Monday, July 31, 2017

"Much tormented with Ticks" . . and Occam's Razor

"Friday, May 26th, 1775. Proceeded up the River. Met 2 Canoes bound to Redstone. Shot an old Buffalo Bull that had his ears marked. Passed a bad rapid which took all our force to tow our Vessel up. Much tormented with Ticks, a small animal like a Sheeplouse, but very tough skin. They get on you by walking in the Woods in great numbers, and if you don't take care to pick them off in time they work their heads through the skin and then you may pull the body away but the head will remain in the skin, which is very disagreeable. If they are not removed in a short time they grow like the Ticks on a Dog. Beechy bottoms. Camped at the mouth of Elk Horn Creek. Our company still continues to be crabbed with one another and I believe will be worse as Bread grows scarce."  N. Cresswell journal

 When this post was first conceived, I thought I'd do it mostly to the effect of how a day spent in the woods went.  Something to the effect of guys that are really interested in research and documentation (call them progressives if you like) can also go out and do stuff, and aren't afraid to get dirty and destroy their gear.  Something to convince the masses that research + woods time = sublime.   So I went to the woods today, packed my gun and wallet with bare essentials and hoped for something awesome to happen to write about.  Nothing awesome commenced.  Haha, that's the way it goes when a feller needs an adventure I suppose.  I missed two squirrels, both about 35 to 40 yards.  I walked and walked, sometimes through some pretty rough and brushy, rocky ground.  I sipped some rum and I took a nap.  Admired some wild flowers, watched some birds.  Sweated my butt off, made a little fire, melted some lead and poured some ball.  I cut an X in a tree and shot at it.  My camera battery died and I didn't get to take nearly as many pictures as I wanted to.  Managed to appropriate 47 ticks, 16 of them on my nether regions.  (I counted as I plucked merely for purposes of this write up . . . . )

 But as I sit and ponder on a pretty uneventful day (granted a ton of fun) it strikes me that all too often in the living history world we want some crazy epic time in the woods - with weather as spiteful as Satan, awesome shots on game, a bunch of cool pictures to show everybody what we did, maybe some huge revelation on a better way to use our gear.  I've decided to take a different tone with this post, something simpler.  Something more in tune with the principle of Occam's Razor.

 Period journals are rife with pretty boring days.   Mundane days.  If we as living historians wish to accurately portray these men of long ago, we need to embrace the mundane.  It's essential.  There is dirt to be found in a boring day, and boring day dirt on gear and clothes adds credibility.  The sweat adds honest dark lines along a shirt collar.  Fresh dings against the butt of a rifle convey a sense of a guy who does more than mowed lawn events.  So my plea is this - Get out, do something.  Yes, it's summer and there is ticks and skeeters.  But the truthful sense it adds to gear is second to none.  That's all it takes, get out and do it.

-Matthew Fennewald-

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Voices from the Backcountry : Nicholas Cresswell, 1775

Tuesday, June 27th, 1775. Very stiff current all day, heavy showers and very sultry. It is a custom with 
our company, as soon as it begins to rain to strip naked and secure their clothes from the wet. I have 
attempted it twice to-day, but the drops of rain are so disagreeable to my skin, that it obliged me to put 
on my shirt. Killed a Faun. Saw a Bear cross the River, but could not get a shot at her. All hands very 
weary and very crabbed. 

-Nicholas Cresswell

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Breech-clouts and Leggins...or...Let's Get the Basics Right!

 "On their legs they have Indian boots, or leggings, made of coarse woolen cloth, that either are wrapped around loosely and tied with garters, or are laced upon the outside, and always come better than half way up the thigh . ."  -J. Smyth,  Tour in the United States of America

"we dressed them uniformly in the Indian manner, with breech-clouts, leggins mockersons and green shrouds . . "  -J. Smith, Life and Travels of Colonel James Smith

"The rest wear breechclouts, leggins and hunting shirts . ."  -Journal of Nicholas Cressell

"instead of stockings they wear Indian leggings . ."  -Travels of Johann David Schoepf

"Deerskin leggings were fastened at the top to a body belt on which the scabbard would also be attached.  The leggings were then tied around below the knee."  -Nathan Boone interview in the Draper manuscripts

"It was the silly fashion of those times for the riflemen to ape the manner of savages . ."
"By-and-by Morgan came, large, a commanding aspect, and stentorian voice.  He wore leggins, and a cloth in the Indian style."  -J. Henry, An Accurate and Interesting Account of the Hardships and Sufferings of That Band of Heroes, Who Traversed Thru The Wilderness in the Campaign Against Quebec in 1775

All of the above quotes are in the context of white dudes in the back country wearing leggings, and several include a breech clout as well.  And this is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are TONS of quotes describing this, but my favorite thing isn't to sit in front of a computer and type, so I will hope those quotes will be sufficient for the purposes of this post.
The question that naturally follows is, what exactly are "Indian leggings"?  And what does a correct breech clout look like?

