Survivalists — Fire without Matches

Good Morning!

In an ongoing series on survival, Native American style, I thought we would have another look at food.  As you know there are three things that are needed for basic survival.  Those are, food, clothing and shelter.

In my last few blogs, we’ve been discussing the first requirement of survival, food.  So far we’ve looked at where to find food, what kinds of food can you find and the fact that one needs to have freedom of movement in order to find food.  Today let’s have another look at another important part of food — fire.  Fire is needed for cooking of course, but as you know, in a survival situation, it is also needed for warmth.  Fire can also be a very needed element in keeping safe — i.e. fighting off animal like wolves.  I’m not so certain fires might keep bears away, but I loved this picture.

But how to make fire without matches.  Unless you are very well prepared, you might find yourself without matches.  I may not be able to teach you to start a fire in this article, but we can go over it a bit.  Now, most Indian tribes used the drill and twisted it by hand or with their bow, the string of the bow wrapped around the drill or wood made into a rod.

The rod would fit into a socket in a piece of wood.  Placed beneath this was some tinder that could easily catch fire.  The bow was held at right angles and was twisted, producing friction.  The motion also would pulverize the small particles of wood, which are there to catch fire.  The tinder would eventually begin to glow, meaning that it was ready to produce fire.  Of course there was a very human element involved in making fire.  If the bow wasn’t kept at an utter right angle with the wood, it would often slip, frustrating the person making the fire.  However, with practice, most Indians could start a fire within minutes.   You also have to understand that I have to get in this photo somewhere in my post.  Handsome, handsome Adam Beach.

Now once the wood was ready to ignite, it was important to add oxygen, thus one blew on the embers, putting dried grass or moss on the fire in order to get it to ignite.  Needless to say, the type of timber that one used was very important, also.  However, this isn’t the only way to make fire.

Late at night, one might not be able to find the exact tools needed to make a fire in the way mentioned above.  There was also the stone method.  This requires two needed things, which one should carry at all times:  1) flint — 2) lump or crystal with iron pyrites.  This kind of stone is available all over the US.  All that is needed to create fire with this method is striking the stones together.  Sparks will fly and one should have dried grass or dried moss available to catch those sparks, and by adding oxygen (blowing on the sparks) one can create fire.

OF course there are other ways of creating fire — one of the best is lightning.  But one doesn’t always have that available on a cold, snowy night.  It takes a great deal of practice, but it’s a skill that might become handy at some time or place.  The Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts used to teach this skill and perhaps they still do.  It’s a skill worth practicing — even if you don’t see the use of it right now.  As the boy scout motto goes:  “Be prepared.”

I should also note that the Indian kept his fires small and as smokeless as possible.  He also scattered his ashes the next morning so as to prevent others from seeing exactly where he had been and what he was doing.  It was a safety precaution. 

By the time this is posted, I will most likely be on the road, and so while I might not be able to join in the discussion, I’d love to hear your camping stories.  Has anyone ever had to make a fire by hand?  And if you have, how did you do it?  I’d also like to hear other camping stories.  There was a time when being without a hair dryer was “camping” for me.  So come on in and chat.  And if you haven’t already picked up a copy of THE LAST WARRIOR, I would like to invite you to do so.  It is on sale at bookstores everywhere.


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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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11 thoughts on “Survivalists — Fire without Matches”

  1. A book I’ve got coming out in November called Clueless Cowboy–it’s part of a book club and although you can find it on Amazon, it won’t be widely available–my hero is trying to live off the land.
    He’s a burned out engineer who’s a specialist at disaster sites, going in after hurricanes and tornadoes and terrorist attacks to assess damage. Can buildings be saved? Is the water supply safe? Things like that.
    Well, he’s had all he can take but he can’t say no to the people in such terrible need.
    His life is killing him with stress.
    So he runs away. Now he’s killing himself with his incompetent efforts to live off the land. Live in harmony with nature. Get back to the earth.
    He’s not doing so well. He’s pretty much living on cold Spam.
    The neighbor rancher’s daughter finds him and quickly informs him that he’s an idiot and she’ll help him by getting the electricity hooked up to the derelict house he’s living in way out in the country.
    It’s a romantic comedy. 🙂

    Well, that’s not his dream. Pioneers didn’t have electricity.
    Fire? He got one started once.
    Turns out fire is ridiculously hard. Cooking is almost impossible. She takes pity on him and feeds him and, just like feeding a stray dog, he’s hers for life.
    These living off the land posts make me think of that book

  2. Mary, your book sounds delightful. I was impressed with the girl on “Survivor” who made fire using the sun and her glasses. When I was a kid we used to do that with a magnifying glass and a little bit of paper. Don’t suppose the Native Americans had anything that would work that way.
    Wishing you a safe journey, Karen/Kay

  3. Hi Kay, yummy Adam again. Thanks. Oh, we had to try the flint thing in Girl Scout Camp…but I always figure since I wear glasses, I might have a chance if I’m ever stuck in the wild LOL.

