Survivalists — Native American Style

Good Morning!

Would you be able to survive in the forest, or out on the prairie on your own, completely away from a supermaket?  We are so conditioned in this society to the supermarket as our source of food that many of us might think that food comes from the supermarket, (especially if you live in the city and off the farm).  So I thought it might be nice to begin a series on basic survival, Native American style.

 I still remember when I was on the Blackfeet reservation about 5-6 years ago a conversation I had with an elder of the tribe.  He told me that one could still live off the land.  I also remember being very interested in how this might be done, although I didn’t ask him about it at the time.  But as time went on I became interested more and more in how exactly one could survive on your own, completely apart from others and especially completely apart from the IGA or Albertson’s.

Let’s begin with the search for food.  One of my very dear friends (who is Blackfeet) was always tasting berries and such when she came to visit me here locally in California.  When I discovered this, I was concerned as there are many poisonous plants here in southern Cal.  But she instructed me on the fact that there is no plant that is sweet in Nature that is poisonous.  Medicine men or women would often taste the plants to learn if they were okay to eat or not.  Poisonous plants or berries tend to taste bitter.  But if something is sweet, it is generally good to eat.  Did you know that?  I certainly hadn’t up until that time.

Roots, nuts, mushrooms, berries, turbers, bark on trees can be eaten.  In the old days, women often went out in groups in each season and gathered what they needed.  It was a sort of holiday for them.  But if one is thrust into a survival situation, here are the things to look for.   Watch the birds.  If it were me, I’d watch the birds and eat whatever they ate.  I might leave the mushrooms alone because I am not an expert in this and some are so poisonous and the death from them is so painful, that I would tend to leave them alone.  Look for foods that you know:  plums, blackberries, raspberries, stawberries, huckleberries, blueberries, chockcherries.  There are also nuts like the walnut, pecan.  Even the acorn can be eaten, but careful on this.  One must prepare the acorn.  They should never be eaten raw.  They should be dried in the sun, the shells cracked off and the inner “meat” separated.  They are then ground info flour and washed so that the water can be drained off them.  They are then washed until the water runs clear and the yellow stain disappears.  They can then be made into bread or porriage.

Roots were often eaten and if a man were starving and couldn’t find any other food, the inner bark of trees could be eaten.  Those of the slippery elm, birch, basswood, white oak, sassafras, striped maple.  I have known horses to survive the winter eating the inner bark of the cottonwood tree.  Even squirrels nests can be robbed of their nuts. 

 As far as greens go, I really think you need to know what you are looking for — the wild mustard, clover, watercress are all edible — but would you know what they looked like?  There are also the fish of the waters, the rabbits, ducks, even squirrels and birds can be eaten.  Preparing them to eat is another thing altogether, which often times requires fire.  Fire.  In my next blog, I thought we might discuss how to make a fire if you are unprepared and have no matches.

Survival, in uncertain conditions.  Sometime it might be important.  Hopefully not, but it never hurts to be prepared.  Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to know how to live off the land?  Has anyone that you know ever had to survive in hard times?  What did they do?  What would you do?

Come on in and let’s talk about it.  And don’t forget, there are two books that I have out on the stands right now, THE LAST WARRIOR and RED HAWK‘S WOMAN.  Buy your copy today!

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
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28 thoughts on “Survivalists — Native American Style”

  1. Karen,
    thanks for the interesting facts. I have a past hero who was a ‘primitive survival instuctor’ 🙂 (although it was on another planet…) and I’m still excited to learn new survial techniques.

    It makes me wonder why anyone accidentally poisoned themself if the taste was so bad. I know I’ll always go for the sweet! Sometimes we, as humans, can be pretty dumb. LOL

    I’ll look forward to some fire making techniques!

  2. Karen, I found your post fascinating. My family and I do a lot of wilderness hiking and canoeing in northern Ontario, and I could use some of these skills! Following the birds is really useful, and the part about sweet fruit seems so logical…

    Poisonous frogs and spiders all seem to have bright fluorescent colors to them–I guess it’s the same idea–nature has marked those ones we should stay away from.

    Great post! I’m printing it out for my family to read!

  3. Hi, Karen. I MIGHT be able to live off the land but it wouldn’t be pretty.
    We’ve got plums and walnuts growing wild around us and we already eat them. Some wild grapes. I know how to clean a chicken which should translate to a pheasant or wild turkey and make jerky (although I use a stove to make it, but supposedly I could recreate the jerky with a fire)
    I also recognize a safe mushroom. They have such a short season though.
    Starting the fire would be a challenge. Again, I know the theory but reality would be really hard I think.
    I have a book releasing in November, a short romantic comedy called Clueless Cowboy, about a man, a burned out engineer who’s been working disaster sites like hurricanes in remote, poverty stricken countries. The stress is killing him so he’s run away from it and is simplifying his life by living off the land.
    He’s starving to death when the neighborhing rancher lady finds him living in this derelict house he bought.
    He’s determined to live ‘naturally’ and embrace a simple, easy life. Well, easy not counting that he’s working eighteen hour days just to barely survive.
    Of course the cowgirl next door just keeps telling him Electricty caught on for a REASON and he’s an IDIOT to not use it.
    She finally starts teaching him because his efforts are so pathetic he’s about to kill himself by living off the land.
    Can love be far behind?