"They go without any covering for the thigh, except that before spoken of, round the middle, which reaches down half way the thighs; but they make for their legs a sort of stocking either of skins or cloth; these are sewed as near to the shape of the leg as possible, so as to admit of being drawn on and off.  The edges of the stuff of which they are composed are left annexed to the seam, and hang loose for about the breadth of a hand: and this part which is placed on the outside of the leg, is generally ornamented by those who have any communication with Europeans, if of cloth, with ribbons or lace, if of leather with embroidery and porcupine quills curiously colored."  -J. Carver, Travels through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768

"Above the moccasin all the Indians wear what are called leggings, which reach from the instep to the middle of the thigh.  They are commonly made of blue or scarlet cloth, and are formed so as to sit close to the limbs, like the modern pantaloons; but the edges of the cloth annexed to the seam, instead of being turned in, are left on the outside, and are ornamented with beads, ribands, &C., when the leggings are intended for dress.  Many of the young warriors are so desirous that their leggings should fit them neatly, that they make the squaws, who are the tailors, and really very good ones, sow them tight on their limbs, so that they cannot be taken off, and they continue to wear them constantly till they are reduced to rags.  The leggings are kept up by means of two strings, one on the outside of each thigh, which are fastened to a third, that is tied around the waist.  They also wear round the waist another string, from which are suspended two little aprons, somewhat more than a foot square, one hanging down before and the other behind, and under these a piece of cloth, drawn close up to the body between the legs, forming a sort of truss. The aprons and this piece of cloth, which are all fastened together, are called the breech cloth."  -I. Weld, Travels through the States of North America

I'll start with the breech clout.  A strip of wool stroud (a decent quality broadcloth is a great choice for the modern living historian), historically about 8 to 12 inches wide and somewhere around 50 ish inches long.  Adair says they are " a quarter of an ell wide, with an ell and a half long . ." which comes out to 11" by 68".  This is much longer than other descriptions and period images of them, as well as all original examples I am aware of.  In period imagery they seem to end around mid thigh on front and back both.  Some shorter than that, very few longer.  Blue predominates the color choice.  Red comes in second.  But basically strip of WOOL that goes tucked between the legs, up over a waist tie of some sort, then hangs over like an apron in front and back.

 A quick word about "hourglassed" breech clouts - don't do it!  For what ever reason it's become popular in the living history world to cut the middle part of breech clouts into an hour glass shape, tapering in a semi circle shape on either edge.  I suppose the idea is to do away with extra material and make them more comfortable.  This extra material gets tucked up around your junk though, and keeps everybody from seeing more than they want to.  So don't do it!  Not cause it's farb (it is) but because I don't want to see that much of any other dude.  Also, stick with wool.  Broadcloth.  Stroud with a list if you can afford it or have the fortitude to make it yourself.  Stay away from linen.  Good wool.  (I've rocked my wool clout more than once in 100 degrees plus and high humidity for days on end and found it rather pleasant.  You can too!)

