Thursday, February 26, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes VII

Many years ago while rummaging around in the stacks of the Library of Michigan, in their clipping files I found an article "Dugout Canoes in Michigan" by one Robert Galbreath. It is from some publication by the Cranbrook Institute of Science, name and publication date not shown on the clipping. Since I have run out of my own stuff on whitewood dugout canoes and several of you have Emailed comments on dugouts, I will pass on Galbreath's words:

"In Michigan, as elsewhere in Pre-Columbian America, efficient transportation was a primary concern of the Indian. Densely forested, as was most of the Great Lakes area, and interrupted by lakes, swamps and streams, it was neither possible to travel rapidly nor feasible to transport supplies overland in large quantities. Thus the Indian turned to the streams, rivers, and lakes which provided a vast network of water highways. To exploit this system, the Indian developed one of the most efficient watercraft known to man---the birchbark canoe. It was light, maneuverable, and could float in six inches of water. The canoe birch, however, was not common in the entire region, and in southern Michigan suitable trees did not occur. Elm, though, was commonly used in the construction of bark canoes. For longer-lived vessels, the Michigan Indians constructed dugouts of white cedar or white pine. Compared to the bark canoe, they were clumsy craft, difficult to carry on portages, and required longer to construct. Dugouts, however, did not puncture as easily as bark vessels and were suited to permanent camp sites.

Many of the early Spanish explorers of the Southeast, including Cabez de Vaca and the DeSoto chroniclers, note the use of dugouts, as did Roger Williams in New England and Captain John Smith in Virginia. Dugouts were used in the Hudson River valley and the coastal regions of New York, the Paciifc Northwest and Alaska.

Bela Hubbard, in the early 19th century, noted that the Indian tribes in our area (Chippewas, Ottawas, Pottawatomies, and Sacs) made use of dugouts. Around early Detroit both elm bark and dugout canoes were to be seen, but the birchbark canoe was largely confined to Canadian Indians.

Throughout the wide range of dugouts in North America, the method of their construction apparently varied little. Thomas Harriot, in his Narrative of the First English Plantation of Virginia; described how the Indians of Virginia fashioned their canoes. After selecting a tree of sufficient size, it was felled with fire, carefully controlled so as not to burn more than a small area of the trunk. Limbs and foliage were likewise burned away, and the log then placed on a platform of convenient working height. The outer bark was scraped off with shells. Finally, the interior of the log was carefully burned, and the charred wood scraped away until the log was sufficiently hollowed. Indians of the Great Lakes doubtless used similar methods. With the advent of the white man, fire, shell and stone were abandoned in canoe construction in favor of iron tools.

When the dugouts were not in use, they were liable to crack and shrink if left to dry in the sun. To prevent this, it was customary to submerge them in water or bury them in wet sand. It is no doubt due to this fact that many dugouts have survived in Michigan"

He then goes on to describe four dugouts that Cranbrook had in its collections:

White cedar. 17 ft 6 in. Found in Bailey Rapids, Manistee County
White pine. 12 ft 1 in. Found in Maple River, Emmet County
White pine. 12 ft. Found in Cedar Lake, Oakland County
White cedar. 12 ft. From Peshawbestown, Leelanau County.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes VI

Some have questioned my conclusion that "whitewood" meant the Tuliptree, suggesting instead that the pioneers might have been referring to the Basswood (tilia Americana).

"A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs" by George A. Petrides says about the Tuliptree: Indians made trunks into dugout canoes.

"The Audubon Field Guide to North American Trees" says:Pioneers hollowed out a single log to make a long, lightweight canoe.

Neither field guide attributes such use to Basswood but both note that its fibrous inner bark was used by Indians for making ropes and mats.

Referring to the Tuliptree in "Tree Habits, How to Know the Hardwoods", author Joseph S. Illick says: In some places the local name canoe-wood is applied for the reason that the Indians formerly made their dugout canoes of the trunks.

