Survivalists — Native American Style

Good Day!

Isn’t this the best site?  So much talent from my fellow fillies and so much terrific information.  I’m always amazed at the learned quality of the posts.  Aren’t you?

After quite a break from the Native Style survival stories, I hope you’re ready to continue.  Just to recap, so far we’ve discussed the quest for food.  What kinds of food you might find in different regions of the country, how to find it and the necessary means of transportation to find food.  One more comment I’d like to make before we head into shelters and how easy they are to make:  I think TV has given people the wrong idea of survival.  On TV you see people competing one with the other to “win.”  It’s a tooth-and-claw type of survival.  Now this kind of “survival” to the Native American is pure folly.  None survive well alone.  It is a team activity.  Or one might say a family or a tribe activity.  And survival doesn’t mean bare minimum.  Optimum survival means food aplenty, a good warm place to put up one’s feet, the warmth of companionship, soft clothes that look good and feel good (or lack of clothes depending upon your environment), and happiness.  That’s real survival.  Not this struggle that one commonly sees on TV nowadays.

So, that said, let’s have a look at shelters.  The most important things if one were to suddenly find himself lost from civilization — or in the event of some catastrophe, are food, clothing and shelter.  Without these, man cannot live.  Therefore, they are the barest minimum.  And shelters — nice, wonderful, homey shelters aren’t that hard to build and set up.  Do you remember your camping days and how cozy and warm were your tents?

Well, suppose you didn’t have time to grab your tent.  What then?  Well, here are some suggestions straight from Native America.  The first important thing is…?  Location, location, location.  A good Real Estate maxim. 

Now, it’s a good idea to find a dry and protected spot, one that is close to a supply of water and fuel (wood or something else to burn).  And if one is being hunted by another or other’s or if one is simply alone, another feature you might consider would be to find a place that is secluded, one that is hard for the casual eye to see.  Such things as a hollowed-out tree, a cave, a rock that allows only a casual view.  As Charles A Eastman put it in his book, INDIAN SCOUT CRAFT AND LORE:

“…The first essentials are water and fuel; next comes sanitation and drainage, protection from the elements and from ready discovery by possible fores; finally, beauty of situation.

If you are in the woods, the shelter you will probably want to construct is a lean-to.  Here’s yet another section from Charles A. Eastman’s book, INDIAN SCOUT CRAFT AND LORE. 

“…Find two trees the right distance apart and connect them by poles laid upon the forks of each at a height of about eight feet.  This forms the support of your lean-to.  Against this horizontal bar place small poles close together, driving their ends in the ground, and forming an angle with about the slant of an ordinary roof.  You can close in both sides, or not, as you choose.  If you leave one open, build your fire opposite the entrance, thus making a cheerful and airy ‘open-face camp.’  Thatch from the ground up with overlapping rows of flat and thick evergreen boughs, and spread several layers of the same for a springy and fragrant bed.”

Note that this requires very few tools save perhaps a hatchet or a strong knive to make the poles.

The coziness of the tepee was often commented upon by travelers in the old west.  The structures were clean, warm, hospitable, with plenty of room for family and possessions.  But more of that in another post.  For now, let’s look at another kind of shelter, the dome-shapped ‘wickiup.’  Again from Charles A. Eastman, INDIAN SCOUT CRAFT AND LORE:

“…The dome-shaped wigwam or ‘wickiup’ is made in a few minutes almost anywhere by sticking into the ground in a circle a sufficient number of limber poles, such as willow wands, to make it the size you need.  Each pair of opposites is bent forward until they meet, and the ends interlocked and tied firmly.  Use any convenient material for the covering; an extra blanket will do.” 

Again, you would cover it with whatever was available in the area you are in.

Okay you knew I was going to slip this photo in here somwhere, didn’t you?  How could I resist?  Are you, like me, sighing?…  Well, continuing on, let’s touch on the traditional tepee.  If you ever have the chance to go to a pow-wow in Indian Country, you might be able to catch the tepee raising race at the rodeo.  Amazingly, these people set up tepees in a matter of a few minutes — quite spectacular to see.  But here are the basics.  Again, from Charles A. Eastman, INDIAN SCOUT CRAFT AND LORE:

“The skeleton of the conical teepee is made by tying three poles together near the top, and, when raised, separating them to form a tripod.  Against this place in a circle as many poles as you think necessary to support your outer covering of cloth or thatch, usually twelve to fifteen.  If of canvas, the covering is tied to a pole and then raised and wrapped about the framework and secured with wooden pins to within about three feet of the ground.  This space is left for the entrance and covered by a movable door, which may be merely a small blanket.  If you have nothing better, a quantity of dry grass will make you a warm bed.”

