Saturday, July 6, 2019

The History of the Shirttail Mess

Well, it’s a been a while. We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus with the blog due to all sorts of real life happenings. Sometimes the hobbies get put on hold, but hopefully we’ll be rolling out some new blog posts in the future.

 I wanted to give a little story and history about the origins and the purposes of the Shirttail Mess and what it was that caused us to start the group in the first place.
The First Photo of The Shirttail Mess
 The story begins with Myself and Matthew Fennewald. After watching the discussions and seeing the poor quality at many of the Western Theatre events (Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois etc.) we decided it was time there be a group of individuals doing well researched impressions at said events. The impressions everybody claimed to be doing, but done with the most recent and best research available to us. We relied heavily on the research of Fred Lucas, Nathan Koebuck and a host of others who have dedicated their free time to wandering the ancient paths of ledgers, diaries, textiles and other archival material. It was our hope to make a place for that research as applied to the western frontier and backcountry of the 1760s and 1770s.

 But it was also our goal to not just compile this research, but to live it and represent it at events all across the Midwest. To create our own space within the walnut, the oiled haversacks and the baggy leggings. To show people a better way and to do so by participation in the events that were riddled with such caricatures. Not in a combative way, but to show up and let what we were doing speak for itself. 

 Our goal as listed on the Facebook group and on this blog was to recreate Soldier and Civilian of the period. Not to have a Hawkeye complex about “I ain’t in no damn militia” simply because we didn’t want to mix it up with the farbs during a cheesy pitched battle on a mowed fort lawn. But to form our own militia and be active. To show that the common criticism that “Progressives just want to stand over there and not be involved” wasn’t true of us (or really any "progressive" reenactors I've ever known). This was discussed multiple times and it was agreed that this is what we intended to do. 


This image was made by Matthew Fennewald as a protest against bias towards the myths of the frontier era. The message of the Shirttail Mess is to put your own desires aside and let the research speak. 

 Then along came the great Internet Raid. A certain Facebook group run by people I will leave unnamed became the place where good research and discussion went to die. Censorship was commonplace. So we revolted. We made a big mess for them to clean up posting dozens of images of our “Crush Cognitive Bias” flyer all at once and after 10 min were promptly removed and blocked from the group. 

 This is when things started to shift in our focus. We became a rather combative group (not really on purpose) with a bit of a reputation that started to leave a bad taste in peoples mouth. Some of these things got back to me from people attending events. We were getting a certain publicity, but not the kind that screams of respect and longevity. That calmed down eventually and I’d say we’re out of the woods on that. 

 But during that time the tone of the group changed. We went from a group that was actively seeking to do soldier and civilian impressions to a group of “sharing research” and that’s been about all we’ve done in the last 2 years. My own frustration at this has caused me to take a step back and reevaluate the mess and see what could be done. It sort of has become its own animal and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s also not what I intended from the outset. Yes, I want the Shirttail Mess to be known for the research we share. But I also want it to be known for participation at events. For doing our own immersion events that inspire people to want to step up their game so they can be involved! 

Shirttail Mess at Fort De Chartres 2017

 Going forward, my hope is to be more active. Life has gotten the best of me lately, but next year the hope is to get out a bit more. 

 I’m calling all able bodied men. If you want to see the Shirttail Mess at events, being soldiers, being civilians, whatever the event calls for then don’t hesitate! Get involved! Hit me up about what you’d like to do and let’s try to get it rolling! 

 -Jake 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

They Used What Was Available....And We Know What it Was!

A Poorly Researched Impression of one of Morgans Hunters 


"They used what was available"  

  You've probably heard this said before. A very true statement that is used to justify the weirdest fantasy impressions ever, like the one pictured above. Yes that's me back when I based my impression on nothing more than what other people around me were doing and what I read in a Pilgrims Journey (with all due respect to Mr. Baker, but the research has come a long way since then.)

 The beauty of it is.....  WE KNOW WHAT THEY HAD AVAILABLE!!!  Ledgers, journals, inventories, period artwork, and existing artifacts paint a pretty clear picture leaving little to guess on.  Modern publications, google, and facebook groups leave this info literally seconds away from any person in the developed world.