Donald Curloss Peattie in a "Natural History of Trees" wrote regarding the Tuliptree: More commonly the pioneer made a fine canoe out of this straight-growing tree, hollowing out a single log to extreme thinness, for the wood is easy to work and one of the lightest in the forest. Such a canoe sixty feet long did Daniel Boone make, when his fortunes were low, and into it he piled his family and gear and sailed away down the Ohio into Spanish territory, away from the ingrate Kentucky.

In "Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes", Norman F. Smith, then of the Michigan Department of Conservation, said:... the lumber of the tulip tree is sold commercially as 'yellow poplar' or just' poplar'. Years ago it was often marketed as ' whitewood'.

"American Woods" by Shelly E. Schoonover contains a list of common names in use for Tuliptree. Among those are "White-wood" which she says is used in Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Ontario, and the trade.

The question has also been raised as to why Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron is so named when it is far north of where Tuliptrees grow. In French Bois Blanc means "white woods" (as in forest), not "whitewood". Without a doubt the Lake Huron Island was named for its expanses of Paper Birch and Aspen ("popple" to the Michigan Deer hunter) along its shore.

The same cannot be said for Bois Blanc (Boblo) Island in the Detroit River which is well south of where the Paper Birch grows. I have not found an account of its naming, but I speculate that the the "white woods" the French explorers saw was largely made up of riverside Sycamores. The upper trunks and branches of Sycamore tress are strikingly white when leafless.

That's the end of my "whitewood" dugout stories and speculations. Dugout canoes made in the Northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula were usually made of White Cedar or White Pine. I have some stuff I can pass along on them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Michigan's Whitewood Canoes

Here is a study of Michigan's "whitewood" dugout canoes that resulted from my participation in Grand River Expedition 2000 ( I hope there will be a Grand River Expedition
2010). An article based on this study appeared in Issue 93 June 1999 of "Wooden Canoe".

As usual, if you want to opt out of this or anything or everything I send out, just let me know.


While researching to compile a guidebook to the geology, geography and history of Michigan's longest river, the Grand, I kept running into references to the use of "whitewood" dugout canoes or pirogues by Indians and pioneers in lower Michigan in the early 1800s. Eventually, like a hound dog on a raccoon's trail which is diverted when a rabbit crosses the track, I put the guidebook project on temporary hold in order to pursue the intriguing dugout story


The pioneers' "whitewood" tree is what modern field guides identify as the Tuliptree or Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tuliperifera), the tallest Eastern forest tree. As is the case with many tree species it is or was known by various names at various times or in different regions of the country. In addition to being called Yellow poplar, it was in some places called Blue Poplar, Hickory Poplar, Sap Poplar, Tulip Poplar and White Poplar.

The earliest reference to this tree that I have found was a 1710 letter in French in which it was called Black Poplar. These poplar names are really not appropriate since the Tuliptree is not of the poplar family, but is actually a member of the magnolia family. Other names include Saddle Tree or Saddle Leaf. The Onondaga Indian name was Ko-yen-ta-ka-ah-ta (white tree). Most appropriate to this article is the Tennessee name, Canoe Wood. The Tuliptree is the Official State Tree of Indiana and the unofficial State Tree of Kentucky and North Carolina.

The Michigan references I have found all use the term "whitewood". The wood of the Tuliptree is straight-grained, fine, soft, free from knots, resistant to splitting, and easily worked. Tuliptrees are tall with straight, clear trunks, frequently reaching 100 feet or more with diameters of four to six feet.

In its September 1904 issue, Outing Magazine had an article "Aboriginal American Canoes" in which it was stated that the Indian dugout builder "...demanded Trees with long, uniform trunks, without knots, and soft enough to be cut down and hollowed out with stone axes." Plainly, the Tuliptree fits this aboriginal specification.

The whitewood name refers to its white, clear sapwood. The yellow poplar name probably comes from the fact that its heartwood is usually light yellow.