  4. Kay, what a fascinating post! I hope I’d never have to live off the land because I’d be in bad shape. This easy living has spoiled me rotten. In our part of the country it’s overrun with cactus and mesquite that can both be eaten. Natives swear that you can make excellent flour from the mesquite bean just by grinding it up into a powder. Not sure how it’d taste. And cactus wouldn’t be too good either. But it’d keep a body from starving.

    Cactus is also good to look for when you’re in the desert with no water, though how much of a thirst quencher it’d be I have no idea. Anything is worth trying though when you’re desperate.

    Thanks for the tidbits on survival and living off the land. It’s excellent fodder for a story sometime. Hope you’re feeling better.

  5. Hey Karen, how’re the hands? So, did you corral someone to type for you or are you hunting and pecking? Great post!

    I was born in Northern Ontario and I remember going out with Dad to hunt partridge. We collected wild onion and wild garlic. Also, when I lived in Eastern Ontario, fiddleheads (immature ferns) were a big thing in the spring. They were a lot of work to clean, but scrumptious when cooked in butter. Oh wait – I dont’ know how to build a fire yet… 🙂

  6. Hi Lizzie!

    Thanks for your thoughts. I find it interesting that you had a hero who taught survival techniques and on another planet. Fascinating.

    Survival techniques I think are important — sort of a Boy Scout or Girl Scout approach.

  7. Hi Kate!

    It’s so intereting that you an your family do alot of wilderness hiking. When my family was young, and we lived in Vermont, we did, too. But it was never in a survival situation — the car was always there to carry us back to civilization.

    And I loved your post yesterday. My husband my brother-in-law used to be gold miners here in California.

  8. Hi Mary!

    Your book sounds fascinating. And I love the title, Clueless Cowboy. Yeah, you really have to know what you’re doing in order to live off the land. The point being, however, is that it can be done. And spiders? I tend to be bit alot by spiders and so I would steer clear of them, also.

  9. HI Linda!

    It’s interesting, isn’t it? Different parts of the country have different survival techniques. It was also well known amongst the Indians that it was easier to survival well within a group rather than alone. It was one reason why when someone had done something wrong, the punishment would sometimes be to ban him from the tribe.

    The hand is doing okay — is still in a cast, but I’m up to four fingers typing now. : ) Thank you so much for asking.

  10. Hi Anita!

    Thanks so much for asking about the hand. It;s getting better and better, though it is still in a cast. I think it;s great that your dad used to take you with him to look for food. Even though I grew up in the country, I never had these kinds of experiences and so I would probably have a hard time of it — maybe that;s why I find it so fascinating.

    Thanks again, Anita!

  11. Hi Kay, how’s everything? We just got back from a fantastic vacation in NYC and how I missed Wildflower Junction! I do not think I am much of a survivalist. I am actually a big weenie. That’s probably why NA culture has always fascinated me, living off the land, using everything you take, and never taking more than you can use to begin with. We do a TINY bit of hiking around here in So Cal and I can recognize wild sage. That’s about it LOL. I used to adore camping as a child and learned about the acorns and grinding holes, but by now, I’ve pretty much morphed into a Marriott kind of girl.

    Thanks as always for a wonderful, informative post.

  12. Loved all the information! My husband and I like to camp in the mountains of Colorado in the fall. Surviving without warmth is as far as I care to go but know that there would be lots of ways to survive if we had to, and learned new info from your post. Thanks

  13. I think most people wouldn’t have a clue what to do to survive but it’s very fascinating hearing about it. I love watching the TV show with Bear when he puts himself into all kinds of survival situations. I also wouldn’t be able to do most of what he does lol.

  14. Hi Tanya!

    Welcome back to the junction. Your trip to NY sounds wonderful. I have to admit that I, too, am a bit of a weeny — I;ve never lived off the land — but I want to learn how to do it. Maybe that accounts for my fascination with it.

    Have a super day and thanks for your post.

  15. Hi Connie,

    i love to hike, as well, even though, like I told Tanya, I;m a bit of a weeny. I;ve spent my life thinking that food comes form supermarkets — but I;m trying to learn differently.

    Thanks for your post.

  16. Hi Jeanne,

    Yeah, me, too. But you never know when it might come in handy. There are a few things I always do — I always have food and water in the car, along with a warm throw — it;s for the just in case. But like the boy scout motto, it helps to be prepared.

  17. Hi ladies,

    Karen great post today. Glad to hear your hand is doing well. No way could I live off the land. I would surely die. I love to “modern” camp but primitive no way.

    Mary your book clueless cowboy sounds great. Can’t wait.

  18. Your friend, Jane Squires, here. My husband is a part of FCF – Frontier Christian Fellowship and they learn to survive off the land. They have boys in their group they teach survival skills. I am growing my own garden this year because gas prices have kept me from going to grocery store. I really enjoyed your blog.

  19. Hi Jane!

    It’s great to hear from you. It’s been a while. Yeah, I thought you would have some ideas on surviving off the land. I know that your youth group teaches this sort of thing.

    Thanks for your thoughts.

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