Camp Life in the Woods and the Tricks of Trapping and Trap Making
by William Hamilton Gibson
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All provisions, such as meal, flour, sugar, salt, crackers, and the like, should be enclosed in water-proof canvas bags, and labelled. The bags may be rendered water-proof either by painting, (in which case no lead or arsenic paints should be used) or by dipping in the preparation described on page 247. If these are not used, a rubber blanket, page 250, may be substituted, the eatables being carefully wrapped therein, when not in use. The butter and lard should be put up in air-tight jars, and should be kept in a cool place, either on the ground in a shady spot, or in some cool spring.

For a campaign on foot, the knapsack, or shoulder-basket, already alluded to on page 234, is an indispensable article. It should be quite large and roomy, say fifteen inches in depth and ten by twelve inches in its other dimensions. The material should be canvas, rubber cloth, or wicker, and, in any case, the opening at the top should have a water-proof covering extending well over the sides. The straps may consist of old suspender bands, fastened crosswise on the broad side of the bag. The capacity of such a knapsack is surprising, and the actual weight of luggage seems half reduced when thus carried on the shoulders. When three or four trappers start together, which is the usual custom, and each is provided with such a shoulder basket, the luggage can be thus divided, and the load for each individual much lightened.

[Page 237] Venison is the trapper's favorite food, and in mild weather it sometimes happens that the overplus of meat becomes tainted before it can be eaten. To overcome this difficulty the following process is resorted to, for the preservation of the meat, and the result is the well-known and high-priced "jerked venison" of our markets. The flesh is first cut into small, thin strips, all the meat being picked off from the bones. The pieces are then placed on the inside of the hide of the animal and thoroughly mixed with salt, a pint and a half being generally sufficient. The salt being well worked in, the fragments should be carefully wrapped in the hide, and suffered to remain in this condition for two or three hours. The meat is then ready to be dried,—"jerked."

Four forked poles should be first driven into the ground, about six feet apart, in the form of a square, the forks being four feet above ground. Lay two poles of green wood across the forks on the two opposite sides of the square, and cover the space between them by other poles laid across them, an inch or two inches apart. On to this mammoth gridiron the strips of flesh should now be spread, and a steady fire of birch or other clean, fresh wood should be kept steadily burning beneath for about twenty-four hours. At the end of this time the meat will have reduced much in size and weight. The salt will have been thoroughly dried in, and the flesh so prepared may be kept for almost any length of time. In its present condition it is excellent eating, and it is always at hand for frying, and may be cooked in a variety of ways. Moose and bear meat may be dried in a similar manner, using a proportionate amount of salt. Fish may also be prepared in the same way, for which purpose they should be scaled as usual and afterward spread open by cutting down the back, the bone being removed. We cordially recommend this method of preparing both flesh and fish, and no trapper's "recipe book" is complete without it.

In localities where wolves abound, the nocturnal invasions of these creatures often render the keeping of fresh meat a very difficult task, and in this connection it may be well to give directions for the preservation of game desired to be used either as fresh meat or for purposes of drying.

The spring-pole is most commonly and successfully used.

Select some stout sapling, bend it down, and cut off a limb several feet from the ground. Hang the meat in the crotch thus formed, and allow the tree to swing back. By dividing the meat into several parts it may thus all be protected. When [Page 238] a moose or deer is killed at such a time or place, or under such circumstances as render its immediate dressing impossible, its carcass may be defended against mutilation by another means. Wolves are naturally sly and sagacious, and have a wholesome fear of a trap. Any unnatural arrangement of logs and stones immediately excites their suspicion, and the trapper takes advantage of this wary peculiarity to good purpose. Laying his dead game near some fallen tree or old log he strews a few branches over the carcass, or perhaps rests a log over it. Sometimes he hangs the entrails of the animal over the body, on a forked stick, anyone of which devices is said to have the desired result. The wolverine is another pest to the trapper, and not being so sly as the wolf, never hesitates to pounce upon any flesh within its reach. The former method, therefore, is always the safest plan for absolute protection against all animals.

The moose and deer are the favorite food of trappers in the country where these animals abound, and the trappers of the Far West find in the flesh of the Moufflon, or Rocky Mountain sheep, a delicacy which they consider superior to the finest venison. The prong-horn antelope of the Western plains is another favorite food-animal with hunters, and the various "small game," such as squirrels, rabbits, woodchucks, etc., are by no means to be despised. The author once knew a trapper who was loud in his praises of "skunk meat" for food, and many hunters can testify to its agreeable flavor when properly dressed and cooked. It is hard, to be sure, to getup much enthusiasm over a skunk, dead or alive, but where other food is not to be had we would discourage the young trapper from being too fastidious.

The buffalo, or bison, is the great resource of the trappers of the West. The tongue, tenderloin and brisket are generally preferred, but all the meat is eatable. The flesh of the cow is best. It much resembles beef, but has a more gamey flavor. In winged game there is no food superior to the flesh of the grouse, and the great number of the species and wide range of territory which they inhabit render them the universal food game of trappers throughout the world. The ruffed grouse or partridge, pinnated grouse or prairie hen, spruce or Canada grouse, and the cock-of-the-plains or sage cock, are familiar American examples of the family, and their near relatives, the ptarmigans, afford a valuable source of food to the trappers and hunters, as well as general inhabitants of our northern cold countries. Here they are known as "snow grouse," and there are [Page 239] several species. The willow ptarmigan is the most common, and in Rome localities exists in almost incredible numbers. Flocks numbering several thousand have been frequently seen by travellers in the Hudson's Bay territory; and the surface of the snow in a desirable feeding ground, is often completely covered by the birds, in quest of the willow tops, which form their chief food during the winter season. The Indians and natives secure the birds in large numbers, by the trap described on page 75, and Hearne, the traveller and explorer of the Hudson's Bay region, asserts that he has known over three hundred to be thus caught in a single morning, by three persons.

Of water fowl, ducks and geese are especially to be recommended. The former are hunted with decoys and boats, and are sometimes trapped, as described on pages 94. The species are distinguished as sea ducks and river or inland ducks. The latter are considered the most desirable for food, being more delicate and less gamey in flavor than the salt-water, or fish-eating varieties. The mallard, teal, muscovy, widgeon, and wood-chuck are familiar species of the inland birds, and the merganser and canvass-back are the two most esteemed salt-water varieties. Wild geese are common throughout North America, and may be seen either in the early spring or late fall migrating in immense numbers. They form a staple article of food in many parts of British America, and great numbers are salted down for winter supply. They are trapped in large numbers, as described on page 75, and are hunted with tame geese as decoys, the hunter being secreted behind a screen or covert, and attracting the game by imitating their cries.

Fish form an agreeable change to the trapper's diet, and may be caught by the hook and line, or by spearing. The latter method requires considerable practice and skill, but is very successful. The Indians of the North are great experts in the use of the spear, and the number of salmon taken by them annually is enormous. The spear generally consists of five or six steel prongs an inch apart and barbed at the ends. It is mounted on a heavy handle, and when it strikes its victim its grip is sure death. The spearing is generally performed either at the spawning beds or at the falls.

Salmon trout are generally speared in the night time by boat, the spawning ground, generally a gravel bank near the shore, being the seat of operations. A fire of pitch pine and birch bark is ignited on an elevated "jack" in the bow of the boat, the "jack" consisting of an ox-muzzle, or other concave wire contrivance [Page 240] which will hold the inflammable materials. This is secured to a post or crotched stick, as a prop, and the spearman stands near the burning mass with his spear in readiness. As his companion in the stern of the boat paddles, he keenly watches for his victim, and, seeing his opportunity, makes his lunge and lands his prize. To become a successful spearman requires much practice and no small degree of skill. To retain one's balance, acquire quickness of stroke, and withal to regulate the aim so as to allow for the refraction of the light in the water, all tend to invest the sport with a degree of skill which only experience can master.

Fishing through the ice in winter is a rare sport, and large numbers of brook and lake trout are often taken at this season by cutting holes through the ice and fishing with hook and line. The baits commonly used consist of cow's udder or hog's liver, these being especially preferred on account of their toughness. Angle worms are also excellent, and any kind of raw meat may be used if other bait is not to be had.

It is asserted by some sportsmen that bait scented with assafoetida is much more attractive to the fish, and will insure a capture which would otherwise be impossible. Sweet cicily and anise are also used for the same purpose. When the trout bite lively, fishing through the ice is a most exciting sport, and by the aid of "tip-ups" a single person may command a great number of lines. The winter resort of the brook trout is in water two or three feet deep, over sandy beds. The lake trout frequent deeper water.

The holes are made in the ice at intervals of one or two rods, and a line set in each hole.

The "tip-up" consists of a narrow strip of lath or shingle, with a hole bored through it near the large end. At this end the line is attached, and the hook thrown in the water. A branch is now inserted through the aperture, and its ends are rested across the opening in the ice. No sooner does the fish bite than the long end tips straight in the air, and thus betrays its captive. Ten or fifteen of these contrivances will often keep one pretty busy, and do good service. By some an ordinary cut fish pole, arranged on a crotch, is used instead of the tip-ups just described. Pickerel fishing through the ice is a favorite winter sport in many localities. The line should be about thirty feet in length, and the bait should consist of a small, live fish, hooked through the back. A small cork float should be attached to the line at such a distance as will keep [Page 241] the bait above the bottom, and the superfluous line should be laid in a loose coil near the hole, the end being attached to a small switch or bush, stuck up in the ice near by. The pickerel, on taking the bait, should be allowed to play out the whole line before being pulled in, as the fish requires this time to fully swallow his prey, after which the hook is sure to hold him firmly. Twenty or thirty lines may thus be attended at once, the bush or twig acting the part of a tip-up, or sentinel.