In the Great Lake states, the southern limit of the Paper Birch (Betula paperifera) approximately coincides with the northern limit of the Tuliptree. This is a natural circumstance that obviously influenced the type of canoe made and used by indigenous peoples. for example, in a 1777 letter from Michilimackinac a French trader complained that the Pottawatomie Indians who occupied what is now southern Michigan and northern Indiana were "...totally ignorant of bark canoes."

The Pottawatomie's apparently didn't find that to be a handicap. They were proficient in the construction and navigation of dugout canoes, or pirogues as they were called in areas of French influence. They used dugouts going either upstream or downstream on area rivers and regularly paddled them long distances on Lake Michigan. An early day expert on the history of the St. Joseph River described Pottawatomie "canoes dug out of large white wood trees, which were very plentiful in this territory then, this being their means of travel down the river from the south in the spring on their way to the Straits of Mackinac and back

Continuing about whitewood dugout canoes:

In contrast to the Pottawatomie's, the Chippewas (Ojibwas) who occupied the more northern parts of Michigan, were expert birchbark canoe builders. Yet, when circumstances warranted, they chose to build dugouts. In 1864 a band was moving from the valley of the Thornapple River (a tributary of the Grand) to a new location considerably farther north and on the shore of Lake Michigan. They went into the woods a few miles away where they built a fleet of canoes from whitewood logs. The completed dugouts were hauled by wagon to the river. Some were as much as 40 feet long. This migration must have presented a scene much like the illustration by artist David Christofferson in the book "A Toast to the Fur trade" by Robert C. Wheeler.

In 1876 an old chief of this band traveled their route in reverse, going upstream on the Grand and Thornapple to his boyhood home at the mouth of a creek where he constructed a wigwam. He had come home to die and shortly thereafter he did.

In his 1888 book "Memorials of a Half-Century in Michigan", Bela Hubbard, an assistant to the renown Geologist Douglass Houghton, tells of a dugout procured from the Chippewa Indians in the fall of 1837 for a trip on Saginaw bay and Lake Huron:"It was a 'dug-out' of wood , thirty feet long, but so narrow that, seated in the centre, we could use a paddle on either side. In this puny craft we were to undertake, in the middle of autumn, a lake journey of 150 miles."

This was probably a whitewood dugout since we know from the account about the Thornapple band of Chippewas that they made canoes from whitewood logs and Tuliptrees did grow in the southern pat of the Saginaw Valley.

There are a number of references to dugouts on lower Michigan river systems, which, although not specifting that th canoes were whitewood, have been of interest to me because they were made and used in areas where Tuliptrees were plentiful.

In 1915 a massive four volume study was published which was entitled "A History of travel in America". Its author, Seymour Dunbar, after having described how an Indian canoe builder obtained and prepared a suitable log stated: "The log was shaped and hollowed by fire and cutting implements, and a very strong and serviceable though rough and slow moving craft was obtained." He then concluded: Such canoes were only adapted for lakes and single rivers".

He could have been describing the situation and needs in southern Michigan when settlers started arriving in the 1820s and 1830s. Those pioneers were primarily interested in a vessel's cargo carrying capability, not its portability. Likewise, the waters of their concern were the larger rivers that provided access to the Great Lakes such as the Grand, Kalamazoo and St. Joseph which empty into Lake Michigan, and the Saginaw River system which flows to Lake Huron.

Tim Kent of Ossineke, author of the definitive two-volume "Birchark Canoes of the Fur Trade", who is working on a similar book on dugouts, expresses a contrary opinion (to Dunbar's "rough and slow moving craft" characterization). In an October 1999 Chicago Tribune article on canoes, he is quoted as saying "There were an awful lot of dugouts used on rivers. There is a misconception that they were big, clunky, heavy watercraft that couldn't be portaged. Many were sleek vessels".

