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 Getting Lost

 The Red River Trapper

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Getting Lost

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

This is not intended for the man who goes into the wilderness and mountains with a proper compass and maps he don't need any advice. If he has these articles he probably knows how to use them. This is intended for the man who leaves camp for a little hunt or to visit some other camp or to look up strayed stock and gets turned around and the best of them do. I have been there myself. The worst mix-up I ever got in was in a foolish little forty acres of large sized brush and before I knew it I was circling and had to stop myself and lay a straight line the best I could, as the confounded brush was all the same size.

I have known of some sad cases of this getting lost or mixed up. One being the Grohs brothers who were the true discoverers of the Comstock mine. They were two good moral young men, born of good Christian parents, their father being a Pennsylvania clergyman and lived up to it. They went to California in the time of the rush to the placer diggings and not being very lucky started into the mountains to look for quartz and found the monster Comstock vein. They staked off some claims and uncovered their vein and traced it and had some of the ore assayed. Went back to their claim and were doing work on it when one of the brothers stuck his pick in his foot, making a bad wound, from which he died of blood poison. The other brother stayed rather late in the fall as there was a range of mountains to cross to get to Sacramento and winter was on when he started to go out and file on his claims. He was part way across and was overtaken by storms and had to stop and make snowshoes. More storms coming and his grub giving out, in his weakened state he got to circling and lost his sense of direction. He was so far gone when he got out that he died from the exposure and others got the credit for discovering the monster vein of ore. Now mind you, this man was not a tenderfoot by any means. They are not always the ones that get mixed up.

Another case I call to mind, some hunters in the north woods following a wounded moose came upon a man's track who was circling. They followed his trail until dark and returned to camp. The next morning as soon as they could see, they picked up the trail again and found the lost man was following their trail of the day before. Taking the back track to their cabin. they found him lying on the floor dying. He had got to the grub, eaten his fill and it killed him. They could get no word from him as he was too far gone. He had torn off his clothes to wrap around his feet which were frozen almost solid. He was reduced to skin and bone, his face was cracked and black from frost and looked like a death's head, the skin looking like parchment. They gave him a Christian burial but could never find out who he was, altho they tried hard to do so when they came out of the woods and he is a mystery to this day. He had thrown away his gun and there were no papers on him. It was certainly pitiful and all the more, so because it was absolutely unnecessary.

Supposing you leave camp in the morning for a little hunt and when you start to return you don't find camp where you expected to and you find you are all turned around or have lost your sense of direction. Now as soon as you become aware of this fact, stand right there and don't on your life move from that spot. Build a fire and sit down. If you have no matches you are surely out of luck but this will not bother an oldtime trapper or prospector any it will only delay him for a few minutes from lighting his pipe. He will sit down on a log and proceed to take a piece of his old kerchief or part of an old pocket lining, but it will be cotton and not wool, and he will pick it into lint or tow.

Now he will take his knife and a dry limb and whittle some fine trash. If it is storming he will find this under the bark of a dead tree or stump. Next he will proceed to pull a cartridge out of his belt or pocket and pull the bullet out and lay it aside. He will then pour out the powder on a dry leaf or piece of bark. He will now. put back a little powder loose in the cartridge shell and put a piece of tow loosely on top. He will now put the shell in the gun and, holding the muzzle a few feet from his other piece of tow, he will snap the trigger and presto ! his tow is afire, probably both pieces. He will now put his fine trash on and blow it a little and your fire is going and your trouble is over about a fire. You have simply traded a primer and a little black powder for a good warm fire and a good trade you made, did you not?

With a cold night before you and lost at that and perhaps the snow falling, you will now light the little pipe and warm up and as you get warm your think box will go to work about like this. Infantry soldiers march about three miles an hour and when you left camp it was about 7 A. M. and it is now about three or four P. M., and getting dusk so if you have gone straight away from camp you are twenty-four or twenty-seven miles away from it, but you did not go straight away, you went slow and looked for game and you followed that dry trail of a deer until he heard you and went into that swamp and you gave it up and came back across that creek and on down here and it is consider-ably more than an even break that you are not more than six or eight miles from camp at most, but the dickens of it is, which way.

Now here lies the secret. Just stay there until some one comes and tells you. Get some wood together and make a longish fire and let it burn until this long spot is thoroughly warm and dry for you want this place to sleep on. Put a couple of logs or some brush at your back and move your fire a few feet in front and lie down on your warm spot between your fire and logs. I have put in quite a few comfortable nights this way and was not lost either.

