Friday, August 30, 2013

The Trade Musket and America's First Consumer Culture

My Lovely Wife snapped this picture of my current project gun. It is a reproduction of a Northwest Trade Musket. I bought it for a very affordable price from Gun Broker online auctions. I knew from the pictures I was in for a project. The gun was only barely functional due to rust and neglect. The bore was solid, but the lock and all the screws holding it to the stock, were really rusted. Somebody also tried to remove most of the screws with a non gunsmithing screwdriver and damaged the heads.  Each night for four weeks I applied gentle squirts of PB blaster, got the lock off and dissembled,  and slowly got everything in working order again. It is now to the point it fires reliably.  I need to decide whether to further disassemble and clean it up, or leave some of the "patina".  In the photo it is missing the ramrod. When this shot was taken, a new ramrod from Track of the Wolf was drying in my incredibly filthy shop (I just can't seem to work on a gun, take care of livestock and homestead, earn a living, blog, shoot and fish, and clean the shop at the same time!).

The gun itself is a 75 caliber smoothbore flintlock. It shoots a massive lead round ball nearly 3/4 of an inch in diameter. It will also shoot shot loads. Most original trade muskets were around 60 caliber, but were equally versatile.  Trade muskets were meant to be cheap but durable firearms for trade to native American Tribes. Different variations were made by the French and English at different times. Googling Fusil de Chasse, Type G trade gun, and Northwest Trade gun will bring up information for the interested reader.  Of particular note, is the musket owned by Tecumseh which is similar in dimension to mine, and has been wonderfully reproduced by gun maker Larry Spisak

While working on this gun, I thought a lot about their unique history in America. At the time of European contact, the Eastern Woodland peoples were an agrarian people. They were very skilled at horticulture, and may be one of the ten or so worldwide areas where agriculture sprang up independently.  They did not raise domestic livestock but managed woodlands through burning to maximize deer browse.  They met most of their needs for food shelter and clothing within their community, but traded across North America for unique items, like copper and quality flint.

Europeans were eager to get the deer skins and furs that native peoples had to trade. The natives were equally eager to trade those skins for new and marvelous stuff. Deer hide clothing gave way to linen shirts and wool for skirts, blankets and mens leggings. Dependent upon the tribe, the locally made  bow and arrows were either relegated to a secondary role, or thrown aside in favor of a European musket. The clay cooking pots (which had to function like a slow cooker) were forgotten for copper, brass, and iron kettle. Stone axes gave way to steel. Soon the traditional skills to make clay pots and bows evaporated as well.

Within a couple of generations, the native people of the East became almost entirely dependent upon a technology they could not reproduce. They were not stupid people. In fact they were highly skilled at playing the French, English, and later Americans off against each other. Many of their leaders  recognized what their growing dependency was doing to their culture and economy. It was simply impossible for them to develop the infrastructure to mine coal, smelt iron, and forge on a large scale. They only had one product to trade for the things they now needed-hides. Initially, this caused the Beaver Wars, that I once blogged about. Men were forced to hunt not for food, but to buy stuff they now needed. They began hunting for skins alone, even leaving carcasses to rot. They found themselves working harder and even going hungry as they killed quicker than the critters could reproduce.  Many became indebted to big multinational fur trading companies. From a combination of necessity and desire, their entire culture changed in a couple of generations. Without the ability to make what they depended upon, they became consumer oriented, rather than production oriented.

When I think on this too much, I am tempted to trade the musket and stick with the bow made from an Osage tree on the farm.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Civil War and the End of Agrarian America

Yankee Farmers in Enoch Wood Perry's Talking it over. A glimpse of the old northern agrarian culture that once was.  (Original at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) . 

READER NOTE: Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good (or at least the mediocre!). I wrote this back in July, and never published it for lack of editing. My blog is full of these essays in draft, so I am going to try to dust some off. 

“During the Civil War, the upheaval of American society resulted in much ugliness and some deterioration of taste. Before that time, agriculture and the preservation of tradition were a cherished part of the good life, but from then on the philosophy of ‘change for the sake of change’ became the dominant force in American thinking.”

Eric Sloane

The Southern Agrarian writers tend to focus the Civil War as a battle between an industrial north and an agrarian south.  Modernist historians frame the war in moralistic tones- “a new birth of freedom”.   