Pickerel spearing is another successful mode of capture during the winter months. A large hole is made in the ice, in about two feet of water, and covered by a spacious box or board hut, six or seven feet square, and provided with a door. The spearman, concealed within, lowers his bait, consisting of an artificial fish with silver fins, made especially for the purpose. This he continually twirls in the water, and as the pickerel approaches the bait, he gradually raises it, until the fish is decoyed nearly to the surface of the water, when a quick stroke of the spear secures his victim, and the line is again lowered. This is capital sport, and is very successful.

There is a very curious device for fishing by night commonly employed by some anglers, and sometimes known as the "lantern, or fish trap." Many kinds of fish are attracted by a light, but to use a light as a bait, submerged beneath the water, certainly seems odd. It may be done, however, in the following way: The "fish lantern" used for this purpose consists of a bottle containing a solution of phosphorus in sweet oil. Procure a piece of the stick phosphorus the size of a small cherry, and submerging in a saucer of water, proceed to cut it into small pieces. Have in readiness a three-ounce white glass bottle half filled with sweet oil. Drop the pieces of phosphorus into the oil and cork the bottle tightly. In the space of a few hours the phosphorus will have been completely dissolved, and the contents of the bottle will present a thick, luminous fluid, which in a dark room, will afford considerable light. This is the fish lantern. To use it, the cork is firmly inserted and the bottle, with fish line attached, is lowered through the hole in the ice. The water becomes luminous for several feet around, and the unusual brightness attracts the fish in large numbers. They are plainly, discernible, and are readily dispatched with the spear, or captured by a circular net, sunk on the bottom, beneath the luminous bait. This is certainly an odd way of catching fish, but it is often a very efficacious method.

It has not been our intention to enter very extensively into [Page 242] the subject of fishing, but only to give such hints as will be found especially useful and practical to the trapper in relation to his food. The above methods, together with those of trolling and fly-fishing, are those most commonly employed by trappers and hunters generally, and we commend them to the amateur.

We give, on page 120, a unique device for the capture of fish, which might also be found useful.

With the above general remarks on the campaign, together with what follows in the detailed articles on the subject, we think that the ground will have been completely covered. Every possible requirement has been anticipated, and every ordinary emergency foreseen and provided against.


The life of the professional trapper is a life of hardship and severe exposure, and a man not only requires considerable courage, but also great bodily vigor, in order to combat successfully the dangers of such a wild, adventuresome existence.

The cold and the storm not only imperil his life, but he is often exposed to the attacks of wild beasts. A shelter, therefore, in one form or another, becomes a necessity while it is always a decided comfort, in comparison to a campaign without it.

The reader will find below descriptions of the various shelters alluded to in other parts of this work, and used by trappers throughout the land.

The most substantial of these is the log shanty, commonly known among trappers as the "home shanty," on account of its being constructed as the only permanent shelter on the trapping line.

It is used as a "home," a place of rendezvous, and a storehouse for provisions, furs, and other necessities and valuables. Other temporary shelters, known as bark shanties, are also constructed along the trapping lines at intervals of five or ten miles, as resting places. These we describe under the proper title.

Although, to the amateur trapper, the log shanty is not likely to become a necessity, we will nevertheless describe its mode of construction, in order to satisfy our more earnest and adventurous readers, who aspire to a full taste of wild life.

Our illustration gives a very clear idea of such a shanty.

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[Page 244] It may be constructed of any size, but one of about twelve by ten feet will be found large enough for ordinary purposes. Select straight logs, about eight inches in diameter. The whole number required will be thirty-six. Of these one-half should be twelve feet in length and the other ten. These should now be built up in the square form, on a level piece of ground, laying the ends of the logs over each other, and securing them by notches at the corners, so deep as to allow the edges of the logs to meet. Lay two short logs first, and continue building until all the thirty-six logs are used, and we will now have four symmetrical sides about six feet in height. The place for the door should now be selected. The uppermost log should form its upper outline, and the two sides should be cleanly and straightly cut with a crosscut saw. The window openings, one or more, may next be cut, commencing beneath the second log from the top, and taking in three beneath it. Replace the logs above, and on the ends of those thus cut, both in windows and doors, proceed to spike a heavy plank, driving two nails into each log, about five inches apart, one above the other. This will hold them firmly in place, and offer a close-fitting jam for the door, and neat receptacle for the window sashes, which latter may now be put in after the ordinary manner.

The gable ends should next be built upon the smaller sides of the hut. Commence by laying a long log (notched as before) across the top of the frame work, and about two feet inside the edge. This should of course be done on both sides of the hut, after which they should be overlapped at the corners with logs eight feet in length. Next lay two more long logs, parallel with the first two, and about a foot inside them, notching as before. The ends of these should be spanned with beams eight feet in length. Two more long logs are next in order—let them be one foot inside the last two. Overlap these with beams five feet and a half in length, and in the exact centre of these last pieces chop notches for a heavy log for a ridge pole. The gable outline, direct from the ridge pole to the eaves, should now be cut off by the aid of a sharp axe. This may be done either while the pieces are in position, or the line may be marked with a piece of chalk, and the logs taken down in order to accomplish it. The roof is now required. This should consist either of strips of bark or the rounded sides of logs split off and hollowed into troughs. The latter method is preferable, on account of its greater strength and durability, but the bark will answer the purpose very well, and is much more easily obtained. The manner of adjusting the roof pieces is clearly [Page 245] shown in our illustration. The first row is laid on with the hollow side up, securing them at top and bottom by nails driven through each into the ridge pole and eaves-log, care being taken that one of these pieces projects well over the gable, on both ends of the hut. These pieces are now overlapped by the second row, and with the addition of the large piece which covers them all at the ridge pole, the roof is complete, and will stand a heavy rain with little or no leaking. The crevices should now be stopped with moss, dried grass or clay, after which the log cabin is complete. When the bark roof is made, additional poles may be inserted beneath as props. They should be three or four inches in diameter, and run parallel with the ridge pole, at intervals on the slope, notches being cut to secure them.

Our engraving represents a chimney, which may be constructed if desired, but the necessity of this may be done away with by using a small camp stove, and making a small opening in the gable end of the hut for the passage of the pipe. If it stove should not be at hand, and our amateur should decide to "rough it" to the full extent, he may build his fire-place and chimney as follows: It will be necessary to cut away an opening in the logs at the gable end, as was done for the door and windows. This should be about three feet square, and the fire place should be built of stone and clay, or cement, to fill the opening, and project inside the hut.

The chimney may then be built up outside in the same manner, sufficiently high to overtop the gables.

Inside the hut overhead will be found abundant room for the hanging of the skins, and any number of cross-poles may be rested across the beams. There are facilities for the swinging of a hammock, if desired, and, in fact, a hut constructed like the foregoing is a perfect one in its way. There are other methods of building a log cabin, but we will content ourselves with what we consider the best way of all, and pass on to the


This is made by first driving into the ground two forked poles seven or eight feet in height and stout enough to sustain a ridge pole of moderate size. Against this ridge pole other poles should be rested at intervals of two feet, and sloping to the angle of forty-five degrees. The frame-work thus formed should now be covered with bark, commencing at the ground and allowing the edge of each piece to overlap the one beneath [Page 246] after the manner of shingles, in order to shed the rain in case of storm. Spruce or birch bark are excellent for this purpose, and the pieces may be secured with nails, and kept flat by the weight of another series of poles rested against them. The sides of the shelter should be treated similarly, the front being usually left open to face the fire, which the trapper generally builds a few feet distant. In constructing a bark shanty, it is well to select some spot protected from the wind, close to the foot of a mountain or in the midst of trees, always letting the open side face the direction most sheltered.

If desired, the front can be enclosed after the manner of the sides and top, but this is not required where the fire is used.

This style of shelter is represented in our page title to this section, and certainly looks very comfortable.


Shanties like the foregoing are in general use among the old veteran trappers of all countries, and even to the amateur there is a charm in a shelter constructed from the rude materials of the woods which the portable tents do not possess.

Tents, however, are much used both by professionals and amateurs, and are indeed valuable acquisitions to the trapper's outfit, and where time is valuable, do away with the labor which the construction of a hut or shanty involves.

Tents are of several kinds. Those most commonly used by the trapper are the house-tent, fly-tent, and half-tent, or shelter-tent.

The first of these is made for prop-poles and a ridge pole, closed on one end and buttoning up at the other. The sides are perpendicular for two or three feet, before the slope commences, and the stay-ropes are fastened to the eaves.

The fly-tent is generally a large, square piece of canvas, with ropes extending from opposite sides. This is thrown over a ridge pole, or over a rope extending between two trees, and the sides are held to the proper slope by tightening and pegging the side ropes to the ground. Fly-tents are also made with ends, which can be lowered, and the whole tent may be pegged close to the ground.