Finally, although we may have covered this already when we were discussing fires, small fires are best.  Again, from Charles A. Eastman, “It is best in camping to build small fires.  This rule is observed by all Indians.  Smoke may be seen at a great distance, especially on a clear day, and may be scented by the ordinary Indian (or other person) a long way off, if the wind is right.  Only in cold weather or for special purposes does the Indian indulge in a huge fire, and in no case does he ever leave it without seeing that it is entirely extinguished.”

Well, that’s it for today’s Native American lesson.  What about you?  Do you have a favorite camping story?  Campfire tales?  Cozy-warm tents that you remember?  For me, I remember camping in Vermont.  We had forgotten how important it was to set up camp so that one was protected from water.  We awoke to find water all over the floor of our tent, once the rain had really settled in.

That was that.  There we were in the middle of the night, digging trenches around our tent.  Do you have a story?  If so, I’d love to hear from you today.  So come on in and let’s chat.

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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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34 thoughts on “Survivalists — Native American Style”

  1. You know I don’t think I have ever in my whole life slept outside, even with a tent.
    I remember we set out to do it some when I was a kid but we never made it.

    Did most of you camp out?

    I went to camp a few times, 4-H camp, but we had buildings.

    I am so NOT a pioneer woman.

    I did can dill pickles about a week ago, though. That’s kinda pioneer-ish. Preserving food for the long cold winter ahead. 😀

  2. Hi Mary!

    When I was growing up we didn’t camp at all. Not at all. But when I grew up, my ex an I camped often. At first it was tough on me — cold showers and that sort of thing. But I really grew to love it.

    There’s something about the wild and sitting around a fire at night — talking and drinking campfire coffee (nothing better than campfire coffee) — after a while, I didn’t miss the warm showers anymore.

    Anyone else out there have an experience?

  3. Good morning Karen! Great blog as usual, that informs and enlightens. I slept in tents while camping, but didn’t sleep well. We ended up buying a comfy sleep mattress, but what I couldn’t stand, was feeling grubby all the time. And I’m a neat freak, so tent living with my kids wasn’t fun, for them or me. Though I did love waking up in the early morning to crisp fresh air. There’s nothing like a Good Morning.

    Today we’re off to rough it,(wink, wink) at an Indian Casino and hotel, with granite bathrooms and fluffy mattresses. Times have sure changed!

  4. Hi Charlene,

    Have fun roughing it. : )

    The most wonderful thing about camping — and I did eventually really come to love it — are the warm talks with your hubby and children, sitting out with them beneath a canopy of stars and identifying each one. Getting up with the dew on the grass and the sun on the eastern horizon. It took me some time to get to like it, but once it’s in the blood…

  5. I love camping….many memories at campsites and fires, good times and chatting. This article brings back memories…want to go build a tent and go to the mountains, and bring that guy with the dark, long hair on your blog site….he is cute.

  6. Hi Kay, I sure hope you’re close by if I ever need to survive in the wilderness! What great info as usual.

    (And oh, thanks for more Adam Beach. Yummo.)

    As a child, my happiest memories are camping in the Sierras with my horde of cousins, all the aunties and uncles..and of course Gram, our matriarch. The menfolk would go off fishing each and every day– all day long, so when the rains came, we kids all gathered inside the tents and Gram would dig the trenches all around. I’m sure it was sheer drudgery for her and Mom and the aunties (No disposable diapers in those days when dinosaurs roamed the earth LOL), but gosh, we kids loved every second.

  7. Hey, very informative blog.

    I’m lucky enough to have been camping alot, my mother could’nt afford fancy holidays for my brothers and sisters and I so we would pack up and head off into the middle of nowhere and rough it for a week. As you can imagine our little clan were always getting into trouble, pushing each other into rivers coming back to the tent covered head to toe in mud, it was pure bliss.