Leggings.  Another piece of clothing, much like a breech clout in that it is incredibly simple - but so much wrong in the world of living history.  Imagine a rectangle of wool, once again broadcloth or stroud, or BRAINTAN (german tan doesn't cut it, it looks like german tan, not Indian dressed skin) that will be folded in half hot dog bun style, and the leg of the wearer slipped down it it.  It goes from the ankle to anywhere from just above the knee to mid thigh.  It is sewn with a running stitch down the outside of the leg.  Sewn with a running stitch TIGHTLY to the leg.  Baggy leggings scream 1990's bad reenacting.  So sew them tightly.  A good way to do this is sit on the floor, legs stretched out in front, put the wool around your leg and either staple them down or make a chalk line.  Then go back and follow the staples sewing and pulling staples as you go, or follow the chalk line.  I leave about a 6 inch section at the ankle not sewn so as to be able to slip them on and off.  If sewn tight all the way down, they can be all but impossible to put on and take off.  Hooks and eyes down there is a way to close them (and historically correct!) as is wrapping with wool tape or a braintan wang.  I wear my moccs flaps up so that takes care of the opening for me.   The leggings should retain a flap around 4 ish inches that run down the outside of the leg.  They should also be worn with garters.  (Garters are a whole other subject, but stick with wool tape, brain tan wang, or correctly done finger woven ones.  Thick wool yarn is a huge red flag so don't do it when it comes to garters.  I'm unaware of a single pair of quilled garters that are original to the 18th century)  Garters should be tied above the calf, below the knee.  Not above the knee on the thigh.  (Why do I even need to say this?  Because I've seen the facebook pictures . . )  Leggings also have a strip or strap (or two in a y shape) that goes up from the top, along the outside of the thigh and ties to a belt or waist thong to help hold them up.  Wool colors are once again - blue.  red.  green.  white.  And a few other weird ones but not as common as those.

Last but not least, a smattering of period images of Indian leggings and breech clouts, a long with a few original examples.

-Matthew Fennewald-

Thursday, July 20, 2017

"to tie or strap up our packs..."

"Sappers String - what we used to have to tie or strap up our packs with, blankets, or budgets, or anything of that kind.  String about three fingers wide and then tapering off to go behind.  Made of nettles I suppose, stuff like hemp, platted, wide to go across their shoulders and then a string from there out. . . . . . . . . . Had gotten the string I think from the Indians."  William Clinkenbeard interview in the Shane portion of the Draper manuscripts.

Bedrolls!  It's one of those extremely critical items of gear for going out and doing much of anything.  Mine consists of two handwoven blankets, usually two pairs of spare moccs rolled inside, and a hemp tumpline.  While my intention of this write up is more to show the "how" of how i go about tying up the tumpline to the blankets, I feel some explanation and myth dispelling is in order too.  

The blankets -  I use two center seam blankets most of the time, both white in color, one thick but not too big with blue stripes on the ends, the other thin but larger with red stripes on the end.  If the weather is going to get below 15 to 20 degrees at night I usually add another blanket to this.  Think what you want but I'm no one blanket man.  I like to sleep at night.  When I started this game, I was scared to use white blankets.  I'd heard all sorts of horror stories of the bugs eating me alive with white.  I've found this to not be true.  The skeeters (at least around here) will find you and eat you alive at night no matter what color the blanket.  And white, for me at least, is the best choice because of the historical record.  White blankets predominate every thing I've ever seen.  
The choice of two blankets is as follows.  In warmer weather in this part of the country, bad weather can pop up at a moments notice.  The smaller blanket easily serves as a ghetto rigged lean to cover to keep hail and rain off.  The thinner blanket keeps the skeeters at bay and doesn't smother me too bad with heat.  Cooler weather means not as bad of storms, but I really enjoy having an extra thicker layer between me and and cold ground at night.  
The moccasins - A minimum of two pairs of moccs are at all times inside my bedroll.  I'd prefer about 5 extra pairs at all times, but don't always have that luxury due to lack of extra pairs laying around.  Real brain tan moccs soak up water like a sponge, and wear out about as fast chainsaw chains on rocks.  Wet worn out moccasins are not fun.  
The tumpline - My tumpline is one I twined and wove out of hemp.  It's about 21 feet long total.  The center section is equal to my three middle fingers in width and about 20" long.  That part is twined, tapers down to a diagonal finger woven portion, then braided at the tail splits.  Since I've made this tumpline I've learned a few things about proper construction, and have plans to make a newer better one very soon.  Evolving, progressing!  (it's my hope if nothing else is conveyed in these blog posts, that the take away is always trying to improve and do better)

The how -

Step 1.  I start by folding my blankets long ways (hot dog bun style!) and then cross ways (hamburger bun style!).  I lay one on top of the other, with the moccs piled up near one end, and lay the tails of my tumpline across this end with a big loop extending towards me where the burden portion is.  

Step 2.  I make one fold over the tumpline tails, with the moccasins right in front.

Step 3.  I roll the blankets up all the way to the end keeping it as compressed and tight as possible, and knock off leaves and random debris from the ground as I go.