Now about 9 P. M. they will begin to think in camp what has become of you and wonder what has happened and by daybreak they will get busy and about this time you want to get busy. Fix up your fire and get some green stuff and make the worst smoke you can and keep it up and fire your gun once in a while and by 9 A. M. I will guarantee there will be some one there to give you the horse laugh' and show you the way home.

But here is another case. Suppose no one knows you are lost. Then you will have to do differently. You certainly know there are several railroads that cross this continent, on the north the C. P. R. R., then the G. N. R. R., then the N. P. R. R., the U. P. R. R., also the St. F. R. R. and S. P. R. R. Now you certainly know which side of one of these roads you are on and somewhere near how far you are from them. Next you must find north and south. This is easily done at sunrise or sunset. If at sun-rise, face the sun and your right hand will point south and at sundown your left will point south. If at night old Polaris or the North Star will wink at you and tell you that is true north and he won't be telling you any lie either. You can find him easy enough. Find the big dipper and the two stars farthest from the handle point right at him, looking from the bottom of the dip-per and the dipper makes a circle around old Polaris every night for fear he will get away. He has been there to my certain knowledge 53 years. An old sailor can tell the time of night pretty close by the dipper.

After you have north and south, lay a stick on the ground that way. Now call to mind care-fully if you have crossed any railroad track lately since you have lost your sense of direction. Supposing you have not and you think the nearest one is south. Go to your stick that lies north and south and select some object as far away as you can see and travel towards it, but before you are quite to it, select another farther on and in a direct line to your course and continue this plan. Take it easy and if you get up against a swamp, make a turn and continue this plan, being careful to note which way you turned, east or west. When you get to the end of the swamp, turn again south, still running your line. Take it easy and drink lots of water if it is good water. If not, keep a pebble in your mouth.

You have the little fish line and some hooks in your pocket that all old time cruisers and trappers carry and you can' find a grub in any old rotten log or stump and that is good for a fish. If you have a gun, keep your eye open for a squirrel, rabbit, partridge or any old thing that will make meat and don't pay too much attention to old logging roads, unless very recently traveled, and it is a sure bet you will come out O. K. long before you strike the railroad.

But by following my advice and laying your line you will come out all right if you don't get rattled and go to running and if you do and ever get out, for God's sake, stay out for a peanut headed man has no right in the woods and should be confined somewhere with the rest of the old women.

The following under the heading "Lost" by A. L. Johnson, appeared in the Hunter-Trader-Trapper, published at Columbus, Ohio, and suits so well here that it is reproduced.

Were you ever lost? The writer has never really been lost, altho a little tangled up a few times. The reason for me not getting lost is that I am something like the Indian who was found wandering aimlessly about the woods. A pale faced trapper happened to find him and asked if he was lost. Mr. Redskin said "no, me no lost, wigwam lost." I have heard of some people that claim they can walk in the wild forest without even a compass, rain or shine, and never fail to go in the right direction. I have tumbled around in the woods some, but must admit my inability to perform such a wonderful feat. I believe if anyone should be able to walk in the woods by merely following the inborn instinct, the Indian would surely be the first one; yet, I know at least one Indian that Was afraid of getting lost.

Some time in December, eight or nine years ago, I was trapping on Mud Hen River, and an old full blooded Indian trapper, (his name was Joe Tucker, I knew him well) came to my camp and told me he had followed a bear, but the snow kept falling so that at last he lost the track entirely. About two weeks after part of the snow melted away, and the first thing I knew Mr. Tucker came along and told me he had come back, picked up the old track and killed his bear. He told me where he had killed it, close to a small lake. I asked him why he didn't go right across from the lake out to the main trail and save two miles walking. His answer was "no sun, no good, bad day, me no compass," and this Indian was a first class trapper, a hustler from way back, and not one of those lazy things lying about the reservation and drawing government rations.

That shows that even an Indian depends on something for his guide. The easiest and quickest way of getting lost is by following the track of some animal during a snow storm. The hunter is constantly looking at the track in the snow, or else watching ahead for the game he is following without paying any attention to the direction he is going. He may encounter well known places and objects during the chase with-out taking any notice of it, as the snow laden timber and bushes changes the appearance and surroundings of everything and makes it look strange. After perhaps a further attempt of bagging his game, he finally gives up and makes for camp. If he has a compass and knows how to use it, or retraces his own trail, good and well, but if he has forgotten his compass in camp and the falling snow has obliterated his track many miles to camp and night fast approaching, then indeed the young hunter will find himself in a rather uncomfortable position.