    Since then I’ve done the music festival scene, but thats a completely different kettle of fish LOL

    I always remember camping with one of my exes near a river out on Dartmoor, I adored it being so close to nature, sitting up all night just gazing at the stars, and no mobile phone going off every five minutes. My exe wasn’t so enamoured with the situation, not the outdoorsy type lol

  8. Hi Lora!

    So glad you finally made it into the blog. Yes, that picture is of Adam Beach. It’s one of my favorites and I often seem to find myself posting it on my blog days.

    I love camping, too. We have a moter home that makes camping a little easier, but when my kids were young we tent camped and I really grew to love that, too.

  9. Hi Tanya!

    Thanks for your compliments — and coming from a pro. Your camping days sound so much fun.

    There is a feel to getting out in the wild that is indescribible — geez, I can’t spell today (or most other days too for that matter). So I know that you mean. Thanks for stopping by, Tanya!

  10. Hi Vickie!

    Thanks so much for stopping by. You know, one of my most favorite memories is camping on the Keys in Florida — right on the Atlantic Ocean side — and getting up in the morning with my youngest daughter to watch the sun come up.

    Amazingly beautiful. And the closeness we felt — that we still feel.

    Thanks for sharing, Vickie!

  11. Hi Kay,

    You always have an interesting blog and I learn so many new things. Your knowledge is amazing.

    When I was young, we used to go camping on the Pecos River. We didn’t have a tent though. We slept in the open air on Army cots. I still remember the smell of bacon frying in the mornings. Nothing on earth smells as good as food cooking over an open fire. Sure gets your appetite riled up.

    Hope you’re having a good time in Florida and that you escaped the hurricane damage.

  12. I remember camping in Big Sur as a kid. We hiked through the mountains and along a river. And I brushed my teeth in a stream and thought that was the coolest thing ever. (That was a long time ago). =)

  13. Hi Kay,
    I found my way in I would have been here earlier but was at doctor with my oldest daughter. And this is my first time in here and wow. I love the picture you have and all I have to say I wish it was like that again. Like I told you about souring eagle I can relate to him. I love the out doors the nature bring peace to me. I use to live in the country when I was living on Martha Vineyard and I miss the peacefulness. There is a place here in Florida I would to show you it is a natural spring that has beautifully waterfalls. Love ya Kay keep up all the great work. And Yes Ill be back.

  14. Kay I forgot to ask you if you have any native Indian recipes please will you share them with me I would love to try some out. I miss venison and I have not had rabbit stew sense I was little. And I love to learn new recipes. Thank you Love Ya Kay

  15. Hi Linda!

    I can almost smell the bacon right now. Don’t know what it is about campfires and food, but nothing tastes quite like food cooked over an open fire.

    We did escape the hurricane and any damage — in truth, we only had a few rain showers. : )

  16. Hi Karen! I really enjoyed reading your blog. Your sense of humor and fun comes through. I used to camp quite a bit with my husband, but either those tent flap openings are getting smaller, or someone’s getting bigger, LOL!

    Your blog reminded me of a huge thunder and lightning storm we went through about 5 years ago camping. Two kids in the tent and they were scared! But my hubby had luckily (or he would say smartly) tied a tarp above our tent before we went to bed, so the rain poured off the first tarp and kept us dry. But that thunder rattled right above us–made us scared, but also felt cozy. We still talk about surviving that night!

    It’s interesting how you mention that survival is a group affair. I like that.

  17. Hi Dawn!

    So nice to see you here. Martha’s Vineyard would be quite a place to go up. It’s known for its beauty. Thanks for all your compliments, as well, and yes, it would be great to experience the peacefulness of that place you describe with waterfalls.

  18. Hi Kate!

    Thank you so much for your compliments — means a lot coming from a fellow filly.

    The thing about the group affair and survival I think is really important, because TV (although I have never seen the show and so this is second hand info) but apparently that show Survivor, makes it look like tooth and claw. And that was never the Native American viewpoint of survival. None survive well alone…if at all. That was well known to American Indians, which was why their worst punishment was to ban someone from the tribe to have to survive on his own.

    What a vivid image you paint with that thunder storm. I guess it’s easy to see why Thunder — the Thunder people — would play a large part in most Native American cultures.

    Thanks for your comments, Kate!