The shelter-tent, when erected, resembles, in general shape, the bark shanty already described. It consists of a strip of canvas, having each end cut off to a point. The tent is pitched over three slanting poles, and the ends are brought down and securely pegged. This is clearly shown in our illustration.

[Page 247]

We do not propose giving any extended directions for making tents, as they are a staple article of trade, and, as a general thing, can be bought for a figure which would render their domestic manufacture of little saving or profit. The shelter-tent, however, is so useful an affair, and withal so very simple made, that we will give a few directions in regard to its manufacture. It should be made from stout cotton drilling, or very heavy sheeting. Let the piece be about thirteen feet in length by six in width. Each end of the piece should now be cut to a rectangular point, commencing to cut at a distance of three feet from each corner. In order to render the cloth waterproof, it should now be dipped in a pail containing a solution of equal parts of alum and sugar of lead, a couple of handfuls of each, in tepid water. It should be allowed to remain several minutes in soak, being dipped and turned occasionally, after which it should be spread out to dry. This treatment not only renders the cloth impervious to rain, but the alum tends to make it fire-proof also. A spark from the fire falling upon a tent thus prepared, will often rest upon the cloth until it goes out, without doing the slightest damage.

[Page 248] The manner of pitching the tent has already been alluded to, and is clear from our illustration. The poles should be three or four in number, and seven feet in length, inserted in the ground at the angle denoted. The two outside poles should be seven feet apart, and the intermediate ones equally disposed. The tent piece should now be laid over the poles, and the ends brought down and pegged to the ground at the apex, and rear corners of each side through loops, which should have been previously attached to these parts. A tent, thus arranged, affords a safe shelter from the wind or a moderate storm, and with a bright fire in front, is warm and comfortable.


Many a trapper does away with these commodities, merely rolling himself in a blanket and using his arm for a pillow; but we do not propose to encourage or recommend any such half-way comfort as this, when by a very little labor a portable bed can be prepared on which the weary hunter can rest as serenely as if slumbering on the congenial softness of a hair mattress. A bed of this kind we illustrate, and it can be made in the following manner: Procure a large piece of canvas, sacking or other strong, coarse material six and a half feet square. If a single piece of this size cannot be found, several parts may he sewed together to the required dimensions. After which two opposite sides should be firmly stitched [Page 249] together, thus forming a bottomless bag, if we may be allowed to use the expression. Two stout poles seven or eight feet in length and as large as the wrist should now be cut. Insert them through the bag, allowing the ends to project equally on each side. These ends should now be rested on two logs, one placed across each end of the canvas. In order to hold the poles in place notches should be cut in the logs at such distances as will draw the bag to its full width. The interior of the canvas should now be filled with dried grass, leaves, moss or spruce boughs, after which the bedstead and bed is complete.

The yielding elasticity of the poles and the softness of the warm filling in the bag, give the effect of a spring and straw mattress combined, lifting the sleeper above the cold, damp ground, and by the addition of a blanket above, insuring warmth on all sides. If the logs are not at hand four forked stakes may be used, driving them firmly into the ground at such distances as will draw the bag to its full width, when the poles are rested upon them. If by the weight of the body the forked props should tend to incline towards each other this trouble may be easily remedied by inserting short poles as braces between them. If desired a bed of this kind may be used as a hammock and hung in a tree without much trouble. It is only necessary to secure the long poles firmly at their full width by a stout brace pole at the ends, letting the latter be deeply notched at the tips in order to receive the bed supports. The joints should then be tightly bound with stout twine in order to prevent slipping, after which the bed may be hung in mid-air by ropes at each end, and the tired trapper may swing himself to sleep with perfect comfort and safety. For this purpose the ropes should be attached at the joints, using a loop of six feet for each end. In the centre of this loop a small one should be made by doubling the rope and winding twine about it, leaving only a small aperture. Through these small loops, by the aid of other ropes, the bed is attached to the tree. By using this precaution the unpleasant experience of being turned or dumped out of bed will be impossible. For bed clothes a woollen blanket should always be carried, and if convenient a large bag of thick Canton flannel is a most excellent acquisition.

Bags of this sort are in common use among amateur trappers, hunters and camping parties, and are very warm and comfortable. They should be nearly seven feet in length and of a "loose, easy fit." With one of these contrivances it is impossible to "kick the clothes off" and the warmth is continual instead [Page 250] of "intermittent," and even on the bare ground it is said to be sufficient protection. Hammocks are also in very general use, but we can confidently recommend the suspended bed above described as decidedly preferable.

There are various kinds of hammocks in the market, from the light fibered silk, weighing only a few ounces, to the large corded variety of several pounds weight and capable of holding many persons. They are an established article of trade, and as the details of their manufacture would be of little practical use to the reader, we will leave them without further consideration. They can be had at almost any sporting emporium, at comparatively small cost.


We have described a most excellent contrivance for a bedstead and recommend its use whenever possible; but when the bed is desired to be made on the ground the following method is usually employed, by which the whole interior of the tent, hut or shanty is carpeted with a soft, even covering of green.

Spruce or hemlock boughs are generally used, and should be from the tips of the branches where the wood is not too large. Commence at the back part of the shelter, and lay down a row of the boughs with the butt of the branch towards the front. Overlap these with another nearer row and continue the operation, laying the evergreen as evenly as possible until the whole interior is smoothly covered. The projecting ends at the front, should now be secured by the weight of a medium sized log, or by a pole pegged down firmly at intervals. A similar log should now be laid at the back portion of the shelter over the tips of the boughs after which the bed is complete, and will be found easy and comfortable in proportion to the care and skill shown in its construction. A blanket should be thrown over the boughs before reclining to rest, as the fresh green gives forth considerable dampness.

If possible a rubber blanket should be used for this purpose. These consist of thick Canton flannel, coated on one side with Indian rubber, and are used with the rubber side down. They are warm and comfortable, and a valuable acquisition to the trapper's outfit. There is a thinner and cheaper variety, having equal water-proof qualities but which does not possess the warmth of the former. Either will be found useful.

So much for beds and bedding. If the reader will now turn [Page 251] his attention to the following section, "The Trapper's Miscellany," he will find much in detail of what has only been alluded to in the present chapter, besides other hints of great value in reference to a trapping campaign.

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[Page 255] BOOK VIII.


ur enthusiastic novice, as he starts out into the wilderness, should not be unmindful of the swarms of blood-thirsty flies, gnats and mosquitoes, which infest the woods in the summer and early autumn, and are there lying in wait for him. These often become a source of great annoyance to the woodsman, and more often a source of positive bodily suffering.

Although trapping is not generally carried on during this season, the preparations for the coming campaign, including the building of shanties, transporting of traps, etc., are generally made at this time, and unless some preventive is used, the persecutions of the mosquitoes and other winged vermin, become almost unbearable.


These insects seem to have a special aversion for the scent of pennyroyal—an herb growing commonly in sandy localities—and a single plant rubbed upon the face and hands will often greatly check their attacks.

The oil of pennyroyal is better, however, and an ointment made by straining one ounce of the oil into two or three ounces of pure melted lard, or mutton tallow, forms an excellent antidote. This may be carried in a little box or bottle, in the pocket, and applied as occasion requires. Plain mutton tallow is also a most excellent ointment for general use, and in the case of bruises or slight wounds, will give great relief.

Another preparation in very common use amongst hunters and woodsmen, although not quite as agreeable in odor, consists of a mixture of common tar and sweet oil, in equal parts. By some this liniment is considered superior to the other, inasmuch as it also prevents tanning, and is beneficial to the complexion.

[Page 256] During the night time, the tent or shanty often becomes swarmed with the winged pests, and their nocturnal assaults are proverbial for their pertinacity and severity. Their thirst for blood overcomes every other instinct, and pennyroyal often ceases to have any effect. Our Adirondack guide, in narrating his experience with these insect vampires, even says that on a certain night, becoming exasperated at their indomitable perseverance, and, getting tired of the monotonous occupation of spreading ointment, he arose, lit his candle, and drove the creatures out of the tent. He then buttoned up the opening, and retired to rest. A storm came up in the night, and so completely had his canvas been riddled by the bills of the mosquitoes, that the rain poured through his tent as through a sieve.

We have heard of the man who, when pursued by hungry mosquitoes, took refuge beneath a large chaldron, and, by the aid of a stone, clinched the blood-thirsty bills as they protruded in quest of his life-blood, until, by the united efforts of the winged captives, the chaldron was lifted and wafted out of sight, as if it were a feather.

One story is just as true as the other, and a summer in the Adirondack woods will tend to strengthen, rather than diminish, the belief in either.

The smoke of smouldering birch bark will effectually drive away the mosquitoes from the tents at night. This method is commonly known as "the smudge," and is more fully described in another part of this work.

The smell of the smoke is often unpleasant at first, but it is always preferable to the insect bites.