I found evidence that there must have been many dugouts that were indeed "sleek vessels" while researching for my narrative/monograph "Across Lower Michigan by Canoe-1790", the tale of British trader Hugh Heward's 1790 odyssey when he and seven French-Canadian paddlers in two birchbark canoes crossed the Lower Peninsula from Lake Erie to Lake Michigan. To do this they went upstream on the Huron River and downstream on the Grand River. The headwaters of these two rivers are interconnected by a series of small creeks and lakes, a three mile portage and extensive marshes.

It was an account of "two pirogues from Detroit" that crossed the Lake Erie-Lake Michigan divide in high water without having to exit their canoes. Such a feat meant that the two pirogues had to have gone down the Detroit River to Lake Erie, then upstream on the twisting and turning Huron River, up the small stream now known as Portage Creek, through a series of lakes along the Livingston/Washtenaw County Line to the divide between the Lake Erie and Lake Michigan watersheds near the village of Stockbridge.

Today in this area there are many muck farms. In pre-settlement days those were interconnected wetlands that in high-water times allowed uninterrupted passage by watercraft. There is no way such journeys could have been accomplished by clumsy log dugouts.

NOTE: The Ultimate Hugh Heward Challengers will be following this route in April but there is no chance of them paddling across the divide. Deforestation and agricultural drainage has reduced the water table radically over the last couple of centuries.

To see photos of sleek Louisiana

Pioneers' tales of dugout canoes:

An advantage of the dugout for settlers was the log-canoe's ability to withstand being pushed and hauled over barriers in the upper rivers such as floodwood log jams, snags and shallows or riffles without unloading their cargo of potatoes or oats or whatever.

The following account is from an 1879 history of Branch County:

"Another event of the spring of 1830, which may, perhaps, be worth noticing, was the first attempt by white men to transport freight on the St. Joseph. J.W.Fletcher and John Allen went to Allen's Prairie in Hillsdale County, and bought ten bushels of seed potatoes and fifteen bushels of seed oats. They constructed two whitewood canoes, loaded in their oats and potatoes, ran down Sand Creek from the Prairie to the St. Joseph, and set out on a navigation of the latter stream.

Until they reached the mouth of the Coldwater, they found their way seriously impeded by shallow places, dams of floodwood, and similar obstacles. But they made basswood 'skids' on which they slid their canoes over the dams, while in the shallows they promptly jumped into the water, and each helped the other lighten his boat...Below the mouth of the Coldwater the water was high and the way clear, and they had no serious difficulties reaching their destination".

When sawmills to provide boards for boat building became widespread, pioneers built flat boats or arks to transport their goods and agricultural products. Meanwhile they used Indian-built dugouts or made their own.

In his paper "Indians of the Western Great lakes", author W.V.Kinietz describes Indian trails that parallel the Kalamazoo, Thornapple, Huron and Grand Rivers and adds: "The rivers, of course, were dotted with birchbark canoes and pirogues cut from whitewood logs."


Pioneer accounts often dwell on the instability of the craft: "...dugouts were made with great labor from Whitewood logs. They were very narrow and one inexperienced in handling them was sure to be capsized." Or, voyaging down the Looking Glass (another tributary of the Grand) in a "...dugout which shipped water at every slight turn and finally upset in the rapids..." Or "Deer and other game were frequently seen on the banks of the river, but the rocking of the canoes prevented the rifles of the navigators from furnishing them with venison."
* My take-off on Indiana's Tippecanoe River and the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.

In 1834, another party on the Looking Glass found a means to cope with the dugout's instability: "The men of the party at once began their construction and after several days of diligent work, completed two boats and a raft. The boats, commonly known as dugouts, were each made from a whitewood log, and were about eighteen feet long and two and one half feet wide. They were lashed together..."

On the St. Joseph, dugouts were sometimes sawed though lengthwise and widened by inserting boards.

In another pioneer history is an account about a settler on the Grand River near what is now Lansing: "He and some companions once employed some Indians to make them a canoe which they dug from a whitewood log. It was 44 feet long and 3 feet 2 inches inside. They paid the Indians 20 gallons of whiskey, and cheated them by watering it..."