  19. Hi Dawn!

    Ah, yes,you are quite the cook. Native Americans ate by the fireside and in the old days their diets consisted of meat (buffalo), soups, like berry soup, blood soup, etc. Dry meat and whatever berries or roots or vegetables were growing there.

    They also traded for corn and such, and depending on the tribe, there main diet had much corn in it. Of course the Native Americans fermented their corn before eating it or cooking it and they fermented it in lime water (the mineral lime). Interestingly soaking it like this gives the corn extra properties and turns the corn into a FULL protein.

    So when they had corn as their main staple, it wasn’t the same kind of corn that is in our diet today.

    Dry meat, pemmican (dry meat pounded with fat and berries) were staples in most Western tribes. But all tribes were different. Just like it is today — northern and southern dishes are so different from each other, etc.

    Today, most tribes make fry bread tacos or simple fry bread, which to me seems much like a flat, very big donut. All tribes, however, make them differently, as well.

    Hope this helps.

  20. Hi, Kay, never mind the survival. Where do you find those yummy men? They all live up to my idea of the primeval Native Indian warrior, and they get better and better with each cover. Of course, I think you told me your daughter does covers? I need to remember that. BTW I have never been camping. I think I’d die in a sleeping bag. I have always hot feet and a cold nose. I don’t think I could sleep upside down in one LOL All kidding aside, I am glad I read over your suggestions in case you are caught without shelter. They can come in handy anywhere. And yes, your blogsite is terrific.
    Love and hugs

  21. Hey there, Kay, we never went camping as a family but I’ve been on a couple canoe trips where we slept in tents.

    I’d like to tell you another ‘tent story’ today though: As a Cpl in the CAF, I was sent on a Jnr Leaders course to see if I had leadership potential. The course was held in Borden, Ont in Feb and it was cold but we didn’t have to sleep outside. For the final test, however, we had to complete a task. It entailed taking a troop of about dozen ‘men’ incl’g 2 radiomen and fulfilling a task. My task was to create a bivouc (shelter) for my men. Simple, he? Not!

    As soon as I rec’d my orders, I picked my 2 I/C (2nd in command) and sent him and 1 radioman to the supply hut to get a tent, tent pegs, a ground sheet, rope etc. They radioed back – nothing avail. What? But you see, that is the nature of the test. I kept asking and finally figured out the only thing avail was a tarp. Yup – just a tarp. I told them to take it and meet me at the Z drop, then we headed out. After a 15 min walk, we arrived at where I was sure my coord read was the Z drop. We were on a small hard-packed snow plateau surrounded by pines trees. That was it. Just as well there weren’t any tent pegs – ground was too frozen to pound them in anyway.

    I had a couple mins to think while we waited for my 2I/C and radioman. When they arrived, I told my 2I/C to have the men (I was the only female)throw the tarp over a long thick branch about 30″ above the snow and then I sent the rest of them to gather whatever rocks, etc they could find to hold down the sides. No rocks in sight. Only 6-12″ or so chunks of hard snow. We used them. When it was done, the instructor who’d arrived earlier to watch, looked inside and said it had to cover all of us. Gulp. I ordered my men inside. We squished in, sitting cross-legged or kneeling. Most of my men were big healthy soldiers so it was a tight fit and our toques were touching the tarp, but not a single body part was outside.

    The instructor peered in and said, ‘Comfy, boys?’ Thank goodness my men shouted, ‘Yes, Sir!’. The instructor nodded and said to take it down and head back to HQ. We did, not knowing if I passed or failed. You see, the goal is to complete the task, but if you have men in your troop who don’t think you’d make a good leader, they can refuse to obey you and pfft that’s it. If you can’t command respect in your men, you have no business being a leader.

    Anyway, as we drudged back, we were worrying about the lack of eqpt, etc but the guys were telling me it would be okay. Finally, we were sitting inside, with steaming coffee mugs. The instructor walks in and stares at me – for a long time. I stared back, but inside I was cringing. He called me into his office and gave me my evaluation. I scored a 92% – it was the second highest out of the 120 men/women on the course. Phew!!!

    Sorry it’s so long, but Kay – you asked…

  22. Hello, my dear, dear, Heide!

    So nice to see you here. Thanks so much for coming over today. I used to think the same thing about camping and continued to do so at first, but then it got into my blood. Now, I love camping.