Mosquitoes are not the only vampires which infest our wooded lands. The "punkeys" and "midgets" can outstrip them for voracity and the painful character of the wound which they inflict. The "punkey," or "black-fly," as it is called, is a small, black gnat, about the size of a garden ant, and the bite of the insect often results very seriously. The midget is a minute little creature, and is the most everlastingly sticky and exasperating pest in the catalogue of human torments. They fly in swarms of thousands, and go for their victim "en masse" and the face, hands and neck are soon covered as if with "hay seed." They stick where they first light, and commence operations immediately. All endeavors to shake them off are fruitless, and their combined attacks are soon most painfully realized. Their bites produce great redness and swelling, and the itching is most intolerable. Happily for the woodsman, the "smudge" [Page 257] and pennyroyal ointment are effectual preventives against the attacks of both midgets and black flies, as well as mosquitoes; and no one who values his life or good looks should venture on a woodland excursion in the summer months without a supply of this latter commodity. In conclusion, we would remark that, to the mosquito the blood of the intemperate seems to have a special attraction, and anyone who wishes to enjoy comparative freedom from the attacks of these pests, should abstain from the use of alcoholic stimulants. It is a too prevalent idea among trappers that whiskey and rum are necessary adjuncts to a trapping campaign, and many a trapper would about as soon think of leaving his traps at home as his whisky bottle. This is all a mistake. Anyone who has not sufficient strength of constitution to withstand the hardships and exposures of a trapping life, without the especial aid of stimulants, should stay at home. We are now alluding to the habitual use of such stimulants. It is always well to be provided with a flask of whisky or brandy, in case of illness, but it should only be resorted to in such an event. For a mere chill, we recommend the use of red pepper tea. A simple swallow of this drink, (made simply by soaking a red pepper in a cup of hot water) will restore warmth much quicker than three times the amount of any alcoholic stimulant. It is not our purpose to extend into a lengthened temperance lecture, but only to discourage the wide-spread idea that stimulants are necessities in the life of the trapper. Midgets, musquitoes and punkeys delight over a victim with alcohol in his veins, and while to a healthy subject the bites are of only brief annoyance, to the intemperate they often result in painful, obstinate sores.

In addition to the various ointments used, it is well to be provided with a head-net, such as we illustrate. Nets of this kind are specially made for sportsmen, and consist of a spiral wire framework, covered with mosquito netting, and of such a size to slip easily on the head.

[Page 258] They are easily made, as our engraving would indicate.

A netting attachment for the hat is also an acquisition, especially in open woods, free from overhanging branches or dense thickets. Such a netting may be secured to the edge of the hat brim, and gathered with an elastic at the lower edge. This elastic will close snugly around the neck when in use, and at other times may be drawn above the brim and allowed to rest on top of the crown.

The portable hat brim, which we illustrate, is an article of trade in common use among sportsmen, and particularly the angler. Our engraving (a) shows the article separate. It is made of cloth, and is kept in its circular shape by a steel spring band at the circumference, between the two sides. It may be attached to any hat, and will act as a most effectual shelter to the rays of a hot sun.

The netting above alluded to may be attached to such a brim, and applied to the edge of the hat when desired. This is shown at (b), which also indicates the manner of adjustment of the brim. Such a brim will often do good service, and may be obtained at almost any sporting emporium at trifling cost. It is portable in every sense of the word, being easily bent and packed away in the pocket.


Where trapping is carried on along the banks of the lakes and rivers, a boat of some kind becomes almost a positive necessity.

The following examples represent those in most general use. Perhaps the most common form of the "rough and ready" order of boats, is that called the—


It's general appearance is well indicated by the accompanying illustration. With the proper tools, one of these canoes is easily made. A sharp axe, an adze, a shaving knife, a round edged adze, and a small auger, are principally necessary; and a cross-cut saw, broad-axe, sledge, and large sized chisel, will also be found useful.

In any case the log should not be much less than two feet in diameter, perfectly sound, and free from knots. If this precaution is observed, the result will be all the more satisfactory, and the canoe can be cut so thin, as to render it a light burden; being easily carried on the shoulders.

A pine log is generally chosen for a dug-out, on account of the lightness of the wood, and the ease with which it can be worked. Butternut, cottonwood and whitewood, are also excellent, and indeed almost any sound log of large size will answer the purpose.

For a dug-out of good size, the log should be ten or more feet in length. The first thing to be done is to cut a flat surface on one side of the log, from end to end. This indicates the bottom of the canoe. On the upper side the wood should be hewn away, in the curve shown on the upper outline of our illustration.

[Page 260] It is well to divide the log by notches into three equal lengths. In the centre division, the wood may be cut down to a straight line to a depth of about eight inches from the upper surface. The gradual curve to the bow and stern of the canoe should start from each end of this flat cut, and extend to the upper edge of the log, the guiding line being made on the sides of the log by a piece of chalk. The adze will come into good use in trimming off the wood on these curves. When this upper outline is accomplished, the log may be turned bottom side up, and the sides of the extremities rounded off. This may be done with an axe and adze, and when performed, the bottom curves should be made by chopping away the wood in the curves shown in the lower outline of our illustration. This curve should also be marked out with chalk, and should commence a little nearer the end of the log than the curve on the upper side. Shave off the wood to a blunt edge on this curve, at both bow and stern. The rough form of the canoe is now obtained, and by the aid of the draw-knife, or shaving-knife, it can be neatly and smoothly finished.

It is then ready to be "dug-out." The tools most useful for this purpose are the adze and axe, and sometimes the sledge and chisel. The digging out is of course the most tedious part; but with sharp tools it is a comparatively easy matter. When the great bulk of the wood is taken out, the interior should be finished with a howel or round adze; and the sides may be worked to one inch and a half in thickness if desired. The writer once saw one of these canoes of most exquisite workmanship, being only one inch in thickness, and so light as to be easily lifted with one hand. Of course such perfection as this is not necessary for ordinary purposes; although where the canoe is expected to be carried any great distance, it is well to thin it as much as possible. A gimlet or small auger may be used to gauge the thickness of the canoe, using it in the following manner: Supposing the required thickness of the wood is two inches, proceed to bore the hole from the inside of the canoe, and continue until the point of the gimlet or auger barely makes its appearance on the outside. Draw out the tool, and if the thickness measures more than is required, insert into the hole a slender piece of wood exactly two inches in length; push it in as far as it will go, and you may safely work until you reach the end of it. By this method the thickness may be gauged in different parts of the boat sufficiently to acquire a fair average thickness, [Page 261] and there is no danger of cutting through. The gimlet should be allowed to extend outside of the canoe only sufficiently to be detected, and the holes thus made will seldom give any trouble as leaks. If, however, this should be the case, a little putty or pitch will remedy the difficulty.

The "dug-out" may be constructed of any size, and of any desired shape, but the above is the usual type.

When leaks or cracks occur, they may be caulked with hemp, and smeared with pitch, which will render them thoroughly waterproof.

For lightness and portability there is no boat more desirable or more unique than—


Where the white birch grows in perfection, and the trees attain a large size, the chief material of the birch bark canoe is at hand; and although we ordinary mortals could not be expected to attain to that perfection of skill which the Indians exhibit in the manufacture of these canoes, we nevertheless can succeed sufficiently well to answer all practical purposes. The Indian canoes are often perfect marvels of skill and combined strength and lightness. These half-civilized beings seem to take as naturally to the making of these commodities, as if it were almost an hereditary habit with them; and few men, even with the most exhaustive practice, can compete with the Indian in the combined result of strength, lightness, durability, external beauty, and nicety of work, which are the united characteristics of the typical bark canoe.

The average length of the "Bark," as used by trappers, is about twelve feet, but they may be constructed of any desired dimensions, to the length of forty feet. A canoe of this size will carry fifteen or twenty persons, and may be transported with ease upon the shoulders of two strong men. The smaller size, above mentioned, is capable of carrying two persons, and is a light load for a single man.