    I think my camping days are over though. It was my family’s principal recreation during my childhood, and we took our kids a few times when they were smaller. I think I’m kind of a Marriott girl. But last night we watched a cable thing on the train trips throughout the West…those look imminently do-able. 🙂

    Thanks as always for the great info, and congratulations on The Last Warrior. I know I’m gonna love it.

  4. Kay, I hope you have a safe trip. Glad it’s not me; I don’t like to travel. And gas is so high. I shudder to think of shelling out all that money.

    When I was growing up we went camping all the time, but we always took matches. Never had to start a fire from scratch thank goodness or we’d have starved! I envy the people who don’t have to depend on modern conveniences to survive. That takes special skill for sure.

    Once when we were camping it came a flood and almost washed my dad away. He lost his wallet with all his money, drivers license, and ID. That was a mess, but it could’ve been so much worse. He could’ve easily drowned.

    Mary, your romantic comedy sounds like a hoot! Love the title. “Clueless Cowboy” says it all. Gives you an excellent glimpse what the story’s about.

    Be safe, Kay! 🙂

  5. I love to camp! We used to camp every fall in the mountains of Colorado. The worst parts of these trip were some mornings we had to break the ice in the water jug and going without a real bath. My husband would come in from hunting and strip to his waist to wash up. It would look so good that I would attempt to do the same. We may have gone days without seeing anyone but at that moment someone would come down the trail and I would have to scurry for cover much to my husband’s amusement.
    We never got caught without matches so never was without fire but did have a campstove burn so high one time, I thought I was going to set the woods on fire. A few days without a campstove sent us down the mountain to town for repairs.
    Looking forward to reading your book.

  6. Connie I don’t mind camping, except I don’t want to get to hot…or cold…or be around bugs or other creepy crawlies. And the bed should be comfortable.

    But other than that…I don’t mind camping.

  7. I haven’t been camping in 30 years. Our fire was a propane stove. Campfires were not allowed in most of the places we camped.

  8. Add me to the list of Adam admirers! My only camping experiences were when I was an assistant girl scout leader for both my daughters. I loved it. After watching the contestants on Survivor try to make a fire, I think I’d opt for the flint lol.

  9. Kay, praying you have a safe trip.

    One of my best camping stories was when I took a weekend canoe trip in Gr 12. It was raining when we started out and the portages were muddy. Impressions from that trip are:

    – following several other school classes, by the time we reached the first portage, the steep hill was slippery with mud. Still, we had to carry our canoes up. I remember taking a breather from my third trip up the hill. I was wet and muddy, and standing at the bottom getting my breath back. I was totally amazed when I saw one of my classmates, off to the side, looking in her compact and applying lipstick.

    – that night we built a big campfire and put all our shoes around it to dry. I had brought brand new runners from a material I’d never worn before. Now, I’m sure they were nylon, but they were special. The next morning, I found my shoes – but the heat had warped the front third of thm and melted the laces between the bottom 3 holes. Thank goodness I’d brother another pair.

    – after a second day of rain, I remember standing on a rocky cliff overlooking a lake. It had been cloudy but suddenly the clouds parted and sunrays shot out like spokes of a week. It was glorious.

    I was very thankful when that canoe trip ended, but it wasn’t the last one I was on. Just a bit of adventure in my life that I’ll always remember.

  10. Hi Karen!! I’m Cathie, who met you at a signing in WNY 🙂 I do have to get your latest book. Can’t wait til I can!
    When growing up, my family was really into local racing and each weekend we’d arrive to the track on Friday evenings for qualifying and stay for more racing and practice on Saturday and the big race on Sunday. This went from like May until Labor Day weekend. Sometimes my parents didn’t have enough for us all kids to go to the racing, so we remained with the camp. We couldn’t do any fires, that my dad did with the grill and too Saturday nights various camps had bonfires that we could join in on, bringing our marshmallows and hot dogs! I never missed it, I like my marshmallows cooked to a golden brown! After alot of practice I did them good! Besides that, we brought alot of cards and board games. Too played badminton which I was good at 🙂 We had to stick together, but when my parents returned, I love to talk solo walks, it was safer then, and I loved to wander off and just watch the darkness, feel the coolness at night and more. The only thing I hated was the bugs and the rocks to sleep on! I haven’t gone camping since, but if we had a cabin to go to, I’d love to do that again.

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