A Well Researched Impression of one of Morgans Hunters


Following that line of thought lets expand on a specific portrayal and what it's based on and in - Morgan's hunters.  Dudes on the farthest reach of the frontier in the late 1760's hunting full time for a living.   The men employed (usually on a monthly salary) by the trading firm of Baynton, Warton and Morgan to supply meat to the soldiers in the Illinois country and through out the Ohio river valley region.  It'd be an easy portrayal to base in all sorts of conjecture and weird material culture, but thankfully they used what was available and we know what they commonly purchased.

Leggings -
May 4, 1768 Edward Ashton purchased "1 pr leggings"
April 20, 1768 Samuel Black purchased "1 pr leggings"
July 26, 1768 Jacob Drinnen purchased "1 pair leggings"
August 4, 1768 Jacob Drinnen purchased "1 pr red stroud leggings"
April 21, 1768 John Higgins purchased "1 pr leggings"
(there is a TON  more but hopefully you get the idea.  Premade wool leggings were commonly used by these guys)

Breach clouts -
April 20, 1768 John Higgins purchased "1 breech clout"
April 20, 1768 Samuel Black purchased "1 breech clout"
April 21 1768 Michael Caple purchased "1 breech clout"
(and on and on and on.  Breach clouts = common.  These too were I'm 99.9% sure wool.  most likely stroud)

Check shirts -
April 21, 1768 Valentine Schope purchased "1 check shirt"
April 21, 1768 John Higgins purchased "1 check shirt"
July 16, 1767 Simon Girty purchased "3 yds of check" "thread" and "making of a shirt"
July 26, 1768 Jacob Drinnen purchased "1 check shirt"
(once again, on and on.  check shirts = common.  A note on check, this should be window pane check, not the big squares of blue and white as is often seen and far more appropriate for curtains than shirts)

Rum -
Too much to even start.  Basically 98% of the hunters working for Morgan were heavy heavy drinkers and enjoyed booze every night, most commonly rum.

Combs.  Shoes.  Hunting frocks (!!!!! What What??!!  Hunting frocks in the 60's and not split open smocks????!!!  Heresy I know.)  Deer hides (for moccs is my theory).  Knives (TRADE KNIVES, not woodberry knives).  Tom hawks.  Pipe tom hawks.  Soap.  Chocolate.  Match coats.  Garters (including "garters of an Indian".  Sorry to the quill workers out there, but these were finger woven, not quilled).  Hat lace.  More rum. Rifles.  Blanket coats.  And more rum.  = all common.

So yeah.  They used what was available.  As should we who choose to portray them.  The chore for us is just figuring out what that was and it really isn't too hard.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Monday, September 11, 2017

"a very nice Indian shot pouch with him . . . . don't know where he got it."


 Shot pouches are one of the most basic items for anybodies gear, and yet done so wrong so often.  There are very few surviving examples to base one on is a big part of the problem, and lots of misdated ones to go wrong on.  My hope with this write up is, by showing the two bags I use, along with a smattering of period images and a few period accounts, help dispel some shot pouch myths.


"My powder horn and ball pouch always contained more or less ammunition, I found them empty.  My knife also, which I commonly carried appended to the strap of my shot pouch, was gone."  
- A Narrative of the Captivity and Adventures of John Tanner

"We sold the Indean plunder in the fort on Monday at Vandue and it fetched fifty shillings for each man. . . . . . . I bought some of this plunder, some nise wamp um and a shot bag and powder horn ect."
-Daniel Trabue interview in the Draper manuscripts




The first bag i use is one that I've shown before and is just a simple brain tan pouch with knife attached.  It is my take on a plain jane simple Indian made shot pouch.  Not really a lot to say about it other than it works.  And I've taken a few spills, but have yet to have the bag spill anything even with out a button.