In constructing the bark canoe the first requisite is the gunwale, or upper framework. This should consist of four strips of cedar, ash, or other light, strong wood; two for each side of the boat. For an ordinary sized canoe, their length should be about twelve feet, width one inch, and thickness one-quarter of an inch. They should be tied together in pairs at the ends, and the two pairs then joined at the same place. The object of [Page 262] these pieces is to give strength and form to the canoe, and to offer a firm security for the edges of the bark, which are secured between them. The gunwale being prepared, we are now ready for the birch bark. The bottom of a well made canoe should be in one large piece, as our illustration indicates, if possible. Select some large tree with the trunk free from knots or excrescences. Mark off as great a length as possible, and chop a straight cut in the bark through the whole length of the piece, after which it should be carefully peeled from the wood. It will sometimes happen, where large birches exist in perfection, that a single piece may be found of sufficient size for a whole canoe, but this is rather exceptional, and the bottom is generally pieced out, as seen in our drawing. This piecing may be accomplished with an awl and Indian twine, or by the aid of a large needle threaded with the same, sewing with an over-and-over stitch around the edge of each piece. Use as large pieces as are attainable, and continue to sew them on until the area of bark measures about four and a half feet in width by twelve feet in length, the dark colored sides of the bark all facing the same way. Next select a fiat piece of ground, and mark off a distance of ten feet, or two feet less than the length of the gunwales. At each end of the space two tall stakes should be driven into the ground about three inches apart. Now turn the bark on the ground with its white side uppermost, and fold it loosely and evenly through the long centre. In this folded condition it should now be lifted by the upper edge and set between the stakes. There will then be about a foot of projecting bark beyond each pair of stakes. These ends should now be covered by folding another piece of bark over them, sewing the edges firmly to the sides of the rude form of the canoe, which now presents itself. When this is done, each end should be supported on a log or stone; this will cause the bottom line to sink downwards at about the proper curve. We are now ready for the gunwale. Lay it in the proper position, fitting the edges of the bark between the two strips on each side, and sewing around the whole with a winding stitch, exactly after the manner of the edge of an ordinary palm-leaf fan. The inside of the canoe should now be lined with long strips of cedar running through the entire length of the boat if possible, but if not, should be so cut as to neatly overlap at the ends. These pieces should be an inch or two in width, and from a quarter to half an inch-in thickness. The ribs are then to be put in. These are generally made from ash, one or two inches in width, and [Page 263] a quarter of an inch in thickness. Any light flexible wood will answer the purpose, and even barrel hoops when attainable will do very well. These ribs should be bent to fit the interior of the canoe crosswise, either close together, or with equal distances between them and the ends should then be firmly secured beneath the gunwales by a continuous loop-stitch through the bark. For a canoe of twelve feet in length, the width should be about two feet, and in order to keep the gunwales firm, two or more cross-pieces should be inserted, and lashed firmly at their ends as our illustration shows. The centre third of the length of the canoe should be parallel at the sides, and if two braces, two feet in length are placed at each end of this third, the shape will be about perfect. We now have a bark canoe of considerable strength and durability, and it only awaits to be made water-proof for final use. In order to accomplish this all the seams outside, and the entire interior of the canoe should, be smeared with pitch, after which its floating qualities may be tested with confidence. Should any leaks occur their where-abouts are easily detected, and an additional application of pitch will remedy the difficulty. The Indians in sewing their bark canoes use tamarack roots, fibrous plants, and grasses, in lieu of thread, and even with these inferior materials often attain to such perfection in compact sewing, as to render the use of pitch unnecessary for water-proof purposes. Such skill is rarely attained by the white man, and the art of making a water-proof canoe, even out of a single piece of bark, is by no means an easy task without the aid of tar or pitch.

[Page 264] For the trapper we strongly recommend the birch "bark." With the above directions we are sure no one could go astray, and we are equally sure that a canoe made as we describe, would present advantages of lightness and portability which no other style of boat would possess. For temporary purposes, canoes can be made from basswood, hemlock, or spruce bark; but they are at best, very rude and clumsy in comparison with the birch bark. They are generally made after the principles of the above described; either sewing or nailing the edges of the bark together, and smearing every joint and seam profusely with pitch, and adding gunwales, lining, and ribs.


The following gives an easy method of making a light and serviceable bateau, which any boy, with moderate ingenuity or skill, could easily construct:—

Select two boards, about three-quarters of an inch in thickness, eighteen or twenty inches in width, and twelve feet in length, which we will consider the required length of the boat. These boards should be well seasoned, and free from knots, and at least one of the sides should be straight.

Next, with the aid of a draw-shave, proceed to shape the ends of one of the boards, as seen on our diagram, (e) representing the forward, (g) the stern. The curve of the bow should commence at about four feet from the end, and take a rounded slope upward, leaving about ten inches of width at the end of the board (e). The stern should be cut at the angle shown at (g), commencing at about two and a half feet from the extremity of the board and continuing upward to about ten inches from the upper edge. The board thus shaped should now be laid evenly on the other, and the outline of the cut portions carefully scratched upon it, after which the second board should be cut in a similar manner as the first, so as to form an exact duplicate.

This being accomplished, the two should be laid evenly, one over the other, and the exact center of their long edges ascertained. Marking off about five inches on each side of this centre on both boards.

Next procure another board about ten inches in width, three feet in length, and perfectly squared at the ends. Nail each end of this piece securely and squarely in the space marked on each of the long boards. Then turn the pieces carefully over and [Page 265] nail another board across the bottom, directly opposite the first. We will now leave them and give our attention to the bow piece, which is the next requisite. This is shown at (a), and consists of a solid piece of oak, or other hard wood, well seasoned, and hewn out in the arrow shape, indicated in our illustration. It should first be cut three-cornered, the inside face being about eight inches, and the other two ten inches. Its length should be about eleven inches, and its under side should be sloped off on a line with the under curve of the bows. At about five inches from the inner face, and on each side, a piece should be sawn out, one inch in thickness, thus leaving on each side a notch which will exactly receive the side-boards of the boat, as seen at (a).

The piece being thus ready, the bow ends of the boards should be drawn together, fitted in the notches and securely spiked with large nails. A bow piece of this kind adds greatly to the strength of a boat, and will stand much rough usage. The board for the stem should next be prepared. This should be ten inches in width and two feet in length, and should be securely nailed between the ends of the boards at the stem, as shown at (g), being afterwards overlapped on the top by a board of similar size, as our illustration shows, at (c). The bottom of the boat is now easily made by nailing boards crosswise, sawing off the projecting ends close to the curve of the side-boards. After the pieces are all nailed in place, the seams and crevices should be caulked with hemp, using a blunt chisel, or hard wooden wedge, and a mallet. The seats should now be put in, as these are not only a matter of comfort, but of necessity, acting as braces to the sides of the boat. They should be two in number, one being placed three feet from the stern and the other one foot beyond the brace board originally nailed across the top of the boat. The seats should be cut at the ends in a curve corresponding to the part of the boat in which they are placed, and should be situated about a foot from the bottom of the boat, their ends resting on short boards beneath them against the sides of the boat. These are indicated by the dotted lines (h h) in [Page 266] the diagram. When thus resting they should be securely fastened in place by strong screws, driven through the sides of the boat into their ends (f f), allowing some one to sit on the seat meanwhile to keep it in place. Small cleats should now be tacked to the bottom of the boat, beneath the seat and underneath the seat itself, in order to keep the props in place; after which the original brace board across the top of the boat may be knocked off and the bateau is complete and ready for service. A boat thus made is quite comely in shape, and may be painted to suit the fancy. Should a rudder be required, the broad board at the stern offers a good place of attachment, and oar-locks may be adjusted at the proper places. These may consist of a pair of cleats attached to the inside of the boat, as seen in the illustration. In case it may be found difficult to obtain the large single boards for the sides of the boat, two or more narrow ones will answer the purpose, although not as perfectly. In this case they should first be firmly attached together by cleats, securely screwed to the inside. When first put on the water the boat will probably leak in places, but if left to soak for a few hours the wood will generally swell sufficiently to completely close the crevices. If, however, the leak should continue, that particular part of the boat should be re-caulked and smeared with pitch. This latter substance is of great value to the trapper, not only in boat building but in the construction of his shanties and in other various ways. It will most effectually stop almost any leak in a canoe or boat, and of course should always be applied hot.

[Page 267] THE SCOW.

The bateau we have above described is built so as to allow for considerable speed in the water, either in rowing or sculling; but where this speed is not especially desired the pointed bows may be dispensed with, and the sides of the boat made perfectly straight. In this case the bottom takes equal slopes at the ends, and both bow and stern are of the same width, and an ordinary flat-bottomed boat with parallel sides is the result. In many cases a scow of this kind answers every purpose, and is certainly much more easily made.

We have thus described a few of the most common instances of boats used by trappers, and with our full description and illustrations no one can go astray. A boat of some kind is almost an indispensable requisite to the trapper, and anyone of the foregoing will be found sufficient for all ordinary purposes.

A paddle may be used, and in shallow or muddy water a pusher or mud-stick will be found useful. This should consist of a pole seven or eight feet in length, supplied at the ends with an attachment of the shape of the letter U. This may be constructed in two pieces, firmly screwed to opposite sides of the end of the pole, and so formed as to present a curved crotch. Such a stick will be found very useful for pushing through weeds and muddy places. A simple pole trimmed so as to leave a crotch at the end will also answer the purpose very well.


These commodities are almost indispensable to the trapper where he pursues his vocation in the winter time, during the prevalence of deep snows. When properly made they permit the wearer to walk over the surface of the snow with perfect ease; where, without them, travel would be extremely difficult if not impossible.

In the regions of perpetual snow, and also in Canada and neighboring districts, snow-shoes are very commonly worn. In the latter localities the "snow-shoe race" forms one of the favorite sports of the season, and young and old alike join in its mysteries. Like riding on the velocipede, walking on snow-shoes looks "easy enough," but we notice that a few somersaults are usually a convincing argument that the art is not as simple as it appears. The first experience on snow-shoes [Page 268] is apt to be at least undignifying, if not discouraging, and in order to get used to the strange capers and eccentricities of an ordinarily well-behaved snow shoe, it requires considerable patience and practice. There is no telling where, in an unguarded moment, they will land you, and they seem to take especial delight in stepping on each other and turning their wearer upside down. The principal secret of success (and one may as well know it at the start, as to learn it at the expense of a pint of snow down his back) consists in taking steps sufficiently long to bring the widest portion of the stepping shoe beyond that of the other, keeping the feet rather far apart and stepping pretty high. By observing these precautions, and trusting in Providence, much embarrassment may be saved, and an hour's effort will thoroughly tame the unruly appendages, which at best do not permit of much grace or elegance of gait.

