Land Cruising - Prospecting:
Poor Man's Ore Mill
Prospecting For Fur
Prospecting For Pearls
Prospecting For Bees
Rations And Camp Cooking
Guns, Axes And Packstraps
Building Cabins, Tanning, Etc
The Red River Trapper
Read More Articles About: Land Cruising - Prospecting
The Red River Trapper
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Moulton, known far and wide as the Red River trapper and hunter, worked with me and for me off and on for two years. He was a man whom I never knew to utter an oath, never knew him to drink anything stronger than black coffee. He was clean of heart and mouth, a man about five feet, ten inches and weighed probably 190 or 200 pounds and not an ounce of mush at that. I never asked him his age he was reserved about his antecedents, but I should judge him to be at that time 1883 about 49 or 52 years of age. There was always a smile on his face and in his grey eyes and I never knew him to lose his temper under the most trying circumstances and sometimes they were many, although they said if occasion required Moulton was a bad man in a mixup. He was one of a fast disappearing class of men that were found on the prairie and in the woods in those days and this country will soon see them no more.
He was somewhat reserved in his speech, but what he did say was always pleasant and whole-some to listen to and was usually good horse sense. He was handy around camp and could make anything from an ax handle to a log house and was a mighty good and handy man around camp. I saw him one day take an ax and cut a good fitting pair of pants out of a couple of oat sacks and then put a half sole on the rear of them, as the boys used to call it, the same as caveberry pants, only it was made of a Pilsbury's Best flour sack, with the words showing very prominent. From that time on the chap that wore them was known as "Pilsbury's Best" all over the Red River country and he wore these pants until he wore them out. I met old "Pilsbury's Best" this last winter here, and of course extended to him the courtesies of the day, in the shape of interviewing several good members of the bar and the accompanying wet goods.
He bitterly bemoaned his fate that he had got so low-down as to work in a packing house stock yard, said as soon as he could get an out-fit he was going back to trap, hunt and work on the ranches. I would have staked him, but it was a case of too much nose paint. If you were reducing your force on account of having the work nearly done Moulton was one of the last men you would let go. In working he did not seem to be so fast as some, and y would think he would lose out, but somehow when night came Moulton was to the good with the best of them and seemed to be as fresh as when he started in the morning. He put in his summers on the ranches and winters he hunted and trapped and incidentally he was a wonderful shot with a rifle.
If I would tell you of some of the shots l have seen him make you would put me down as a prevaricator, so I won't attempt it. He was not an ignorant man. He could discuss most any subject intelligently, but if you wanted to have a conversation with Moulton and get him intensely interested, talk rifles and traps. I have lain many a night in my blankets and discussed this subject with him as it interested me very much also.
These were the days when the Springfield Needle gun was at its height of popularity, but were hard to get, as the United States government controlled them and to be found with one by a government man in that country was to have it confiscated. I will never forget the day that Moulton took me secretly to an old government granary and told me in whispers that he had bought a Springfield. Digging down in the oats he pulled out a nearly new one. I did not ask him where he got it for such questions were not considered good form in that country in those days, but wherever he got it he gave value received to some one and asked no questions, for he was thoroughly honest. At the time I was night horse wrangler for the United States government and had bought some equipment from the discharged soldiers myself.
Moulton was a successful trapper when he was at that business in its season. He told me that one of his most successful methods was to run a line of traps across a river valley or draw and on both sides at intervals of a mile or so, connecting them with a drag scent made of fish oil, and incidentally this fish oil was the most abominable smelling stuff ever invented. He would catch a lot of fish along in August or September, cut them up in small pieces, put them in a glass jar and hang it in the sun for six or eight weeks with the cover loosely screwed on, and at the end of that time they would smell to heaven. They were sure the worst stink that ever stunk. This was his medicine and he said it was the best he had ever found, bar none. He always used Newhouse traps of the best quality and usually large ones for he said he could never tell what you were going to catch. He always used the cubby house set if he could not find any hollow logs or trees.
He would build a little house of dead limbs and bark, using old stuff, never leaving any chips or new litter around and always using a pair of buck gloves to handle things with. He would build these inclosures about eight or ten inches high and twelve or fifteen inches long and the cover he would make as near weather tight as possible and stop up all holes but one end and then poke a little leaf trash into the bottom of them and they all looked so natural, built against a log or tussock of some kind, you would think they grew there. He would let them stand a while before he put in his traps and he would wash them in lye and boil them in hay and leaf chaff. With a good-sized canvas haversack filled with leaf trash of the surroundings he would start out and set his lines of traps. When near one of his cubby houses he would stop and put on a pair of moccasins over his shoes, made of raw muskrat hides, fur out, and set his traps with them on. During this operation he used a pair of buck gloves for this purpose only, wearing another pair when doing other work.
He usually used a bird or piece of rabbit for bait as this was about the only bait you could get in this country in late fall. He would put his bait in the back of his cubby and his trap pretty well in, to keep it out of the weather. Lastly he scattered a few feathers or some fur over his trap and came away. He always clogged his traps and this clog was put there when he first made his cubby house, and he never failed to daub some of that almighty fish oil inside his set. He seldom set a trap in water for he said it was too much work to chop them out if frozen and he did not like to get wet and daubed up with mud, for it was most all clay banks in that country. Besides, he said it made tracks and gave things away. He had traps with a piece of nickel plated tin riveted on the pan. These he used for otter with a water set, as he said an otter was very inquisitive, and for beaver he used beaver castor daubed on the brush around his trap and this was all the bait he ever used that I know of.
Moulton was a successful trapper for he had money laid away and quite a sum, and he used to send money home to a sister back east. The last time I saw Moulton was in Fargo, Dakota, before it was a state, and he *anted me to make a trip with him to the Bad Lands on the Little Missouri river. Good old Moulton is now trap-ping beyond the Divide in the Happy Hunting Grounds, if there is any trapping there. Shortly after I saw him he went to the Little Missouri river with a pard, built a shack and got in grub and began to prepare to trap, and had got a line out. At that time it was considered policy to leave one man in camp as there were known to be Indians off the Reservation without leave of the agent, and it was Moulton's turn to stay. When his pard got back he found him shot and scalped and the shack looted but not burned. His pard heard the shot, but thought Moulton had got a crack at a deer as they were plenty there then. The Indians were trailed to the Reservation but could not be identified and were probably on hand to draw their supplies the next ration day. I have seen some good Indians quite a few in fact, but they were made so by a Sharp's Reliable or a Springfield in the hands of Uncle Sam's boys.