Another Grand River valley pioneer recalled procuring "...a clumsy, square-toed white man's build of a canoe..." for the purpose of bringing home a supply of flour and pork. He describes the upstream journey: "I poled and Bennet pulled---that is he walked in the river or on shore ahead of the boat and towed with a rope while I poled." After days of struggle and about 40 river miles, they were both utterly exhausted and had to walk overland to get help to get it the rest of the way home.

Then there was the settler on the same river who floated his grain down steam to a grist mill and then made the return trip with the flour by hooking the dugout to a team of oxen with a log chain and pulling it cross-country through the woods back to his point of origin.Try that on your birchbark canoe---or your fiberglass canoe for that matter. The grist mill in this story was located at a spot about 450 yards downstream of my home on the Grand, within the view of Verlen Kruger's canoe base.

In these latter two accounts the pioneer didn't specifically say the dugouts were of whitewood, but I have assumed they were since Tuliptrees grew in the Grand River watershed and other stories about the Grand and the Looking Glass were about whitewood canoes.

What was it like to ride in a dugout canoe? British author Frederick Marryat wrote a two-volume account of his travels, "A Diary in America with Remarks on Its Institutions", which was published in 1839. In it he tells of his ride in a dugout canoe paddled by two "Menonnomie" Indians:

"I got into the canoe with them ...The canoe would exactly hold three, and no more; but we paddled swiftly down the stream...Independently of the canoe being so small, she had lost a large part of her stern, so that at the least ripple of water she took it in, and threatened us with a swim; and she was so very narrow, that the least motion would have destroyed her equilibrium and upset her. One Indian sat in the bow, the other in the stern, whilst I was doubled up in the middle. We had given the Indians some bread and pork, and after paddling about a half an hour, they stopped to eat. Now the Indian in the bow had the pork, while the one in the stern had the bread; any attempted move, so as to hand the eatables to each other, must have upset us, so this was their plan of communication: the one in the bow cut off a slice of pork, and putting it into the lid of a sauce pan which he had with him, and floating it along side the canoe, gave it sufficient momentum to make it swim to the stern, where the other took possession of it, He in the stern then cut off a piece of bread, and sent it back in return by the same conveyance. I had a flask of whiskey, but they would not trust that by the same perilous little conveyance; so I had to lean forward very steadily, and hand it to the foremost, and when he returned it to me, to lean backwards to give it to the other, with whom it remained till we landed for I could not regain it.

How were the dugouts built? Here are three accounts describing the process:

In a 1710 letter Jacques Raudot, then Intendent of New France, tells how the Indians used fire:

"The black poplar (Tuliptree)is also a tree of this country. It grows very tall and big and serves theses savages in making large canoes for navigating on their rivers and lakes. Formerly it was an endless task for them to make these canoes; not having iron, it was necessary to set fire to the foot of a tree, to fall it and scrape it with their stone axes, and to remove the charcoal which remained on, in order that the fire penetrate to the center. After felling it they cut it the same way to the length that they wish and also to hollow it out with fire."

Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, in his monumental six volume "History of the Indian Tribes of the United States", published in 1852, described how the Indians of the Great Lakes used fire and stone tools:

"The ancient Indians, prior to the era of the discovery of America, had indeed no use for an axe, in the sense in which we apply the term now-a-days. Fire was the great agent they employed in felling trees and reducing their trunks to proper lengths. There was no cutting of trees. No stone axe, which we have ever examined, possesses the hardness or sharpness essential to cut the fibers of an oak, a pine, an elm or any other species of American tree whatever.

When the wants of an Indian hunter had determined him to fell a tree, in order to make a log canoe...he erected a fire around it close to the ground. When the fire had burned in so as to produce a coal that might impede its further progress, a stone instrument of a peculiar construction, with a handle to keep a person from the heat, was employed to pick away the coal, and keep the surface fresh. This is the instrument called by them Agakwut.