To the moose hunter snow-shoes are often an absolute necessity, and trapping in many cases would be impossible without them. They are thus brought fully within the scope of our volume, and we give a few simple directions for their manufacture. Our illustration gives the correct shape of the shoe. The framework should consist of a strip of ash, hickory or some other elastic wood, bent into the form indicated and wound around the ends with twine or strips of hide. The length of the piece should be about six feet, more or less, in proportion to the size of the individual who proposes to wear the shoe. If the bending should prove difficult it may be rendered an easy matter by the application of boiling water. Across the front part two strips of stout leather, or other tough hide, are then fastened, and these further secured together by three or four bands on each side of the middle, as our drawing shows.

In the original Indian snow-shoe, from which our drawing was made, the net work was constructed from strips of moose hide, which were interlaced much after the manner of an ordinary cane-seated chair. Strips of leather, deer skin, or even split cane, above alluded to, may also be used, and the lacing may be either as our illustration represents, or in the simpler rectangular woof seen in ordinary cloth.

In order to attach the interlacing to the bow the latter should be wound with wide strips of cane, if it can be procured, or otherwise with strips of tough skin. The loops thus formed offer a continuous security, and the whole interior, with the exception of the space at the front between the cross pieces, should be neatly filled with the next work. It is well to run the first lines [Page 269] across the shoe, from side to side, passing through the windings of the bow. Across them, in the form of the letter X, the two other cords should be interlaced, after the manner shown in the cut. This forms a secure and not very complicated network, and is the style usually adopted by the Indian makers.

There is another mode of attaching the lace-work to the bow which is also commonly employed, and consists in a series of holes bored at regular intervals through the wood. The winding is thus dispensed with, but the bow is sometimes weakened by the operation, and we are inclined to recommend the former method in preference. In attaching the shoe, the ball of the foot should be set on the second cross piece, and there secured by a strip of hide, which should be first adjusted as seen in the engraving, being afterward tied over the foot and then behind the ankle. Snow-shoes are made in other ways, but we believe that the typical Indian snow-shoe above described is the best.


For winter traffic over deep snows there is no better sled in the world than the Indian toboggan. To the trapper during a winter campaign it is often an indispensable convenience, and without it the Indian hunters of the North would find great difficulty in getting their furs to market. All through the winter season the various trading posts of Canada are constantly visited by numbers of Indian trappers, many of whom have travelled hundreds of miles on their snow-shoes with their heavily laden toboggans. Arrived at [Page 270] their market they sell or trade their stock of furs, and likewise dispose of their toboggans, reserving only their snow-shoes to aid them in their long tramp homewards.

In Canada and northward the toboggan is in very extensive use, both for purposes of traffic and amusement. It is quite commonly met with in the streets of various Canadian cities, and is especially appreciated by the youthful population, who are fond of coasting over the crust of snow. For this purpose there is no other sled like it, and a toboggan of the size we shall describe will easily accommodate two or three boys, and will glide over a crust of snow with great ease and rapidity. To the trapper it is especially valuable for all purposes of transportation. The flat bottom rests upon the surface of the snow, and the weight being thus distributed a load of two or three hundred pounds will often make but little impression and can be drawn with marvellous ease. Our illustration gives a very clear idea of the sled, and it can be made in the following way: the first requisite is a board about eight feet in length and sixteen or more inches in width. Such a board may be procured at any saw mill. Oak is the best wood for the purpose, although hickory, basswood or ash will do excellently. It should be planed or sawed to a thickness of about a third of an inch, and should be free from knots. If a single board of the required width is not easily found, two boards may be used, and secured side by side by three cleats, one at each end and the other in the middle, using wrought nails and clinching them deeply into the board on the under side. The single board is much to be preferred, if it can be had. The next requisites are seven or eight wooden cross-pieces of a length equivalent to the width of the board. Four old broom-sticks, cut in the required lengths, will answer [Page 271] this purpose perfectly, and if these are not at hand other sticks of similar dimensions should be used. Two side pieces are next needed. These should be about five feet in length, and in thickness exactly similar to the cross pieces. Next procure a few pairs of leather shoe-strings or some strips of tough calf skin. With these in readiness we may now commence the work of putting the parts together. Begin by laying the cross pieces at equal distances along the board; across these and near their ends lay the two side pieces, as seen in the illustration. By the aid of a gimlet or awl, four holes should now be made through the board, beneath the end of each cross piece, and also directly under the side piece. It is well to mark with a pencil, the various points for the holes, after which the sticks can be removed and the work much more easily performed. The four holes should be about an inch apart, or so disposed as to mark the four corners of a square inch. It is also necessary to make other holes along the length of the cross pieces, as seen in the illustration. The line on these can also be marked with the pencil across the board, and the holes made afterwards. These should also be an inch apart, and only two in number at each point, one on each side of the stick. When all the holes are made the board should be turned over, in order to complete preparations on the other side. The object of these various holes is for the passage of the leather shoe-strings for the purpose of securing the cross pieces firmly to the board. In order to prevent these loops from wearing off on the under side, small grooves should next be made connecting the holes beneath, thus allowing the leather string to sink into the wood, where it is securely protected from injury. A narrow chisel is the best tool for this purpose, the making of the grooves being much more easily and perfectly accomplished with this than with the jack-knife. When the under side is thus finished the board may be turned over and the cross pieces and sides again arranged in place as already described. Secure the pieces to the board by the leather strings through the various holes, always knotting on the upper surface, and taking care that the knots are firmly tied. The ends of all the cross pieces will require a double cross stitch through the four holes beneath, in order to secure the side pieces as well. This is plainly shown in the small diagram (a). The front end of each side piece underneath should now be sharpened to a point, to allow for the bend at the front of the toboggan. The cross piece at this end should be secured to the under side of the board, so that as it bends over it will appear on the upper edge, as our illustration shows. The board should [Page 272] next be bent with a graceful curve, and thus held in position by a rope or strip of leather at each extremity of the end cross piece and attached to the ends of the third cross piece, as seen in the engraving. If the bending is difficult and there is danger of breaking the board, the application of boiling water will render it pliable. The draw strings should then be attached to the ends of the second cross piece, and our toboggan is now complete.

It may now be laden with two or three hundred pounds of merchandize and will be found to draw over the surface of the snow with perfect ease. For coasting over the crust there is nothing like it. Such a toboggan as we have described will easily accommodate three boys, the one at the stern being provided with a sharp stick for steering, and the front occupant holding firmly to the draw strings. The toboggan is easily made, and will do good service either for traffic or sport.


This department of the trapper's art is one of the most important and necessary, as affecting pecuniary profits. The value of a skin in the fur market depends entirely upon the care with which it is taken from the animal and afterward prepared, and without a knowledge on this subject the young trapper will in vain seek for high prices for his furs. Large quantities of valuable skins are sent to our markets annually by inexperienced amateur trappers, and in many cases rare and beautiful furs have been almost spoiled by want of care in skinning and curing. The rules are simple and easily followed, a little care being all that is necessary to insure most perfect success. In every case the skin should be removed shortly after death, or at least before it has become tainted with decay. Great pains should be taken in skinning. Avoid the adherence of flesh or fat to the skin, and guard against cutting through the hide, as a pierced skin is much injured in value. The parts about the eyes, legs and ears should be carefully removed. The various methods of skinning are described in our section on trapping, and in all cases the furs should be allowed to dry in a cool, airy place, free from the rays of the sun or the heat of a fire, and protected from rain.

Astringent preparations of various kinds are used by many trappers, but they are by no means necessary. The most common dressing consists of equal parts of rock salt and alum dissolved in water. Into this a sufficient amount of coarse flour or wheat bran is stirred to give [Page 273] the mixture the consistency of batter, after which it is spread thickly over the skin and allowed to dry.

It is afterwards scraped off, and in some cases a second application is made. This preparation is much used in dressing beaver, otter, mink and muskrat skins, but as many of our most successful and experienced trappers do without it, we fail to see the advantage of using it, as it is only an extra trouble. The simplest and surest way is to stretch the skin and to submit it to a gradual process of natural drying without any artificial heat or application of astringents to hasten the result.

A very common mode of stretching skins consists in tacking them to a board, with the fur inwards, and allowing them to dry as already described.

This method does very well for small skins, but for general purposes the "stretchers" are the only means by which a pelt may be properly cured and prepared.


The board stretcher is the simplest form and is in most common use among trappers for the smaller animals. These stretchers are of two kinds, the plain and the wedged. The plain stretcher consists of a piece of board a quarter of an inch in thickness, about eighteen inches long and six inches in width. One end of this board is rounded off, as seen in our illustration, and the sides should also be whittled and smoothed to a blunt edge.

The board stretchers are used only for those skins which are taken off whole, that is, as described in the chapter on the otter. The skin should be drawn tightly over the blunt end of the board, and its edges either caught in notches cut in the edges of the square end or secured by a few tacks. This stretcher is particularly [Page 274] adapted to the skins of muskrats, minks and animals of a like size. They are known in New England as "shingle stretchers," and are much to be recommended on account of their lightness and the ease with which they can be made and carried.

The wedge stretcher is rather more elaborate than the foregoing, and is said to be an improvement.