We forget that before 1860, the Old Republic was made up of a myriad of local cultures, many of which were in conflict with each other:

  • The Southeastern planter class, who imitated the English aristocracy and hid their monoculture commercial agriculture behind an agrarian façade
  • The North’s urban commercial classes (precursor to modern urban America),who fought for cheap labor through open borders, government public works projects,  and to preserve tariffs against free trade southerners. 
  • The schoolmarm moralists of Greater New England (Precursor to modernist nanny state types), This culture settled a band from Northern Ohio to the upper Midwest and for whom the real evil of Slavery was also mixed with a number of other reforms, including eradicating "demon rum."    
  • The old hardscrabble Yankee farmers, the cultural descendents of the men who fought on Lexington Green.
  • Appalachian subsistence farmers who detested the lowland planters and were sometimes  staunch unionists in places like East Tennessee.
  • The greater Pennsylvania German culture area, which stretched from Eastern Pennsylvania, down through the Shenandoah Valley into North Carolina, and westward into the Ohio Valley. This culture was built on a three legged stool of Christianity,  Family Farming, and the "Dutch" Language.   
  • One of the big sectional divides before the Civil war was west versus east, with an emerging Midwest grain belt.
 When most American s read about the war today, they read through a nationalistic, modernistic eye (and also with more romanticism than they should).  Our movies tend to make cartoon characters out of historical figures as well. We want bad and good, forgetting we are all a mix of both. 

While the “North” ostensibly won, the old rural Jeffersonian North was as great a loser as the South. Many small communities lost so many men that they could no longer maintain their pre-war agrarian economy. Community cohesion was destroyed. Men who did survive were too changed to return to the life they knew in 1859. The urban commercial elites amassed more power  and wealth through wartime government contracts, and the power of the old rural Jeffersonian Democratic Yankees was forever broken.  Pennsylvania German culture survived until A pietistic schoolmarm president named Woodrow Wilson entered World War I. He demonized families including some of mine as un-American, despite the fact they had been farming, drinking hard cider, and praying in German in Pennsylvania since the 1730's.

War is a  great enemy of agrarian society.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Nine Pound Lion Heart

I am starting to work the Calhoun Pup with squirrel tails on a fishing pole. The idea is to get him excited and barking. He is very interested, but only a couple of barks. Setting up contrived situations in training can work, but it can also be overdone, creating a bored dog, or a dog that trees without game up the tree.

Once in a while though, I can't resist watching my beloved little female Rat Terrier work a tail. Lizzie weighs nine pounds soaking wet. She was the runt of the litter, but don't tell her that.  Inside that little body is the heart of a lion.

She lives to kill barn rats, tree squirrels, and run rabbits. I can't take her along to do any night time chores. She inevitably will start running nocturnal rabbits and I end up chasing her halfway to the back of the farm at bedtime. She lives to hunt. 

Her boldness worries me for her sake, as much as me being annoyed at finding her. When I was a little agrarian kid, we always had a pack of these little terriers around. The largest game in our area were foxes. In the late 70's  coyotes came in, and they routinely prey upon small dogs.  Coyote predation on pets seems even worse in more suburban areas. I should not hunt the little dogs these days, but as my wife says, "Would you rather live life to the fullest and get eaten by a coyote; or be a stodgy bored house dog?" 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Info Fasting

"A behavior should probably not be considered “extreme” if it was the practice of the entire human race from Adam until the mid-20th century"

T. David Gordon

The undisputed king of agrarian bloggers,  Herrick Kimball, has been on a news fast. That is a good ingredient in the recipe for a happy life.

I must follow some pertinent local stories for my off-farm profession, but most "news" is really not relevant to my life. In fact, I think "being informed"  when defined as constant contact with the  24/7 information cycle, is probably bad for our mental and spiritual health. Among the damages are attitudes that create a cult of celebrity, whether around a politician or an entertainer.  

A lot of people I actually do admire seem to think the same thing.

Herrick Kimball
CS Lewis
Rev. Dr. T David Gordon
Rev. Franklin Sanders 

What do they all share? They all manage to be more original, thoughtful and well read than modern norm.

I got a shock a while back when giving some visitors a tour of a few really sublime areas of western Pennsylvania.  In the midst of some of nature's finest handiwork, some where checking their smartphones!