Of course you know where the camp is, it's right over there the other side of that big bunch of timber, but after going towards "that timber" you, in some mysterious way, find yourself back on your own track. Oh, no, you are not lost yet; you just happened to cross your track a couple of times more and you will begin to feel a little "queer" about it, and at last admit to yourself that you are lost.

Sit down on an old log and think it over. If you have a road, a trail, river or lake in the neighborhood of your camp and you know which side of it you are on, there may be some hope for you, but whatever you do, don't get rattled at the prospect of spending a night in the woods. Just take it easy and think it over; try to recollect which side of your face you got the most snow on when you went after that "moose," and compare it with the snow that's falling now ; try to remember how the wind was blowing "when you a gunning went," and notice how it is blowing now. If the snow has stopped and no wind, put one of your fingers in your mouth and hold it there long enough to become thoroughly warmed, then hold it up above your head, and you will soon notice one side of it becomes cold quicker than the other. That is the side the current comes from, and if the wind has not changed since you left camp you will very likely soon wonder how you could be so foolish to think "the camp was over there."

However, if you have nothing to guide you, it will be almost useless to try to reach camp. You will most surely walk in a circle (due to the muscles being stronger in one leg than the other) and only tire yourself out. Better pre-pare yourself to stay in the woods over night be-fore it gets too dark. Find a place where there is plenty of dry timber for fire wood; select a place for your bed alongside of a big log if possible, and make your fire a little higher than the bed. Build your fire and burn off all the long timber to make them more handy to handle during the night. Take some saplings and put in the* ground outside of the big log, let the logs lean over your bed at an angle of about 45 degrees, on top of this put plenty of balsam. spruce, cedar or pine brush; stick some more of the brush in the ground at the ends where your head and feet will be; scrape the snow away in the bed and put plenty of brush there also, and your quarters are complete. Gather some birch bark or small dry twigs to start fire with in the night if it should be needed. In selecting your wood always remember that spruce, balsam and cedar are the worst spark throwers; dry poplar and pine with green hard wood is the best, although the latter is impossible to get without an ax.

If you are very tired, and cold is intense, do not allow yourself to go to sleep at all. There are strong reasons why you should not, but if you don't feel "all played out" and the weather is moderately cold, there is no danger in going to sleep. You will readily wake up when you get chilly.

Don't let those awful bear stories scare you. Those terrible man-eaters you hear so much about, and see so little of, is mostly imaginary, gotten up by the would-be sport, for the chief purpose of impressing you with the dreadful monsters he encounters and repels in the brief time of a two or three day's outing. Remember that all wild animals will take a piece of meat of any kind in preference to even a nice warm porter-house-end of a young trapper.

In my opinion no one has any business in an unsettled region without a good compass. What is meant by a good compass for a trapper is not one that costs $10 or $15, but one that can be bought in any hardware store for a dollar or a dollar and a half. It should be one with a jeweled needle to prevent wear. Practice with it occasionally; walk in a certain direction a half or a whole mile; pay no attention to timber brush or anything else, just be governed by the needle and pace the distance walked. Then turn around and go back, but don't try to follow your own steps; go exactly as the compass indicates and pace the distance back also. If you have done it right, you should strike the starting point, if not, note the difference of courses taken and take the average of the two.

The practice will save you a lot of work sometimes. If you happen to kill a moose or deer on bare ground, a mile or so from any road or trail, you would not need to run a blazed line from your game out to that trail. All you would have to do would be to make an approximate guess of the nearest direction to the trail, run your compass accordingly and pace the distance, (2000 paces to a mile is the standard cruising pace.)

Many people believe that the north end of the compass needle points to the north pole. Such is not the case. There is only one place in the United States where the needle points to the true north (the imaginary end of the earth's axis) ; that place is on a northwesterly line from Charleston, S. C., passing close to Columbus, (where our H-T-T is printed) and running through Lansing, Mich., into Lake Superior. At any other place the needle will point to the West or East of the true North. At Bangor, Me., it is about 18 degrees west and at Olympia, Wash., 23 degrees east.

But as astronomy and surveying is only to a limited extent included in a trapper's education, it is not necessary to go into a lengthy detail of this magnetic variation.

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