The mode of using this ancient axe, which would be more appropriately classed as a pick, was by twisting around it...a simple wythe, forming a handle, which could be firmly tied together, and which would enable the user to strike a firm inward blow. This handle was not at right angles to the axe.

He states about small specimens of this tool which were found...these small axes were adapted to the strength of boys and children, whose labors in the process of fire-fretting were always welcome and important...particularly when we reflect that this labor was generally done by females.

Eric Sloan, the late Connecticut writer and artist whose works celebrate Americana, stated in his book "A Museum of American Tools": The word canoe (canow and canoo in the 1600s) described a hollowed out log. Until the Indians saw the English hand adze, they used fire to burn out the hollow portion and flint knives and shells to scrape out the burned wood. They then devised their own adze, using flint instead of metal for the blade.. .

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Canoes or Bark

Canoes of Bark

"..These are made from the rind of the betula papyracea which is peeled in large rolls. A frame, which is called a gabarie by the Canadian French, is then suspended by four stout posts. This indicates the inner form and length of the vessel. Gunwales are then constructed of cedar wood, which sustain the ribs of the same material, that are arranged closely from its bow to its stern. The next process is to sheet the ribs with thin, flat and flexible pieces of cedar, placed longitudinally. The sheathing of bark is then adjusted, and sewn together by means of a square-bladed awl, and thread composed of fibrous roots of the cedar, called watab, which is soaked in hot water. The seams are pitched with boiled and prepared gum from the pitch pine, which is payed on with a small swab. The bow and stern, which are secured, are usually decorated with figures of animals or other pictographic devices."

These words were written sometime prior to 1847.

Then in "The Literary Voyager", a weekly magazine written by Schoolcraft, I found the following poem (Issue No. 2, December 1826)

The Birchen Canoe

"In the region of the lakes, where the blue waters sleep,
Our beautiful fabric was built,
Light cedar supported its weight on the deep,
And its sides with sunbeams were gilt,:
The bright leafy bark of the betula tree,
A flexible sheathing provides;
And the fir's thready roots draw the parts to agree,
And bind down its high swelling sides.

"No compass or gavel was used on the bark,
No art but the simplest degree,
But the structure was finished and trim to remark,
And as light as a sylph's could be;

"Its rim with tender young roots woven 'round,
Like a pattern of wicker-work rare;
And it pressed on the wave with as lightsome a bound,
As a basket suspended in air.

"The heavens in their brightness and glory below,
Were reflected quite plain in the view,
And moved like a swan-with as graceful a show,
Our beautiful birchen canoe.
The trees on the shore, as we glided along,
Seemed moving in a contrary way;
And our voyagers lightened their toil with a song,
That caused every heart to be gay.

"And still as we floated by rock and by shell,
Our bark raised a murmur aloud,
And it danced on the waves, as they rose, or they fell,
Like a Fay on a bright summer cloud,
We said as we passed o'er the liquid expanse,
With the landscape in smiling array,
How blest we should be if our lives would advance
Thus tranquil and sweetly away.

"The skies were serene-not a cloud was in sight-
Not an angry surge beat on the shore;
And we gazed on the water, and then on the light,
Till our vision could bear it no more,
O long will we think of those silver bright-lakes,
And scenes they exposed to our view
Our friends, and the wishes we formed for their sakes,
And our bright yellow birchen canoe.

Continuing with my "Hiawatha's Canoe":

You may have noticed that the description of canoe construction contains no mention of how to make paddles or what wood was used. Longfellow explains:

"Paddles none had Hiawatha,
Paddles none he had or needed,
For his thoughts as paddles served him,
And his wishes served to guide him;
Swift or slow at will he glided,
Veered to right or left at pleasure."

What canoeist wouldn't envy such power? And what canoe livery operator or canoe expedition leader wouldn't like to have an employee such as Hiawatha's Friend?