    Bet you would, too!

  23. Hello Heide!

    So nice to see you here. Thanks so much for coming over today. I used to think the same thing about camping and continued to do so at first, but then it got into my blood. Now, I love camping.

    Bet you would, too!

  24. Hi Anita mae!

    I loved this story! What a thing to do or to live through. Thank you so much for sharing that with us today.

    Tell me, what was it like to be in charge of those men? You must’ve been so proud.

    Again, thanks Anita mae!

  25. Hi Kay, Yes thank you on the information on the food. Ill have to try a few things out with corn. H mm I wounder if I make a corn type flat bread and grill it out side and then add grilled veggies like maybe a zucchini yellow squash and egg plant with red onion and then roll it that ill have to try and let you know. Keep up the great work Kay.
    Love ya Dawn

  26. Kay I’m sorry I forgot to mention that yes cooking out side with an open fire is the only way to go. The best stew are cooked over a open fire in cast iron. Miss the days when I was young my mother had a very old wood stove, the ones that they used way back in the 18 hundreds( Like the one on Dr Quinn medicine women). And she would make her venison stew and I could smell it when i walked in the door. I miss that. Wish It could be like that again. Love ya Dawn

  27. HI Dawn!

    Invite me if you make that corn cake. : ) That sound delicious. Yes, things really do taste better when cooked out on an open fire. I wonder why that is? It smells better, it tastes better.

    Your mom had a very old wood stove, huh? My grandmother did, too. No indoor plumbing either.

    I do like the indoor plumbing, though. : )

  28. Hey Kay. You asked, Tell me, what was it like to be in charge of those men?

    The Jnr Leader’s course was 5 weeks long. I had trained and played beside those men for 4 1/2 wks by the time of the final task. And although I didn’t know and get along with all the men and women on the crse, I’m a fairly easy going tomboy with a deep respect and tolerance of most people. I think that played a huge part in my acceptance.

    Some of the other men and women on the crse kept to themselves. Whether it was due to shyness, snobbery, or the challenge of competition, I don’t know.

    But the military environment thrives on teamwork. If you can’t be a team mbr, how can you expect your men to consider themselves members of your team?

    So to get back to your question, all but 2 of the men under my ‘command’ were guys I’d cried, laughed and yes, even drank with. I knew the other 2 men didn’t like me and I was worried they would try to trip me up but I didn’t let them know I was worried. I gave them tasks and treated them like the rest. I actually don’t know if the other guys talked to them or not but after the 1st smart remark – which I ignored – I had a cohesive team to complete the mission.

    To finish the story, when my Sgt sent me on the crse, she’d told me she expected me to end up in the top 3rd of the class. This was a tall order since previous male Sgts said I had no potential.

    Well, I did end up in the top 3rd of the class of 120.

    Not only that, I ended up 3rd overall.

    Wow! Little ol’ me…

    For those of you who are uninitiated, that meant for the graduation parade, I was the person with a pace stick under my arm ordering the troops around the parade square. 🙂

  29. Man, you just can’t get a short answer out of me, can you?

    Who is it here that teases about being long-winded?

    Is it Mary C. ?

    At least I’m in good company. 🙂

  30. My one and only camping experience includes being
    chaperons at a high school band outing, it was cold,
    we had 2 shelters with a campfire in between, boys
    in one & girls in the other. It included cooking for
    some 30-40 people, canoeing with the band director
    taking an unplanned dip in the lake, and hiking. It
    was not repeated in any form or fashion by this city

    Pat Cochran

  31. Wow! Anita mae, that is quite the story. Again I’m rivitted to your telling of it. Sorry about the delay in answering. I do my course at night and so have to wait until I’m home, exercised and ready to do other things to get to bed.

    Well done, Anita mae! A very well done to you! And I love long answers. I love long stories, too. : )

    Have a super evening!

  32. Oh, Pat, you made me smile. I love the unanticipated dip. : )

    So you were in band? What did you play?

    I was in band, too. And played clarinet. I loved marching band — making those formations out on the football field.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your story with us.

    And have a good night.

  33. Just a quck last comment to say good night and a hearty thanks to all those who participated today!

    I loved the stories and I loved the companionship.

    Good Night! Sleep tight!

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