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Beginner's Corner

The First Secret!

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No, it's not skinning bucks............ Developed and maintained by JP Finn

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Your First Buckskinning Secret Revealed
Phil Jose

Okay my flatlander friends, listen up. After reading the first article of this series, wherein I gave you a notion of what to expect, you've come back for more. It shows you're a heartier soul than most, and have proven worthy to have the Great Secret imparted to you. With the Great Secret, you may someday be right up there with the best of 'em. With the Great Secret, you can impress friends and total strangers alike. With the Great Secret you can create a camp where Jim Bridger himself would be at home.

The truly amazing thing about the Great Secret is that it can be expressed in a single word. So steel yourself, here it comes. That word is "read."

Hopefully, that's not too scary a thought, because not only is it essential to getting started, but once that start is made it's vital in getting the most out of this hobby. To quote one of my favorite Founts of Wisdom, J.P. Finn, "... it is the first thing a beginner should start, and never quit." The only thing I'd add is a resounding "Amen."

Through reading, you'll find you'll be able to make more informed and intelligent choices about your personna, the cut of your clothing, and your camp. That means in the world of colorful characters you intend to haunt, you will begin to stand out sooner. That's something that will begin to earn both the interest and respect of the more seasoned folks in camp.

Reading is also a great motivater. There's been times when I was willing to be lazy and let things slide for a while. Then I'd read an article or short book that had something in it pertaining to my personna. Suddenly I was lost in thought, figuring out how and when to apply it, to be that much more authentic.

With reading comes a fuller appreciation of some of the skill it takes to do some of the crafts that you're going to see. Perhaps you've never yet seen anyone fingerweaving or doing quillwork, but just from reading about the time and patience it takes to do either, you'll look at them in a different-- and more proper-- light.

I have one more point I want to hammer home-- even the most basic research will go a long way in keeping you from looking mighty foolish. Here's part of a conversation I had at one of my very first rendezvous:

FLATLANDER: "You're dressed really cool. What are you supposed to be?"
ME: "Uhh...mountain man?" (Little did I then realize that I was a fledgling coureur du bois, a big difference.)
FLATLANDER: "I've never seen a tent like that. Is it authentic for your time period?"
ME: "Uhh... yeah..." (I was clueless that it was about eighty years in my personna's future. A little research would have gotten me a period proper-- and cheaper-- tent.)

I guess two "uhhs" in a row were enough for this guy. He gave me a rather mystified and patronizing look and went on his way. I learned on the spot that nothing's quite as bad as being patronized by a flatlander.

With all that being said, here comes a brief list of reading material to get you started.

* * * * *

The Book of Buckskinning, William H. Scurlock, editor.
This is the first of a series of seven books, each one a collection of articles ont the whole spectrum of this hobby-- equipment, necessary skills, history, you name it. Someday you may be find yourself the proud owner of the entire series.

Tidings From the Eighteenth Century, by Beth Gilgun.
Here's an interesting book. In the form of letters written by the author's eighteenth century persona to her friend, she reveals the how-to's of many of the lifeskills of the era. At the same time, she paints a picture of the day-to-day process of living so long ago.

Collector's Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, by Georg C. Neumann and Frank J. Kravic.
A well documented, well- illustrated guide to the personal effects of enlisted men and officers of the Revolutionary War era.

A Toast to the Fur Trade, by Robert C. Wheeler.
This is an interesting, easily-read book covering the people, boats, forts, trade goods, etc. that made the Canadian fur trade possible. This is a fun one to own.

The Men-at-Arms Series, published by Osprey, is a good resource of anyone considering a military persona. Of special interest are:
    #48-- Wolfe's Army
    #39-- British Army in North America
    # 273-- General Washington's Army, 1775- 1778
Also, #228, American Woodland Indians, is good for anyone considering that type of persona, or as a Canadian coureur du bois.


Smoke and Fire News
(Monthly, $18/yr. P.O. Box 166, Grand Rapids, OH 43522).
This is a good all-around publication. It gives the historical reenactor of any time period lots of solid information, from historical articles to recipes, from resources to cartoons. Another important feature is its list of upcoming events, so you can plan your new and busy social season accordingly. It's a long-standing favorite of many folks.

The Backwoodsman
(6 issues/yr, $17.50/yr. P.O. Box 627, Westcliffe, CO 81252).
Here's another good, all-around magazine. While The Backwoodsman does not carry a listing of events, it carries more "how-to" articles than does Smoke and Fire News.

(11 issues/yr, $12/yr. Gemini Sales, 1427 Summit View Dr., Holts Summit, MO 65043)
This is Event Central-- it lists rendezvous and other happenings from all over.

Muzzle Blasts
(Monthly). This is the official publication of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association (NMLRA), the NRA of the black powder world (more on this later). It comes with the $30 annual membership and covers the shooting aspects of this hobby. It has articles on any and all subjects related to black powder shooting and schedules of upcoming shoots. Since in a few more articles I'm going to encourage you to join this organization, why not call now for a membership application at 1-800-745-1493?


Before you order this, I need your blood oath on record stating that you will not buy a tricorn hat, Hawken rifle, and pair of brogans out of it and think yourself ready to rendezvous. With that being said, pick up a copy of the catalog from Dixie Gun Works (1-800-238-6785). It covers not only guns, gun parts, gun accessories, and gun books, but just about anything else imaginable. This is also a fine source for books on a wide range of subjects you'll encounter, cross-referenced by subject, title, and author. As you go through it, you'll find all sorts of interesting sundry information throughout. If nothing else, their "Muzzleloading Cautions and Commandments" alone is worth the price of the catalog.

* * * * *

A resource that's always good to tap is your public library. This will be your best bet for getting your local history questions answered. Not only are they more likely to have books and periodicals written with your area in mind, but chances are they can also give you information about any regional historical societies active.

There's also a lot of information "out there" on the World Wide Web. You'll find that a lot of it is on pages kept by individuals, which means that URL's have a habit of moving or outright disappearing. However, when you're looking for answers, plan to spend some time with your favorite search engine.

So much for the "why" and a start on the "what" of reading. You'll soon pick up for yourself a few tricks in the "how" department. By that I mean you'll start getting a feel for knowing what resources are authoritative by themselves and when you'll want a second source for confirmation. You'll learn that there actually is a use for bibliographies. (When you see the same book listed in more than one, it may be worth your while to try and find it.)

There's one final thing. "I'm too busy" is a lame excuse for not getting started. (Here's another secret: we're all too busy.) It's a matter of making time, at least initially. Of course, when you find yourself getting really hooked on this hobby, reading will be way less chore and way more fun.

Copyright 1999, Philip Jose.


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