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"Following in our forefather's footsteps."

Continuing Series       

Article No.# 1       

   Travel & Trips

                                   by Buck Conner

We have given you a few places of interest that covers a pretty broad area so that you may find a few sites in your local state or one near by.

Along with this information we have included some safety items.

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DON'T MESS AROUND WHEN IN THE WATER

  • Most boating fatalities are the result of capsizing or falling overboard. 80% of drowning victims are not wearing floatation devices (life jackets).

  • Most fatalities occur in small, open boats during good weather, mid afternoon on summer weekends.

  • Most non-fatal boating accidents are the result of a collision with another boat or something in the water, rocks, pilings, debris.

  • Most boating accidents are sudden and unexpected. There's little if any time to reach for a life vest, which is why you should wear one all the time.

Reasons why alcohol and boating don't mix: alcohol affects a person's balance and coordination in a boat, impairs judgment, and makes it more difficult to swim if there's an accident. Many good swimmers have drowned because the alcohol they consumed distorted their ability to orient themselves, swimming down, instead of to the surface.

To a re-enacter this sounds like modern ideas and not fitting for doing correct period travel, true but like it on not its the law. I have traveled from Ft. Benton, MT to Ft. de Chartre, IL on the Upper Missouri, Platte, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers, the State Fish & Game units, US Coast Guard and local law officials will be happy to ticket you, make you leave the water or whatever it takes to make you comply with the law. Get tough and they can start taking your equipment, fines and jail time.

The best plan is to be aware of the water laws, check with your local agents, as well as the US Coast Guard, they have the final word on most water ways.

If the law says we need life vests, fine, there are "Safety Approved" ones that are very thin and can be covered in pillow ticking (leave the bottom of the cover open for inspection). Believe it or not when covered they look like an old pillow ticking vest or whatever its covered with, may be not to our liking but your still on the water and experiencing the trip that you have planned.

We usually leave the vest open, if being viewed from a distance they look to be in order, if approached they can be tied.

You are less likely to have problems if you do go into the water, its better to be afloat as you'll be busy retreating loose equipage and bring your craft into shore, up-righting etc.

Remember its better to be safe and wet, everyone and everything gotten out of the water, on shore and then regrouped. If chilled, build a fire and dry your members and equipment out, have something hot to drink. Just remember your safe, think what it would have been like if someone didn't make it out !

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Thoughts on proper water vessels.

I have used and owned several modern canoes, a bateau (French Canadian boat), and have traveled with friends in a birch bark canoe, a dugout and a small plank side skiff; but really wanted a water vessel that was correct for the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade, one that would have been found traveling on the small tributaries of Louisiana Purchase in the 1810-1820 time period, now Colorado, Utah, Wyoming traveling to the East by the Rivers Platte, Missouri and Mississippi.

Your thinking what's wrong with the birch bark canoe, (in our 3-4 state area birch trees are not of any usable size), checked with several colleges that dealt with forestry courses and most felt you would have had birch in 1800-1850 further north and more to the east to produce big enough trees for canoe construction, they suggested a dugout as being the vessel used in the area I was referring to.

I wanted a vessel that could be versatile enough to be used on small waterways yet stable enough to handle the rivers like the Missouri and Mississippi in early spring run off (a dugout is shakey enough on good water) . A craft capable of being paddled, rowed or sailed when conditions were right, yet light enough that a couple of men could handle it for portages or loading and unloading without a lot of effort,
this would be a great water craft. Not much to ask for, well here is what I received from my request from an Internet History List discussion group..

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The corps of discovery made the canoes out of Ponderosa Pine. I believe that cotton wood is preferred, but it was not growing at Canoe Camp. The trees were green. A small fire was built, and monitered,then coals were moved to allow chopping with axe. I'm not sure were the water came in.

Hardtack

I have tried cottonwood for a dugout and I think Wes Housler told me was using the same wood, as the wood dried it has started to get some pretty healthy cracks. Wes was going to try and seal his to prevent this ? Crosby Brown near Ft. Charette in IL has an original dugout and keeps it in the water most of the time, sinks it during the winter to prevent cracking, not sure what the wood is. Anyone have any ideas on a better wood that won't have such a problem of cracking, (my wife's fish pond isn't big enough to hold a 17" dugout unless its cut in half !!!!!!)

Buck

We used ponderosa pines for our dugouts. on the burn vs adze wood removal, burning is nice if you had few tools and much time. adzes and six men (read as relays) can turn out a decent dugout in about two days. we'd probably be faster if we did it more often. Char method was burn, extinguish, scrape... burn, etc., etc. very slow. these dugouts weigh half a ton or better, so cooling is applied where they are being built... no volunteers to haul them to the water just for a quick dunk. Of the three dugouts we have made, one was so checked (cracked) that it was donated for a permanent (dry) display. the other two get used a lot when summer is here. they are very heavy and don't do rapids well, is allot of work to get the finished product.