An hour a day spent on "news" can also be spent running dogs, shooting, playing fiddle, reading a real book or journal, or fishing. I know how that spent hour makes me happier. Since I spent a half hour in front of this screen typing this, its time to shut down and go enjoy a beautiful day outdoors! Hope you can do the same.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Hope and Porter

 I young man of my recent acquaintance has begun a "nanobrewing" venture in Beaver Falls Pennsylvania.
Beaver Falls is one of many small towns in western Pennsylvania that used to be known for making things. While these towns were industrial-not agrarian, they created real products like axes, cutlery, and pottery. The towns lost their manufacturing base because the stock-jobbers and the white shoe boys  decided that paying their fellow citizens real money to make real stuff was too much of a bore. They started re-enslaving Asiatic coolies (See George Orwell for the term) and creating derivatives instead.  This left the good people of places like Beaver Falls to figure out what to do with the Superfund sites and all the other chaos and problems left behind by de-industrialization. 

Once in a while, a young person will choose such a place and say, "This is where I will make my stand. Here I will build a life as a craftsman". In doing so, he becomes an agent of real hope for the future.  I believe the way back for small cities is in a large measure to return to wealth creation by actually making products. Food is one of those "products". Food also has the advantage of building a closer link between city and countryside. It is often the craft-level food producer who is the small farmers' friend.  

This particular small farmer's friend is anyone who can make a good dark porter or Brown Ale.  A glass of dark beer at bedtime is the difference between me sleeping 6+ hours, or only three hours straight. 

"We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old".

Martin Luther 

We are not going to fix what is wrong with this country by voting. We might start to fix it by buying what we want and need from people who are creating real wealth in an agrarian sense. I could buy Guinness, and see my dollars flow back to London, and enrich the same multinational company who once owned Burger King and attempted to use their political power to suppress an award to a Scottish micro-brewery. Or, I can buy my beer from someone who is trying to revitalize a town for which I have affection and takes great pride in his good work. Having done this, I can sleep even better at night. 

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Essence of Agrarianism and Industrialism in 15 minutes

Please take the seven odd minutes to read and watch this video posted by Terrierman.

Then take another seven minutes and scroll back through this picture blog I stumbled on a while back.

Why does one set of images disturb us, and one draw us in?

I could post about the lives of animals and man, whether there is enough land to grow food for people and a bunch of other thoughts, I think the important point is  that most of us know dehumanizing  evil when we see it.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Learning his Life's Work

While I have not been blogging about it, I have been enjoying life. Almost every day (unless pressing business or weather intervenes) I run my Mountain Cur pup in one of my woodlots for at least a half hour. Calhoun is 4 months old. He was bred to run and tree squirrel, coon and Bobcat. I have pretty low expectations at this point. My short term goals are for him to:

Learn to come when called.
Be comfortable with the sites and smells of  the woods
Learn to leave the Deer and Turkeys alone
Learn that he is part of a team with me and he can trust me
 He is doing well on all those accounts. As he grows older, my expectations for him will grow. My hope is that about the time the leaves are off the trees, he will find squirrels on his own  and bark tree.

These daily walks also let me see my woodlots, which was something I could not do as often as when we had sheep. Truth be told, Hardwood has been one of the most profitable crops on our homestead over  the years. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex subject, we have always "low graded" so we grow more timber than we cut. We open up small spaces to give partial shade to new undergrowth and let the big straight trees grow faster.
This months Farming Magazine has an excellent  article by Wendell Berry on that subject.My interest in the woodlots have always been beyond timber. The peace of the woods is a place for me to think, and important to my spiritual health. 

There is nothing I would rather do than run with woods with a dog. I also like to eat squirrel, so I have made a few management decision that other woodland owners might not. For example, I don't get too excited Beech Tree encroachment (Beech can be invasive, and is lower value. Some woodland owners eradicate them by spraying).

Squirrels look plentiful this year. and I don't have much competition in hunting them. most hunters today are after bigger game. Few bother hunting squirrels and fewer still seem to want the time commitment of training a dog. If anyone is interested, there is a good article about squirrel dog training in this months Fur Fish and Game, which to my way of thinking is the only general interest hunting and fishing magazine still worth reading.