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Land Cruising - Prospecting:
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 Building Cabins, Tanning, Etc

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 The Red River Trapper

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Building Cabins, Tanning, Etc

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

As I have seen so many inquiries in the HT-T about building cabins, making moccasins and tanning buckskins, and other inquiries, I thought I would write and let them know who don't know what I know. Boys, it takes every-body to know everything so don't be afraid to tell. We trappers are scattered too much to hurt each other with the secrets we tell. The market won't be flooded either. So I will begin to tell a little of what I know. My methods are adapted to rough and mountainous countries where packing on back or horse is required.

First in building a good and cheap cabin, select a place (in the spring of the year), where it is best suited for water and wood. Cut your logs and peel them so when you go to build your cabin in the fall your logs are light and dry and you don't need anybody to help handle them. For tools, an ax, shovel and one and a half inch bit is all that is required. Cut your notches in logs to suit yourself, flat, V shaped or a hollow notch in bottom of log to drop top log in suits me good enough for fast work.

Get on a side hill so that you can get enough excavating for a fire place. This will also save several logs and less danger from fire and from fireplace. I have built a good cabin against a big boulder that had a good smooth side to it. Notch your logs deep enough so that there is about two inches of space between the logs. Be sure and cut out a starter for a small window pane on any side you want to. I prefer the east and west side, also a starter for a door, the smaller the door, the better.

When you have the cabin high enough, lay across small poles for roof. Cover next with branches or bark. Then about a half foot of dirt on top. Then in center of this roof on each end place a log as big as you can get up there. This will give you the slope of the second roof. Put split poles on the log and let them project over the sides of the cabin about a foot and a half. Then when laid close together will turn rain and help hold snow off the bottom roof. I never had one to fail me yet. Chink up cracks on inside of cabin and mud the outside.

If you can't afford to pack up window panes, cut a hole for one any way and split some thin shapes to cover them so that you can take them off and have light in the cabin whenever you want it. For a door split small poles in half and nail together with split strips. For home-made hinges, drill holes in two logs about three feet apart, one on the top and one on the bottom, the same as you would for ordinary hinges. Into these holes drive wooden pegs, flat on one end with holes bored through on ends. Into these holes on ends of pegs fit a small pole pointed on each end. To this pole nail your door and you will have a door that will swing good enough for anybody.

I have seen dry deer and elk hides used for doors, and they were nailed to the cabin on one side, inside of cabin mostly with hair side out, and they would snap shut like a steel trap when you went in and out. But varmints are apt to eat your door up when you are gone for months. Build your fireplaces of rocks and mud, also the chimney. Put your fireplace just opposite the door. It makes a good draft and is not so apt to smoke.

Here I will describe a way to have a home-made stove, those who prefer it. Get a piece of light sheet iron (stove pipe will do) about two feet wide and four feet long. Cut as many holes as you want in this. Cut a cross in one end for stove pipe. Bend up the point of the cross cutting to hold stove pipe. This piece of sheeting will make a good top for your stove. Build the sides of small rocks and mud mixed together, and leave a big hole for a door. This kind of stove is "sure heap good." Try it boys. I have kept fire in one all night without feeding it, between retiring and rising.

TANNING DEER SKINS. Put the hide in a thick soup of ashes, slacked or lime, and leave in that until hair slips easy. Then throw over smooth log and scrape off hair and by using a sharp cornered piece of iron, and by scraping and pressing down real hard, you remove what you call the grain. After this operation, grease flesh side with bacon, use bacon grease, it is best. Hang up for a day or two. Then put in a bucket full of water that has a bar of common laundry soap dissolved in it. Indians use dried brains in water in place of strong soap water.

Leave in this until you can squeeze water through the hide easily. It takes from five to nine days in this solution. Then take it out and wash it out in weak soap water. Then wrap the hide around a sapling and run a stick through and wring it as hard and dry as you can. Then pull and stretch it dry, which will take about three hours hard pulling until it is as soft and woolly as underwear. This produces the fine Indian tanned buckskin. When putting the hide in that soap solution, keep it in a moderate room if possible. It won't take so long.

From these skins tanned this way I have made my own moccasins, gloves, and clothing. Try it boys, and if you don't succeed let me know. You can tan a hide over again if it does not get soft enough the first time. I make the Sioux and Crow moccasin. Can make a pair of low or high moccasins in an hour. By making a pair out of oil cloth and putting that on over your socks and then moccasins over that, you have the best and lightest-and nearly dry foot-wear you ever wore. In hunting and trapping, I wear nothing else. I can walk on to more game with them than with any other footwear.

I used to wear over buckskin moccasins, raw elk or horsehide with the hair outside and slanting backwards, which keeps you from slipping on wet snow, and if ever a marten comes across your trap trail he will follow you up to the first trap. He smells the scent the rawhide leaves on the trail.

WHEN YOUR WEB SHOES GET WET AND SOGGY, oil them in linseed and it sure will make them tight and waterproof. For skees grease the bottom with tallow or candle and burn it in with hot stove lids, and the snow won't stick to them as long as it lasts. For going up hill so that they won't slip backwards, nail a trip of deer hide with the hair on the bottom with the hair backwards. When your skee starts to slip backwards the hair will stick in the snow and in going for-wards you will not notice that it goes harder or heavier.

COYOTE SET. Take your bait, whatever will interest a coyote, put it in a low place that has a few little high mounds within 10 to 25 feet away. Stake the bait down, and if any coyote attempts to eat from it put some old horse shoes or any old iron around the bait to keep him away, and he will sit on these high mounds and howl for some time. Now there is where you want to set your traps. Never set by the bait but set in such places where you think he is apt to sit down to look at it.

Use grapples and dig trap down level with the ground. Put wool or cotton under the pan and cover the whole trap with paper. Then brush dirt over the trap and be sure to cover it good, not too deep. A trap set this way will spring in three inches of snow. Set several traps on such places and also in trails, and I bet you will catch coyotes. That is the way I catch them. ' Did you ever notice how they will walk in your footsteps and how sure they are to step in your tracks? Set a trap in the trail and re-member the place well. Then walk on this trail as natural as possible, and when you come to your trap step lightly on your trap, just enough to leave your footprint, and watch the next coyote how he will step in your footprint and get caught. Try it.

JERKING VENISON AND DRYING FISH. Cut the meat off the bones, cut in long, thin strips, spread on the hide and sprinkle with one and a half pints of salt (more or less according to the size of the deer) on it. Turn the edges of the hide over so as to cover the meat entirely. Leave it that way for an hour or so. Then spread the venison on the drying frame made as follows : Set four crotched stakes five or six feet apart in a square. Take two poles and lay them in the crotches and tack willows or some other sweet wood from one pole to the other, leaving about one inch spaces between them. Lay the meat crossways of the cracks. This frame should be about four feet from the ground. Keep a fire of sweet wood under it for twenty-four hours.

Cut your fish open on the back, remove the backbone and insides, salt real heavy and leave for several hours. Then wash and lay on the drying frame, using fire same as for the venison. If you are where you can put the fish on a drying frame in a smokehouse and use but little fire; do so. Don't attempt to hang them up, for when they get warmed up a little they are very tender and the weight would pull them apart.

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