Lee Newbill

Buck, I have some interest in this subject. The Pacific coast had its Stripper canoes. I wonder how early, and further west the canvas canoe was??? Anyone have some interesting info.? I have seen the west coast dugouts In the Ft. Clatsop area. These were beautiful boats. Carved thin, and formed, these boats were elegant. I have done canoe treks. I have always used a modern canoe. I would be interested in hearing from other canoeists on how to 'primitive' canoe, with some predictability (I have to get back to work next week...?). The corps of discovery made the canoes out of Ponderosa Pine. I believe that cotton wood is preferred, but it was not growing at Canoe Camp. The trees were green. A small fire was built, and monitored, then coals were moved to allow chopping with axe. I'm not sure were the water came in

.Hardtack

We also had a relatively bizarre looking craft used by a local tribe (Kutenai) that resembled a birch bark (?) kayak more than a canoe. take a modern kayak, stretch it's opening to about 2/3 the boat (but still centered, and you have the concept. I've never seen any mention of these craft in the fur trade though, and while I have done some white water in craft not designed for the afford mentioned white water, I would be hesitant to take one of these craft on the mighty Snake. I will look in my limited library at home and see if what it says is different from what me limited brain remembers.

Lee Newbill

Lee now that you mention it I remember that article about a bateau. I saved it a year or so ago, had a hard drive crash and lost it, Angela had given me the name of a gentlemen in Canada and had talked to him. He was putting together a set of plans that one could work off of to reconstruct a good copy of an original bateaux used west of the continental divide. Lee has stated seems to be the norm for dugouts from several dozen replies I have received off_list, heavy, hard to handle, and crack in time, back to the drawing board.

Buck

I was aware of the burning and cooling process but now am thinking that the Indians or whoever submersed the entire canoe into the water rather then pouring water onto the burned area, so as Buck mentioned to not only stop the burning but to keep the canoe from cracking. Lewis and Clark did this when they cached their canoes as they headed into the Bitterroots and the Lolo Trail.

DON

A couple years ago the "boys" in that area made quit a spring project of turning out several dug-out canoes for a recreation of L and C's trip on down the Clearwater from that location. They had a boat yard set up in Lewiston and when the canoes were done, took them up near Orofino to launch. I and the wife watched them going down stream the Sat. after the Viapon Park Western broke up, on our way home. I know that Vern Illi was involved and Lee Newbill may have some insight too. In Lewiston, I watched them use axes and big augers to take wood out of what they called Yellow Pine though it may have been Ponderosa. They also were using fire to burn some of the wood away after boring some serious holes down into the logs. I don't recall seeing them needing to use any water for the operation and from my experience playing with fire as a fireman I don't see it as being needed. I would be curious where you got that idea from. If Vern and Lee are on line maybe they will wade in? I
remain....

Capt. Lahti'

I don't know about birch bark in other areas of the Rocky's, but it was used here in the Kootenai's (NW Montana, N. Idaho, Southern British Columbia). The shape was somewhat different than back east (at least the Kootenai Indian style). David Thompson used one. A real typical way to do controlled burns on canoes, bowls or anything was to apply a wet mud pack to areas you didn't want to burn at that moment. Maybe this is where you are getting the water thing from.

Matt Richards

Makes sense Matt, you know that it is real hard to get the big logs to burn on the inside. If you don't want it to burn anymore you just move the fire or scrape it off/down so it isn't consuming the wood. Hard to figure how to explain. I guess they could have been sprinkling water here and there to control the burn but it just didn't seem all that necessary to me. Get your self a big Ponderosa Pine log and start chopping and burning and let us know how it goes. I know the coastal Indians were using some fine stone hand adz' to remove wood on their canoes. They would carve the outside shape and then drill holes in to the center as far as they wanted the hull to be thick. They then carved out the insides until they hit the holes and then quit carving. Plugged the holes up with dowels or cedar and finished the plugs off flush and then heat the insides with water and hot rocks until they could spread the sides a bit. the sides were held out with thwarts and walla its almost a boat! Sure would like a coastal indian boat. Can't afford the price of a cedar tree. I remain......