Step 4.  I pull the tails of the tumpline, cinching it down, leaving the burden portion that goes across my chest the length of I can fit my elbow against the bedroll and my palm hits the center burden part.

Step 5.  I bring the tails back into the bedroll and go around it once, bringing them back under the initial wrap.

Step 6.  I start really cinching it down tight, and bring the tails of the tumpline into the center and cross them.

Step 7.  I come around the center portion of my bedroll with the tails, flip it over, and cross them again.

Step 8.  I come back around to my starting side of the tumpline tying by coming across the bedroll horizontally, across the ends.  

Step 9.  I do several wraps around and around the existing tumpline tie on the horizontal plane, rather than tying any knots.  I've found hemp swells with moisture and a bedroll with knots can be hard to untie after a rain storm. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

"...A Wallet Well Stored..."

"A heavy blanket, rifle, hatchet, knife, powder horn and powder, bullets, extra gunflint, a picker, a wallet well stored with parched corn, some salt and a tin cup."  
- description of gear used in a 1770 expedition  
- Life and times of Gen. James Robertson

"They take about a gallon of corn and parch it well, then they pound it fine and mix it with as much sugar as would make it sweet enough for coffee, then put it in a buckskin bag and stow it in their knapsack; then take a chunk of raw bacon, wrap it up well and stow this in their knapsack.  A tin cup was tied to the strap of their knapsack.  this store is for a reserve - 
never to be used till there is no other shift; with a tomahawk and a butcher's knife and rifle gun and blanket, this is the equipage of an Indian campaign."   
Reminiscences of a Pioneer, by Thomas Rogers Sr.  

 I try to tailor my gear to each excursion, or event, trek, or activity.   And this tailoring is a constant evolution as my knowledge or what is "right" changes, combined with past experiences of what works for me.  

It is my hope that a quick overview of what I carry, and how, will be useful to some.  This is certainly not a tell all end all, and my gear is bound to change some the next time I go out -  my goal is to be always learning, always evolving.  

My bullet pouch contains just the bare essentials and has no inside pockets.  A turn screw, extra flints, loose round ball, patching,  and a fire kit sit in the bottom.  An antler measure and a pick hang from a wang attached to the strap.  The cows knee is usually tied to the wrist of my gun.  

I carry my bedroll, which always consists of two blankets - both centerseam, handwoven wool, one heavy but smaller, the other thin but large - with a hemp tumpline.  The tumpline is worn across my chest and goes over both shoulders with the bedroll snug against my upper back.  Inside the bedroll is a minimum of 2 extra pairs of moccasins.

Over my left shoulder, with a single twist through the middle portion, I carry my wallet.  Inside the wallet is all my food, and just necessary day to day stuff.  Linen sacks contain deer jerky, parched corn flour, coffee, shredded up bark for fire tinder, extra lead and a bullet mold, my toilet supplies, and other random foodstuffs such as nuts or apples (depending on season and my stomachs mood when I'm packing).  Raw meat is wrapped in linen scraps.  A small buckskin bag holds tobacco.  I also carry a small bottle of bear grease and greasy rag for gun maintenance,  a bundle of buckskin and linen scraps with thread, needle, and awl inside for trail repairs.  A brass kettle and hot dipped tin cup round out my cooking gear.  A larger buckskin bag holds a Katadyn water filter.  Extra water is carried in a simple gourd canteen on a cordage strap.  

I make two compromises to history in my gear.  One is in my toilet linen sack.  Inside I carry a small mirror, eye glasses in a buckskin cover, extra contacts, and contact solution covered up with a linen sack.  The justification I use on this is pretty straightforward - I don't believe it would have been historically common for the type of person I usually portray to have worn eye glasses, and thus contacts make more sense.  It stays hidden away till night, at which point if with a group, I discreetly remove my contacts, don my glasses for sleeping in case of a 3 a.m. pee time, and put the contacts back in with the sunrise.  The other obvious compromise is the Katadyn filter.  This probably doesn't even need an explanation.  Most areas I go on, the water is not safe even after boiling, due to high agricultural run off.  I've been water sick before, and hope to never have that experience again.