"He went up that time, clear up as far as the mouth of the Kanawha. . . . . . Brought back a very nice Indian shot pouch with him, all beaded off; don't know where he got it."
-William Clinkenbeard interview in the Shane portion of the Draper manuscripts





The second pouch I use is one inspired by an original finger woven bag and was made by Alec Fourman.  No inside pockets on this one either, but still an excellent working pouch.  A few thoughts here on finger woven bags - there is a lot of bad out there as far as attempts at repro's go.  Think small yarn, oblique woven, with the beads woven in also - sometimes on a carrier strand of linen thread.  Most originals are lined.  They are constructed in one of two ways, either woven in the round or woven as a panel and then folded and sewn up the sides.  Some originals have quill work on the bags, straps, and/ or fringe and many have tin cones with deer hair.  (thanks Fourman for stopping hay work for a minute to get your brain picked!)  DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT use a piece of wool fabric with beads sewn on and think it in any way resembles a finger woven bag.

Other thoughts on what to avoid when it comes to common shooting pouches on the 1770's frontier - Incorrect leather, i.e. chrome tan.  Rings on the strap.  Modern buckles.  Giant yarn straps.  Inkle loom straps.  Complex construction technique.  Asymmetrical flaps.  There's a few original leather ones from the period and a couple cloth ones.  This is a whole other subject than the purpose of this blog post, but there are certainly other options, and some probably better for wide spread representation than the two I use.  At the end of the day, if using the pouch for living history, base it off an original.

And last but not least, a shot pouch is not a carry all purse.  It's sole purpose is to carry stuff to make the gun go boom.  Bullets, flints, turnscrew and vent pick.  But there's always a guy who just have to have something odd in his bag, so here's a few quotes to help that guy out . . . .


"Wymore had a pocket compass in his shot bag."  
"My father bought the first pig to Lexington, gave $5 for it and a a chew of tobacco.  He put it in his shot bag and brought it home."
- Wymore interview in the Shane portion of the Draper manuscripts

"At the time he had an Indian scalp in his shot pouch."
- Peter Cutright interview in the Shane portion of the Draper manuscripts

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Frontiersmen Weren't Special Forces Ninja Warriors : PART 1


A Heroic and Romantic 19th Century Depiction of Daniel Boone fighting an Indian

 It's very easy for us to view the frontiersmen of the past as rugged individuals, out for days alone in the wilderness like some kind of specials forces ninja able to smell an Indian from a mile away and being completely self sufficiant, cut off from the rest of society in some quest for solitude.

 This idea was perpetuated by wild stories of Daniel Boone and Davy Crocket in the 19th century and became a popular part of our American identity.

 But how true is this rugged individualism?

 Daniel Boone said later in his life :


Many heroic actions and chivalrous adventures are related of me which exist only in the regions of fancy. With me the world has taken great liberties, and yet I have been but a common man.

— Daniel Boone

 Let's look at just a few things commonly thought about Frontiersman and see if we can't dispel some of the myths. I will be using the Cressweel Diary as my main source for this particular write up.

 #1 . Frontiersmen  were Skilled Expert Woodsmen

 While in many cases this could be true, was it normative? Let's look at some examples of Longhunters being somewhat inept and some of the things they didn't prepare for.

 Wednesday, May 24th, 1775. Land in general covered with Beech. Limestone in large flags. Few rivulets empty into the River, or few springs to be seen, which makes me suppose the country is badly watered. Camped at a place where the Buffaloes cross the River. In the night were alarmed with a plunging in the River. In a little time Mr. Johnston (who slept on board) called out for help. We ran to his assistance with our arms and to our great mortification and surprise found one of our Canoes that had all our flour on board sunk, and would have been inevitably lost, had it not been fixed to the other. We immediately hauled our shattered vessel to the shore and landed our things, tho' greatly damaged. It was done by the Buffaloes crossing the River from that side where the vessel was moored. Fortunately for Mr. Johnston he slept in that Canoe next the shore. The Buffaloes jumped over him into the other, and split it about fourteen foot. Mr. Nourse and Mr. Taylor's servants usually slept on board, but had by mistake brought their blankets on shore this evening and were too lazy to go on board again or probably they would have been killed. 


 Sunday, May 28th, 1775. Proceeded up the River. Saw a great many Buffaloes cross the River above us, all hands went ashore to surround them. I kept on the outside of them and shot a fine young Heifer,  some of the rest shot a Cow and Calf. Our stupid company will not stay to jerk any, tho' we are in want of provisions. Camped on a gravelly Island. Beech bottoms and cedar hills with few rivulets.