Capt. Lahti'

What about another type of skiff that's correct for the Rocky Mountains Fur Trade, bull boats are hard to control, birch bark are really an eastern vessel (no birch in our area big enough to be usable). Strip sided boats or a Canadian French water craft seems lighter, have seen a few articles on them. Most of the mid-west bateau's seen in museums or the reproduction ones seen on the Missouri from Omaha to Ft. de Chartre seem heavy. What's your idea for a light, correct water vessel that fits in the 1800-1840 time period, used in the Rocky Mountain Fur trade?

Buck

When the "mountain men" made boats and described them, they were often canoe shaped, built on a sapling frame like a bull boat, and covered with hide, like a bull boat. It seems that two (or more) hides sewn end to end were used to get length. It also seems that some of these boats were quite large and held substantial loads. There is an AJ Miller image of one of these boats with a whole crew of folks in it. Having never made or used one of these boats, I feel fully qualified to recommend
them without reservation.

Allen Chronister

Most of the pirogue boats are made of cypress as well as other dugouts in the south---there is records of dugouts and pirogue boats lasting well over 50 years---cypress also makes fine slat canoes--know of some log cabins made of cypress that are well over 150 years and still in good condition. it was a common practice to sink a dugout or pirogue in order to maintain it's water tight structure and to eliminate cracks in the wood.

Michael Pierce

I believe Freddie Harris is still in the wood business, gun stocks and wide board flooring, don't have his number but Jack Gardener will (hunting pals). I have gotten native wood paddles from Freddie that he cut in Mississippi or a near by southern state, will let you know if I have any luck.

Buck

A couple of years back I decided that I didn't want to take my Old Town into what was supposed to be an otherwise Period over water trek our group does each spring up the Palouse river off the Snake in WA. After a bit of research I settled on the classic Bateau and found in John Gardeners book "THE DORY" a set of lines and offsets that would produce a 19' long by 52" wide bateau that could be made by anyone and could be made heavy as the author intended or light as I chose to do. Brother Leonard Conelly put together a nice article on the boats used in the fur trade and published it in T&LR about a year later. In his article he said that though these boats were common and used plank construction (lapstrake, etc.) they would not be practical these days because of the weight and the need to keep them wet so they would stay tight. I had taken his advise before I heard it and made mine of 1/4"
marine plywood. Our friend "Badger" had made one 18' long using fir planks in classical lapstrake construction but it is too heavy for two men to launch off a trailer without a way to lift it up. My solution has proved to be much lighter and handier.
  Over the course of most of Jan. through early April I laid up this 19'r and ended up with a period correct style boat that launches easily, can be paddled, rowed or sailed as the originals were. It was not a difficult project and the basic shape of this type of boat can be made in almost any size you have the gumption and materials to make. Last spring I took my wife, and my friend John "Digger" Pollack into the Palouse camp site in this 19' bateau. We went fairly light but all three of us and all our gear fit in this boat safely. I sailed it in upstream using a Sprit Sail with Boom and rowed it out down stream into a 25 knot wind with 2' seas. I was working hard the whole way but never had as much problem as many of the other craft did especially the single manned canoes. On another trip to Lake Roosevelt on the Columbia above Grand Coulee Dam with four of us paddling and no cargo, we were able to run circles around 24' freight canoes with 8 man crews. There is a plan running around in wooden boat building circles called the 6 hr canoe which is really a small bateau. It is about 16" long and will get one man and his gear into most any water born trek he wants to go into. It only takes two sheets of plywood to build and can be made in a living room. My boat wasn't much more difficult but it took a room 24' long to loft it up.
  Leonard's' article pointed out that this type of boat was used not just on the Columbia but on the eastward drainage's too. If you look at some of the shipping manifests of goods going west to the trapping grounds there was a considerable quantity of oakum and pine tar. These two items were used to seal up simple plank built boats that were built on site with simple techniques and used to freight pelts back to St. Louie and else where. Not to say that bull boats or hide boats or even birch bark weren't used but they were not the best and not the most important. Birch bark canoes were used in Canada going to the Rockies and back but Birch bark is not as easy to find in the Rockies as it is in the lake country much farther east and so people like David Thompson and others made use of the bateau/dory style hull to get them where they wanted to go.
If some one is serious about wanting to build a big bateau using the old and new techniques, I will be more than happy to help them along the way. I remain.......

Capt. Lahti'

As a new blackpowder shooter and history buff, but a long-time canoe traveler (including no small number of hours working on wood and canvas canoes and repairing navigational errors inflicted on aluminum and kevlar watercraft) I have some humble suggestions. These books may be hard to find, but try inter-library loan at your public or regional library.

  • Adney E.T. & Chapelle H.I., 1964, The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America.

  • Blandford P., 1974, An Illustrated History of Small Boats. A History of Oared, Poled and Paddled Craft.