-Matthew Fennewald-

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Ambush at Welbourne Farm : An Account of my First Immersion Event

The Only Picture I was Able to Get

We arrived in the dark and I quickly got out of the vehicle, dressed and threw my gear on and trudged off into the dark to find the camp of the Augusta County Militia that I was told was only just down the hill. It was my first immersion event and I was wide eyed and ready for action. I was met by dark figures huddled around some candle light. I was introduced to Alan Kraus, the ACM's fearless leader and others. After everyone seemed present and accounted for, plans were made to take a hike overland to a creek where we were sure the Crown Forces would cross the next morning. 6 hours in a car and now I was about to take a walk that seemed to last forever. We hiked through the fields and woods as the rumblings of the retired horses that roamed there went barreling past us in the dark. Arriving at the creek we made plans for our ambush of the redcoats the following morning. Four of us would take the bank and fire first. Behind us was a short field and then a wooded hill. The rest of our boys would be on the hill while 3 men would be off on our far left flank and would fire a warning if the British crossed further down the creek. After the plans were made, we made our way back to camp for a restless and cold night of sleep. I only brought a single blanket and suffered for it.

 Before dawn I was awoken by stirring men and we threw on our gear and made the same hike to the creek. We got ourselves in position and began to wait. Myself and 3 others including Alan, hunkered down behind some fallen trees and before I knew it, I had fallen asleep. I awoke to Alan pointing and saying "Psst...Jake. Pssst!" I looked up to see several Tory militia men moving slowly on the other side of creek. Alan said "Take the shot when you can." I leveled my musket as one of them walked right into the open. "BANG!" He fell back with a start and the rest of our boys opened up. They returned fire. We sat tight, exchanging shots for about 15 minutes. Suddenly, on our left flank, we heard our boys fire a shot. As we looked, we could see a line of red streaming into the field and skirting up the bank towards us. That was our signal to get out of there. We fell back to our right and up the far side of the hill. The Redcoats began to engage our men up in the woods. We didn't wait. We ran back to our rally point, an old stone bridge about a half mile from where we laid the ambush. We waited as several men began to trickle in. We were sure that some of them had been captured on the hill. I was sent back to camp to camp in hope that some more reinforcement's had arrived. I will never forget as I ran back, looking across the field and seeing a small company of American Dragoons loping towards me. They looked so impressive. I briefed their Captain on what had happened and they rode towards the fray to get a closer look.

 We all ended up making it safely back to camp and had a little down time.

 Our second engagement was fairly successful. With the help of the Dragoons shielding our movements we were able to move quickly and reposition ourselves. We did this with much success but the numbers were in their favor and we gave ground. They never seemed that interested in attacking us or trying to find us. They kept up their mission of securing an area and holding it.

 Finally that evening we decided to go out one last time before it got dark. Will Gore lead our little column and I was near the front. After some hiking, we came across two Torrie's standing in a field. They didn't see us at first and Will thought we could run them down and capture them. He and I took off running as fast as we could. They saw us, fired and retreated across the field, into the woods and down a hill. We stopped and waited for our boys to catch up. We looked to our right and suddenly saw our Dragoons opening fire on the Kings 8th Regiment. It was such a majestic sight. Spits of fire against the dead foliage of the Virginia countryside in November, with a pink sunset looming over head. We quickly moved down the hill and were suddenly engaged with the 40th of Foot, the 17th and a company of Highlanders. We were able to drive off the 40th and 17th. As we pushed forward, Alan's dog, a terrier, rushed at the 40th barking. One of the men said, "Grab that dog!' Alan replied, "Go ahead, grab him! He'll bight the hell out of you!"

 We looked down below us and the Highlanders were trapped by the creek to their rear as we came rushing down the hill completely enveloping them. They formed a square and as we moved in a Torrie ran up from behind and fired at me. I ducked down and when his firearm discharged, myself and another rushed him and captured him! Unfortunately he was not our prisoner for long as the 40th and 17th had returned and began pushing us out. We were all nearly captured and truly ran for our lives through the thickets back to camp. We kept watch that night, but they never came near our camp.

 It was one of the greatest experiences of my reenacting career and I am very thankful for it.


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Photo Dispatches from Martin's Station

After the Raid

Shirttail Mess Members, Charles Winchester & Jake Book

Members of the August Country Militia and our own Terry Perkins

Members of the Carolinas Militia Wrestling

Wrestling continued...

Jake Book watching the Carolina Boys Wrestle