Saturday, June 24th, 1775. This morning set out to the Lick without breakfast. The reason was we had nothing to eat. Three of us stayed at the Lick till the afternoon waiting for the Buffaloes but saw none. When our out Hunters came loaded with meat and informed us they had killed a Buffalo about five miles off, set out and found it, and loaded ourselves and returned to the Camp, but never so much fatigued before. Having already experienced the want of victuals, was willing to guard against it for the future. I believe I have exerted myself more than I can bear. It is judged by the company that I brought between 70 and 80 pound of meat, exclusive of my Gun and Shot pouch. To add to my distress my shoesoles came off and I was obliged to walk bare foot for six miles. Find myself very unwell. Shot a Pole Cat. One of our Company missing.All the rest (except Tilling and myself) are going this evening, as they expect he is killed by the Indians. But I think he has lost himself in the Woods. Very arduous task to persuade them to stay, as they all expect to be killed before morning. 


Sunday, June 25th, 1775.  Slept little last night, over-fatigued. This morning our company are for setting out immediately, confident that the man is killed. With much importunity prevailed on them to stay till evening but could not persuade any of them to goto seek the man. About sundown they all prepared for going, notwithstanding all that Mr. Tilling and I could say against it, but just as we were going aboard saw the man come along shore to our great joy. It had happened as I supposed--he lost himself in the Woods and had rambled all night. If we had left him, he must have perished. Very unwell.

Out of twelve Guns five were rendered unfit for present use by the wet, mine happened to be in goodorder and I loaded her with an ounce bullet and seven swan shot. The command of our Canoes was given to me. We had only two Guns on board fit for use, Mr. Tilling's and 
mine. Tom O'Brien in the scuffle let his fall in the River and got her filled with water.
















Wednesday, August 16, 2017

...small round hat...



Shawnee Warrior takes a young prisoner
"My Dress consisted of a calico shirt, made by an Indian woman without a collar, which reached below the waist; a blanket over my shoulders, tied round the waist with the bark of a tree; a pair of good buckskin leggings, which covered almost the thighs, given me by the great war chief, a pair of moccasins, in which I had pieces of blue cloth to make my step easier; a breech-cloth between my legs; a girdle round my waist; and a small round hat, in which the Indian placed a black ostrich feather by way of ornament (the smaller the hat the more fashionable)." 
-An Account of my Capture by the Shawnee Indians on the River Ohio in 1788 
by Thomas Rideout


Some recent comments on facebook have led me to post some images and descriptions of small brimmed hats in the period. Please take a look at the following.

1775 Map Image

Phineas Meigs Hat, 1760s

 The following images are in the context of sailors, but it shows some good small brimmed hats. All of these from the 1770s.







  A good mix of hats on the backcountry is good, and among them should be included a short brimmed round hat. 

All kinds of hats 


Monday, August 7, 2017

"to ape the manner of savages . . ." or if James Bond was 18th century frontier what he might of looked like




"Declarant states that he was then stationed at Fort Pitt, the place aforesaid.  Declarant states that in obedience to the order of his said Captain Brady, he poceeded to tan his thighs and legs with wild cherry and white oak bark and to equip himself after the following manner, to wit, a breechcloth, leather leggins, moccasins and a cap made out of a racoon skin, with the feathers of a hawk, painted after the manner of an Indian warrior.  His face was painted red, with three black stripes across his cheeks, which was a signification of war.  Declarant states that Captain Brady's company was about sixty four in number, all painted after the manner aforesaid."  George Roush pension papers.  Early 19th century, describing 1777 campaign


"As we enlisted our men, we dressed them uniformly in the Indian manner, with breech-clouts, leggins, mockesons and green shrouds, which we wore in the same manner that the Indians do, and nearly as the Highlanders wear their plaids.  In place of hats we wore red handerchiefs, and painted our faces red and black, like Indian warriors.  I taught them the Indian discipline, . . . "  James Smith,  LIfe and Travels of Colonel James Smith.   1799 describing the "black boys" of the 1760's


