Scraping and Sewing 1842 Style

On Saturday, Bent’s Old Fort, a national historic site out our way, was in the middle of the Fur Trade Symposium. Mike and I visited with several living history actors in their campground about a quarter a mile away from the fort. They all looked like they were having a good time eating bacon, peacock and drinking freshly ground coffee and “telling lies” as one of the men put it.

Even Rex Rideout, who appeared in the movie “Cowboys and Aliens”, was there entertaining the fur traders on his fiddle.

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The historical actors were quite willing to speak with us. In fact, two men who were tanning a buffalo hide actually lit up when they saw me because back in 1842 women – the Native American  women – were the ones who tanned the hides in camp. They figured that since I was a woman that I would be more than happy to do the same. Well, it took a couple of minutes, but after I put my 2015 feminist feelings about “women’s work” aside for a few minutes, I was more than willing to experience what this type of crafting was like and it was hard work. If I did this regularly, I would never have to worry about flabby arms.

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The tool I am using is a piece of metal attached to an antler. The metal needed frequent sharpening to make the work “easier.” The trappers said that it usually took them about four days to scrape a hide.

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Back in the 1840’s buffalo hide could be traded at the fort for other goods or used, among other things, as a blanket or warm coat.

In another part of the camp an older gentleman was sewing a pair of soft moccasins for himself. To make them he used a nicely tanned leather and dried sinew from a deer for thread.

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He separated the sinew by gently hitting it with a rock. The awl in his right hand was used to poke holes in the leather so that the needle could glide through.

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These soft moccasins were good for walking around the camp but they were not “much good” for walking on rocks, he said. For rocks you had to have the hard soled moccasins.

Historical crafting fascinates me because instead of being able to depend on a nearby craft store or premade synthetic supplies, the crafters of history had to use a little ingenuity to obtain supplies. When hunting, no part of the animal was wasted, sinew was used as thread, the skin and fur were used for clothing and other things. Even the brains were used in the tanning process, the trappers told me as we scraped the buffalo hide. In fact, every animal has enough brains in its head to tan its own hide, one of them told me. I realize that this was a little tongue and cheek but it is interesting how the Creator provides for our needs so well if we just use the intelligence that God also provided.

Tomorrow, I’ll share a blog post that I wrote previously about how Native Americans used plant life to craft items for themselves.

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