The first requisite is a board of about three-eighths of an inch in thickness, two feet or more in length, and three and a half inches at one end tapering to the width of two inches at the other. This end should now be rounded, and the edges of the board whittled off to a blunt edge, as already described in the foregoing, commencing near the centre of the board, and thinning to the edge, and finishing with the notches at the square end. Now, by the aid of a rip-saw, sever the board through the middle lengthwise.

The wedge is the next thing to be constructed, and should consist of a piece of wood the thickness of the centre of the board and of the same length, tapering from an inch in width at one end to half an inch at the other.

To use the stretcher the two boards are inserted into the skin, (the latter with the fur side inward). The wedge is then inserted between the large ends of the boards and driven in sufficiently to stretch the pelt to its full capacity, securing it in the notches by slight cuts in the hide, or by a tack or two at the edge. It should then he hung in a cool, airy place, and the pelt left to "season."

The bow stretcher is another contrivance very commonly used for small skins like the foregoing. When this is used the pelt should be skinned as described on page 185, the initial cut commencing at the lower jaw and extending down between the fore legs, all the feet being previously cut off. The bow may consist of a switch of any elastic wood such as hickory iron wood, elm or birch. It should be about three or more feet in length, and as large as a man's thumb at the butt end. By bending it in the shape of the letter U it may easily be inserted in the skin, the latter being [Page 275] fastened by catching the lip on each side into a sliver notch cut on each end of the bow, as our illustration indicates.

For large animals, such as the deer, bear, beaver, the hoop stretcher is generally employed.


This consists of a hoop made from one or more flexible switches tied together so as to form a circle. In order to be adapted to this mode of stretching, the skin should be flat, i. e. taken off as described on page 172, the initial cut extending from the lower jaw to the vent. The size of the hoop required depends upon the dimensions of the skin. Lay the latter upon some flat surface and so gauge the hoop as that it shall surround the pelt on all sides; after which the latter should be secured or laced to the hoop with twine at the edges. All loose parts should be drawn up, and the skin should everywhere be stretched like a drum head. When this is accomplished it is the custom with many trappers to apply the preparation described on page 273, particularly where the skin is thick and fatty. But we are rather disposed to discourage the use of any preparation whatever, in any case, as they are by no means necessary.

In using the board stretchers the fur should always be on the inside, and when the hoop or bow is used it should be placed in such a position, that the air may circulate freely on both sides of the skin, which should not be removed until thoroughly dry.


In case some of our readers might desire to tan fur skins for their own domestic purposes, the subjoined directions will be found to be reliable, and for all ordinary requirements, sufficiently adequate.

For tanning with the hair on, the skin should first be cleaned, every particle of loose fat or flesh, being removed, and the useless parts cut away. When this is done, it should be soaked for an hour or two in warm water. The following mixture should then be prepared: Take equal parts of borax, saltpetre, and sulphate of soda, and with them mix water sufficient to produce the consistency of thin batter.

This preparation should be painted thickly on the flesh side of the skin, after which these sides should be doubled together and the pelt left in an airy place.

A second mixture should next be prepared. This should consist of two parts sal soda; three parts borax; four parts castile or other hard soap: all to be melted together over a slow fire. At the end of twenty-four hours, after the application of the first mixture, the second should be applied in a similar manner, and the fur again folded and left for the same length of time. Next, make a mixture equal parts of salt and alum, dissolved in warm water and thickened with coarse flour to the consistency of thin paste. Spread this thickly over the skin and allow it to dry, after which it should be scraped off with the bowl of a spoon. The skin should be tightly stretched during the operation, in order to prevent too great shrinkage. A single application of the last-named dressing, is generally sufficient for small skins; but a second or third treatment may be resorted to if required, to make the skin soft and pliable, after which it should be finished off with sand-paper and pumice stone. A skin may be thus dressed as soft as velvet, and the alum and salt will set the hair securely.

The above directions are excellent, for all general purposes, but we subjoin, in addition, a few other valuable hints and specific recipes in common use. Every trapper has his own peculiar hobby in regard to his tanning process, and the recipes are various and extensive. The above is one of the most reliable for general use. A common mode of tanning mink and muskrat skins is given in the following:—


Before tanning, the skin should always be thoroughly cleansed [Page 277] in warm water, and all fat and superfluous flesh removed. It should then be immersed in a solution made of the following ingredients: Five gallons of cold soft water; five quarts wheat bran; one gill of salt; and one ounce of sulphuric acid. Allow the skins to soak in the liquid for four or five hours. If the hides have been previously salted, the salt should be excluded from the mixed solution. The skins are now ready for the tanning liquor, which is made in the following way: into five gallons of warm, soft water, stir one peck of wheat bran and allow the mixture to stand in a warm room until fermentation takes place. Then add three pints of salt, and stir until it is thoroughly dissolved. A pint of sulphuric acid should then be poured in gradually, after which the liquor is ready. Immerse the skins and allow them to soak for three or four hours. The process of "fleshing" is then to be resorted to. This consists in laying the skin, fur side down, over some smooth beam, and working over the flesh side with a blunt fleshing tool. An old chopping knife, or tin candlestick, forms an excellent substitute for the ordinary fleshing knife, and the process of rubbing should be continued until the skin becomes dry, after which it will be found to be soft and pliable. The skin of the muskrat is quite tender, and the fleshing should be carefully performed.


These should be stretched on a board and smeared with a mixture composed of three ounces each, of salt and alum; three gills of water, and one drachm of sulphuric acid. This should be thickened with wheat bran or flour, and should be allowed to dry on the skin, after which it should be scraped off with a spoon. Next, take the skin from the board, roll it with the fur inside, and draw it quickly backward and forward, over a smooth peg, or through an iron ring. The skin should then be unfolded and rolled again the opposite way, and the operation repeated until the pelt is quite soft and flexible. This is a good way of softening all kinds of skins, and the above preparation will be found excellent for all ordinary purposes. The muskrat skin may be treated in the same manner as the above, if desired, and the process directed on the muskrat skin may also be applied to the pelts of the other animals.

To remove the fur for a simple tanned skin, the hide should be immersed in a liquid composed of—soft water, five gallons; slaked lime, four quarts; and wood ashes, four quarts. Allow [Page 278] the skin to soak for a couple of days, after which the fur will readily slip off.

Another method—take equal parts wood ashes and slaked lime, and add water to the consistency of batter. Spread this over the inside of the skin, roll it up, and place it in a pail, covering it with water. Here let it remain from one to five days, or until the hair will shed easily, after which it should be finished with the fleshing knife and velveted with sand paper.


In all cold climates, man has availed himself liberally of the warm covering with which nature has clothed the animals around him; but the wealth of the most favored nations has drawn to them the most beautiful furs, in whatever part of the world they are procured. Skins of animals were among the first materials used for clothing. Before Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, they were furnished with coats of skins. The ancient Assyrians used the soft skins of animals to cover the couches or the ground in their tents, and the Israelites employed badger's skins and ram's skins, as ornamental hangings for the Tabernacle. The ancient heroes of the Greeks and Romans, are represented as being clothed in skins. AEneas, wearing for an outer garment, that of the lion, and Alcestes being formidably clad in that of the Libyan Bear. Herodotus speaks of those living near the Caspian Sea wearing seal skins, and Caesar mentions that the skin of the reindeer formed in part the clothing of the Germans. In the early period, furs appear to have constituted the entire riches of the Northern countries, and they were almost the only exports. Taxes were paid on them, and they were the medium of exchange. So it was also in our own Western territories in the latter part of the last century, and is to the present day, to a great extent, among the Indians. In the eleventh century, furs had become fashionable throughout Europe, and the art of dyeing them, was practiced in the twelfth. In the history of the Crusades, frequent mention is made of the magnificent displays by the European Princes, of their dresses of costly furs, before the Court at Constantinople. But Richard I. of England, and Philip II. of France, in order to check the growing extravagance in their use, resolved that the choicer furs, ermine and sable amongst the number, should be omitted from their kingly wardrobes. Louis IX. followed their example in the next century, but not [Page 279] until his extravagance had grown to such a pitch, that seven hundred and forty-six ermines were required for the lining of one of his surcoats. In the times, the use of the choicer furs, as those of the sable, ermine, gris, and Hungarian squirrel, was restricted to the royal families and the nobility, to whom they served as distinctive marks and badges of rank. These privileged persons applied them lavishly to their own use, and the fashion extended to the princes of other less civilized nations. Their royal use soon extended to Tartary, and the tents of the Khan were bedecked with the most rich and costly furs. In the following century, furs were commonly worn in England until their use was prohibited by Edward III., to all persons whose purse would not warrant a yearly expenditure of L100.

The early fur trade of Western Europe, was conducted through the merchants on the south coast of the Baltic, who received goods from the ports of Livonia. In the sixteenth century, a direct trade was opened between the English and Russians; and a company of the former, protected by the Czar, established trading posts on the White Sea, and a warehouse at Moscow, whence they sent trading parties to Persia and the countries on the Caspian Sea. The Czar sent rich presents of beautiful furs, to Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth; but the latter prohibited the wearing of any but native furs, and the trade soon declined and was abandoned. In the 17th century, Siberia was conquered by the Russians, and its tribute was paid in furs. Large quantities were also furnished to China, but the choicest kinds—the precious ermine, the brilliant, fiery foxes, and the best sables, were taken to Moscow, for the use of the princes and nobles of Russia, Turkey, and Persia.