"It was the silly fashion of those times for the riflemen to ape the manner of savages . ."  John Henry, An Accurate and Interesting Account of the Hardships and Suffering of that Band of Heroes, Who Traversed Thru The Wilderness in the Campaign Against Quebec in 1775.  1812


" April 10th. 1758 SIR Yesterday in the afternoon as Mr. Miller & 2 or 3 Countrymen more was riding from here to Jenkins's about 4 miles from this, they were fired at by Cocks & Lane who was lying under the fence, the Countrymen came in on a full gallop and inform'd me that they were fired on by some Indians. I immediately sent out Lieut. Weedon with a Command of Men who followed their Tracts till dark, returning home I sent Ensign Chew out again this morning to Reconnoiter on the other side the Mountain where he fell on their Tracts, and after pursuing them about 10 Miles he found a Beef that they had killed and cut out the Toungue and part of the hind quarters, he continued following them about a Mile farther and discovered a smoke in the hollow of a Mountain, Coming nigh perceived them Bacueing their Meet, they being acquipt every way like Indians and as he had followed their Tracts from pretty near the place where Lt. Weedon left them last night had great reason to believe they were Enemy/and immediately fired on them. Lane was killed Dead and Cocks mortally wounded, they brought to Bells Fort where he left him with a Sergt. & [manuscript torn] Men, he confessed it was their own fault & blame know one else but themselves for the Accident.1 I am Sir Your mo obt. Servt. J. BAKER"



“Lane and Cox appeared to have been disguised as Indians, and it was under the impression they were such that Lieutenant Chew shot them.”—Washington to President Blair, April 17, 1758



"400 Virginian Volunteers, all armed with rifles, and excellent marksmen, dressed alamode de sauvages, with painted shirts and fur caps stained with paint" Scots Magazine, Oct of 1764


"…8 blankets, 7 yards of stroud for making britch cloth and leggings, and 4 shirts for the volunteers of Kentucky" Clark Papers, 1992-2-656-658-July 1, 1779

"Capt. Hugh McGarry request to conductor of store for 20 blankets, 20 shirts, and 9 yards of blue stroud for 20 men of his company of Kentucky volunteers." Clark Papers, 1866-2-573-574-July 5, 1779.

"Honble. Sir: An unlucky, but unavoidable accident happened in the neighborhood of Patterson's fort the other day. The proceedings of an examining court of officers on that occasion (which are herewith sent) will bring your Honor acquainted with the circumstances. I caused a very strict enquiry to be made into the conduct of Mr. Chew, that equal justice might be done to the dead and to the living; and it appeared that Mr. Chew had acted with great spirit and activity in pursuing the tracks of those people; and that in shooting them (altho' it was unlucky in the event) he had done nothing that was not strictly warrantable, Lane and Cox appearing both in dress, disguise and behavior, to be no other than Indians."  JOHN BLAIR Fort Loudoun, April 17, 1758.

"I have had the happiness of seeing Captain Michael Cresap marching at the head of a formidable company of upward of one hundred and thirty men from the mountains and backwoods, painted like Indians, armed with tomahawks and rifles, dressed in hunting-shirts and moccasins; and though some of them had traveled near eight  hundred miles from the banks of the Ohio, they seemed to walk light and easy, and not with less spirit than at the first hour of their march."  Anonymous letter to Philadelphia, 1775



"Joseph Neal a soldier in Col' Rawling's Regiment was brought before the Court on suspicion of Deserting. Denies the Charge. No proof appearing against him & the suspicion arising only from Cutting one of his Ears & painting like the savages."  General court-martial, Col. Stephen Bayard, President Washington Papers.



"Pryor and Hammond were dressed in the Indian style . . . . . . . They passed the Indians without being recognized"  Extract from Hugh Taylor's "Notes".  Frontier Advance on the Upper Ohio, 1778-1779



I'm just going to let the quotes speak alone on this post.  Basically white dudes aping Indians.  Whole companies of them, a pair of buddies, spies . . . As cool of an impression as can be had . . .

And a huge, huge THANK YOU to Fred Lucas.  The man is bottom less pit of awesome resources and research.  99% of this stuff came from him.  Thanks a ton!


Fred Lucas, "the Frontier Yoda"