  • Casson L., 1963, Sewn Boats.

  • Christensen A.E., 1984, 'Sewn boats in Scandinavia.' in: McGrail S. (ed.)

  • Johnstone P., 1974, The Archaeology of Ships.

  • March E.J., 1970, Inshore Craft of Britain in the Days of Sail and Oar.

  • McGowan A., 1981, Tiller and Whipstaff 1400-1700.

  • McGowan A., 1981, The Century before Steam.

  • McGrail S., 1985, Towards a classification of water transport.

  • Nouhuys van, 1928, Dug-outs.

  • Roberts K.G. & Shackleton P., 1983, The Canoe.

  • Roberts O.T.P., 1983, An index for flat-bottom boats.

Jerry Anderson

We used ponderosa pines for our dugouts. on the burn vs adze wood removal, burning is nice if you had few tools and much time. adzes and six men (read as relays) can turn out a decent dugout in about two days. we'd probably be faster if we did it more often. Char method was burn, extinguish, scrape... burn, etc., etc. velly slow. these dugouts weigh half a ton or better, so cooling is applied where they are being built... no volunteers to haul them to the water just fer a quick dunk. Of the three dugouts we have made, one was so checked (cracked) that it was donated for a permanent (dry) display. the other two get used a lotwhen summer is here. they are very heavy and don't do rapids well, is a lot of work to get the finished product.

Lee Newbill

The boats' particulars were taken from a drawing in the Dory Book by Gardener. You can probably find it in a good library but if not I' sure Amazon or some other book seller can get it for you. I didn't have any problem finding it. It is called the 19' heavy bateau and can be found on page 140 in the Dory Book. The plans for the 6 hr canoe are available and mentioned in various places but the best starting place is Wooden Boat Mag. which you can pick up at a good Mag. Rack. In it will be info on how to order a catalogue of their plans and such.

Craig

I know this isn't directly applicable, but I recently watched a show about the Amazonian Indians using a centuries only method of burning out canoes, and they DID use water to stop burning when it got too deep into the wood, and also to solidify the burned areas. To start, they would hack a groove into the top of a log, then pour coals into the groove and let them burn out the green wood, clean out the ash and add more coals when those cooled, etc. etc., until they approached the depth they wanted. Then they would scrape out the final interior shape with knives and sticks. Hope this is of some help.

Barony P. Fife

Since this boat uses plywood rather than plank construction it's seams will not swell tight naturally. I closed all seams with construction epoxy and tapped all seams on the outside with 4" fiber glass tape in resin. I didn't glass the hull so-as-to keep the weight down. All wood surfaces inside and out were drenched in wood preservative which I think contains copper. I painted the boat inside and out with a paint the paint store recommended for concrete floors since it is formulated for heavy traffic and moisture resistance. The wood fittings that I wanted to leave natural got a few coats of clear marine varnish. I would estimate that I have about $300 max. in materials but Tom Crooks and I were able to get the marine plywood for about $15 a sheet because it had some minor edge damage. A good grade of exterior plywood will work just fine if sealed well and the frames can be made of almost any 1" by 2"-3" material you can find. I used pine but Oak would be a bit stronger though heavier and I can see lumber salvaged from Pallets as working just fine. This is borderline for historic content so I hope no one is offended by the use of the space.  The 19'r probably weighs close to 250+ just guessing. It has a load capacity up around 900 to 1000 lb. If I built another one I would consider making it a bit wider on the bottom and amid ships at the gunwales. I thought I would be able to haul it around on top of the
truck but ended up using one of those small utility trailers with a longer tongue. before we put the cedar floor boards two guys could pick it up standing at the ends. I really encourage folks to consider making a wood boat for this game. It sure puts a whole new slant on how you feel about a water trip. I remain.......

Capt. Lahti'

I think by now we have a better idea of what a vessel wanted should be like for handling the variety of chores wanted: (capable of being paddled, rowed or sailed when conditions were right, yet light enough that a couple of men could handle it for portages or loading and unloading without a lot of effort), and fit the 1810-1820 time frame. Looks like what Capt. Lahti' has told us about his small skiff, its construction, weight and load capability, what more can be said than I want one.

I would like to thank the gentlemen that responded to my search: Capt. Lahti', Allen Chronister, Lee Newbill, Hardtack, Don, Jerry Anderson, Michael Pierce, Jeff Powers, Matt Richards, and Barney P. Fife, if I missed anyone else I'm sorry. Thank You.

 

"light up your pipe, enjoy the fire...."

Copyright 2005 - "North American Frontiersmen" with guidance of "Council of Elders" member Walt Hayward.

All Rights Reserved.