In our own country, the early settlers of the Northern provinces, soon learned the value of the furs of the numerous animals which peopled the extensive rivers, lakes, and forests of these vast territories. They collected the skins in abundance, and found an increasing demand for them, with every new arrival of immigrants from the mother country. Trinkets, liquors, and other articles sought for by the native tribes, were shipped to Quebec, and from thence up the St. Lawrence to Montreal, which soon became the great trading post of the country. The various tribes of Indians were stimulated by trifling compensation, to pursue their only congenial and peaceful occupation; and the French settlers, readily assimilating to the Indian habits, became themselves expert hunters, trappers, and explorers.

The business prospered, and the English soon became interested and secured a share of the valuable trade. Many [Page 280] wealthy and influential parties, connected with the government of Great Britain,—Prince Rupert and Lord Ashley, among the number—became deeply interested in this source of revenue; and after a successful enterprise, they obtained from Charles II., a charter of incorporation, giving to them full possession of the territory within the entrance of Hudson's Straits, not already granted to other subjects, or possessed by those of any other Christian prince or State. In this charter was included the monopoly, of all trade in these regions, and thus we see the origin of the Great Hudson's Bay Company, which is to-day, one of the largest organizations of its kind on the globe. The territory they claimed, extended from Hudson's Bay, west to the Pacific, and north to the Arctic Ocean, excepting that occupied by the French and Russians. They soon formed settlements upon the various rivers which empty into Hudson's Bay, and carried on their operations with immense vigor and success. They met with much opposition and open hostility from the French, and were subjected to vast expenses and losses, but in spite of all, they continued to prosper. Their forts or factories were extended further into the interior of British America, and their power was supreme throughout the country, and in a great measure over the Indians, whom they employed to collect their skins. In the course of time, the French Canadians organized themselves into a united band, under the name of the North West Company, and established their headquarters at Montreal. Their operations were carried on with great energy and profit, and many factories were built in the western portion of the Province. The company thus soon became a formidable competitor with the Hudson's Bay Company and for a period of two years, an actual state of war existed between them. This condition of affairs finally terminated in a consolidation of the two organizations, under the name of the Hudson's Bay Company, the privileges of which extended over all the territory formerly occupied by both.

Thus, we have the history of the famous Hudson's Bay Company, from its origin to its perfect organization. It is a most stupendous concern, and its annual shipment of furs, is something amazing. Their great sales take place in the month of March, in order to be completed before Easter; and again in September, every year at London, and are attended by purchasers from nearly all parts of the world. Leipsic, the famous fur mart of Germany, is also the scene of a great annual fair, for the sale of skins.

The importance of the fur trade in this country, led to the [Page 281] early settlement of the Western territories of the United States; and many a frontier city, like St. Paul, has been built up by the enterprise of the trapper. Mackinaw and Montreal owe much of their growth to the traffic of the fur trade; and many a kingly fortune—John Jacob Astor's, for instance—has been founded on peltry.

Besides the above fur sales in London a moderate portion of those annually collected in the United States are retained for use, amounting to about 150,000 mink and 750,000 muskrat skins, besides a number of other furs which are manufactured and worn.

The annual yield of raw furs throughout the whole world is estimated at over twenty millions of dollars in value; and when we include the manufactured articles therefrom, the amount will swell to a hundred millions or over. This will serve to give some idea of the immensity and value of the business.

American dealers divide our native furs into two classes, viz., home and shipping furs; the former being chiefly utilized in our own country, while the latter are exported to all parts of the world. New York City is the great fur mart and depot for the shipping trade in this country, and the annual value of its exports, in this one branch of trade is enormous.

The principal shipping furs are the silver, red and cross Fox, Wild Cat, Raccoon, Fisher, Muskrat and Skunk.

Among the home furs are the Marten, Mink, Opossum, Wolf and Muskrat, the latter being extensively used both here and abroad.

In the following chapter will be found more detailed notes on the leading American furs, including their various uses and the different countries for which they are the especial staples.

In order to give the reader some idea of the variety and magnitude of the yield of furs from our own country, we annex a table (p. 282) showing the sales of the Hudson's Bay Company, at London, in the year 1873.


Below will be found an authentic table of the comparative values of the various American furs at the present date of publication. The quotations are those of one of our largest fur dealers, as published in "THE HAT, CAP AND FUR TRADE REVIEW," the leading journal of the trade in America. Of course these values are constantly varying—keeping pace with the eccentricities of fashion and the demands of the fur trade; but [Page 282] the table will serve at least to gauge the relative values, as between the two extremes of common and scarce furs. The fur market is a great deal like the stock market. It is constantly fluctuating, and a fur which is to-day among the novelties, may next year find itself on the low priced list. The demand for furs of any kind is nearly always governed by fashion, and of course the value is estimated on the demand. If the convention of fur dealers should decide to usher in Muskrat fur as the leading and most fashionable article in that line, the fashion would create the demand, the demand would be in turn supplied by the trappers throughout the country, and in proportion as the Muskrat skins became scarce, so their value would increase. In this way a skin which may be worth fifty cents at one time may soon acquire a value of twenty times that amount. The comparative value of skins is, therefore, constantly varying more or less; but the annexed table (page 283) will be found useful for general reference, and for approximate figures, will probably answer every purpose for some time to come.

========================================================================== No. of No. of Estimated Skins. Skins. Total Price according to average KINDS. March Sept. No. quality. price per Sale. Sale. skin. - - - - L s. d. Badger 2,700 2,700 1s. to 7s. 1 06 Bear 5,217 2,794 8,011 5s. to L8 10s. 5 0 00 Beaver 111,993 37,052 149,045 4S. 3d. to 38s. 6d. 1 00 00 Fisher 2,843 779 3,622 8s. to L3 5s. 2 10 00 Fox, Blue 90 90 18s. to L4. 2 10 00 " Cross 1,818 471 2,289 5s. to L4. 1 10 00 " Kitt 6,930 6,930 2s. 8d. to 28s. 10d. 3 00 " Red 6,914 1,383 8,297 4s. 6d. to 17s. 10 00 " Silver 540 148 688 L3 10s. to L21. 10 00 00 " White 7,312 7,312 2s. to 14s. 9d. 7 00 Lynx 2,468 1,652 4,120 9s. 6d. to L1 14s. 18 00 Marten 47,878 18,955 66,833 10s. to L3 19s. 1 10 00 Mink 31,802 12,896 44,698 4s. to L1 8s. 6d. 15 00 Muskrat 651,498 116,488 767,896 3d. to 16d. 00 8 Otter 8,571 2,681 11,252 14s. to L3 18s. 2 10 00 " Sea 98 98 L4 10s. to L32. 15 00 00 Rabbit 10,029 10,029 3d. to 4d. 00 3 Raccoon 3,582 3,582 1s. to 3s. 3d. 2 6 Skunk 1,691 1,691 2s. to 7s. 4 00 Wolf 6,216 188 6,404 6s. to L2 15s. 15 00 Wolverine 1,770 320 2,090 8s. to L1 1s. 15 00 ==========================================================================

[Page 283] AMERICAN FUR SKINS TABLE OF VALUES.[*] ========================================================================== Prime. Seconds. Thirds. Fourths. Badger $1.00 $0.50 $0.10 $ Bear, Black 18.00 9.00 1.00 " Cub 10.00 5.00 1.00 " Brown 7.00 4.00 1.00 Beaver, California per lb. 1.25 75 50 " Southern 1.00 75 40 " Upper Missouri 1.75 1.50 50 " Lake Supr. and Canada. 2.50 1.75 75 Cat, Wild 40 10 " House 15 10 Deer, Florida per lb. 20 " Missouri 20 Elk and Moose per lb. 35 25 Fisher, Southern 7.00 5.00 1.00 " Eastern and Canada 10.00 8.00 2.00 Fox, Silver 100.00 25.00 1.00 " Cross 3.00 1.50 1.00 " Blue 15.00 5.00 1.00 " White 3.00 1.50 " Red 1.75 1.00 75 25 " Gray 3.00 1.50 50 25 " Kitt 50 25 Lynx, Minnesota 2.50 1.00 " Canada 4.00 2.00 Marten, Dark 10.00 6.00 2.00 " Small Pale 2.00 1.00 50 Mink, Southern 1.00 50 25 10 " Western 1.25 1.00 50 10 " Middle States 2.00 1.25 50 10 " Minnesota 2.50 1.50 75 20 " New England 3.50 1.75 1.00 20 " Quebec and Halifax 4.00 2.00 1.00 20 Muskrat, Southern 28 25 15 5 " Western 30 28 18 6 " Northern 32 30 20 8 " Eastern 35 30 22 10 Opossum, Ohio 30 20 10 " Southern 20 10 Otter, Southern 5.00 3.00 2.00 50 " Northern 10.00 6.00 2.00 50 Rabbit 3 Raccoon, Southern 50 30 15 5 " Western 1.00 50 20 5 " Michigan 1.25 80 30 5 Seal, Hair 60 " Fur 10.00 Skunk, Black Cased 1.00 60 40 10 " Half Stripe 60 50 25 10 " White 20 10 Wolf, Timber 3.00 1.50 " Prairie 1.00 75 Wolverine 5.00 2.00 ==========================================================================

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