain MenIn the 1980 film The Mountain Men starring Charlton Heston in which scenes does the character “Jim Walker” played by Bill Lucking appear?

Your S.C.F.T. Committee

President – Ian Convey, phone (03) 5367 8450
Vice President – Bob Ellis, phone (03) 5796 2753
Secretary – John Fowler, phone (03) 5753 4455
Treasurer – Myrtle Barrett; phone (02) 6059 3951
Committee member – Justin Fletcher, phone (03) 9763 1080
Committee member – Robyn Norris, phone (03) 5753 4415

Around the Traps Tattler

Overheard – Several remarks as to how lucky we have been to have had two-in-a-row Winter Voos on Queen’s Birthday weekends in June and only feel a slight chill of evening when away from the campfires. Could we chance our luck for three in a row?.

Well, last October, on Saturday 28th, at the end of the second month of spring, with the whole State in the grip of a drought and dryer than a powder horn, suddenly a cold change blew up dumping two inches of snow on the hill at Highlands. Our good farmer, Andrew, commented that the swirling snow cut vision down to bare yards. He also confirmed the Queen’s Birthday weekend was generally more autumnal than wet and wintry. Now that’s encouraging! But I did feel regret that we were not camped there that particular weekend when the mountain was truly shining – just for the long-talked-about experience.

November 15th snow fell again in the high lands, and at Trafalgar, Gippsland and many other areas – now that’s late Spring, and only days apart from Total Fire Bans.

Really, just what is the problem with doing rendezvous’ on Queen’s Birthday in June?

Now, talk about flaming redheads! Tattler has a keen eye for little redheads, so how’s yer fire lightin’ kit? Well, better wait till after summer for practice with flint and steel.

A pertinent quotation

When a group of enthusiasts go to great lengths to research various region styles of longarm and accoutrements, the history of a people, and the clothing of a particular era, and make endeavour to learn the old ways and day to day skills of that era, seeking then an appropriate location to immerse in living history, they should not be encumbered by those who cannot depart from the tedious present.

Martin Parnham.

No hard case?

So yer’ve lost your spark! Is your Frizz hard enough? Jim “ghost who walks” Walker was not getting enough sparks from his firelock and discovered a local case-hardening joint in downtown Bayswater. Hill’s Heat Treatment, 7 Mc Clellan Street, Bayswater (phone 9762 6233) restored the hardening to Jim’s frizzen with no delay and at a very modest fee.

Contributing articles most welcome. All correspondence and enquiries to John Fowler 252 Pini Lane, Mudgegonga 3737. Email chookster@vfowler.com Tel. 03 5753 4455.