Then he called aloud to Kwasind,
To his friend, the strong man Kwasind.
Saying, "Help me clear this river
Of its sunken logs and sand-bars."
Straight into the river Kwasind
Plunged as if he were an otter,
Dived as if he were a beaver,
Stood up to his waist in water,
To his armpits in the river,
Swam and shouted in the river,
Tugged at sunken logs and branches,
With his hands he scooped the sand-bars,
With his feet the ooze and tangle.

And thus sailed my Hiawatha
Down the rushing Taquamenaw,
Sailed through all its bends and windings,
Sailed through all its deeps and shallows,
While his friend the strong man Kwasind,
Swam the deeps, the shallows waded.
Up and down the river went they,
In and out among the islands,
Cleared its bed of root and sand-bar,
Dragged the dead trees from its channel,
Made its passage safe and certain,
Made a pathway for the people,
From its springs among the mountains,
To the waters of Pauwating.*
To the bay of Taquamenaw.

* Sault Ste. Marie

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe II

Longfellow continues with Hiawatha's words:

"Give me of your boughs, O Cedar!
Of your strong and pliant branches,
My canoe to make more steady,
Make more strong and firm beneath me!"
Through the summit of the Cedar
Went a sound, a cry of horror,
Went a murmer of resistance,
but it whispered, bending downward,
"Take my boughs, O Hiawatha!"

Down he hewed the boughs of cedar,
Shaped them straightway to a frame-work,
Like two bows he formed and shaped them,
Like two bended bows together
"Give me of your roots, O Tamarack!
Of you fibrous roots, O Larch-tree!
My canoe to bind together,
So to bind the ends together
That the water may not enter,
That the river may not wet me!
And the Larch, with all its fibres,
Shivered in the air of morning,
Touched its forehead with its tassels,
Said, with one long sigh of sorrow,
"Take them all, O Hiawatha!"
From the earth he tore the fibres,
Tore the tough roots of the Larch-tree,
Closely sewed the bark together,
Bound it closely to the frame-work.

"Give me of your balm, O Fir-tree,
Of your balsam and you resin,
So to close the seams together,
That the water may not enter,
That the river may not wet me!
And the Fir-tree, tall and somber,
Sobbed through all its robes of darkness,
Rattled like the shore with pebbles,
Answered wailing, answered weeping,
"Take my balm, O Hiawatha!
And he took the tears of balsam,
Took the resin of the Fir-tree,
Smeared therewith each seam and fissure,
Made each crevice safe from water.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe

Here is a study of the relationship between the poet Longfellow and Michigan's Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. I originally wrote it as an article for "Wooden Canoe" magazine. When it was published I was disappointed by the cutting the editor had done. Editors drive me nuts. I have had similar experiences with the editor of "Michigan History" magazine. That partially explains why I self-publish my narrative/monographs. Also, I can't imagine some publisher paying for my stuff or seeing my stuff in bookstores like Larry Massie, Kit Lane or Tim Kent. I am happy with you, my select (and growing) audience.


In his epic poem "The Song of Hiawatha" Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes how the legendary Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indian hero and leader built his canoe:

Give me of your bark , O Birch-tree!
Of your yellow bark, O Birch-tree!
Growing by the rushing river,
Tall and stately in the valley!
I a light canoe will build me,
Build a swift Cheemaun for sailing,
That shall float upon the river,
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily!
"Lay aside your cloak,O Birch-tree!
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the summer-time is coming,
And the sun is warm in heaven,
And you need no white-skin wrapper!"
Thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest,
By the rushing Taquamenaw,
When the birds were singing gaily,
In the Moon of leaves were singing,
And the sun from sleep awaking'
Started up and said, "Behold me!
Geezis, the great Sun, behold me!"

And the tree with all its branches
Rustled in the breeze of morning,
Saying, with a sigh of patience,
"Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!"
With his knife the tree he girdled,
Just beneath its lower branches,
just above the roots, he cut it,
Till the sap came oozing outward,
Down the trunk, from top to bottom,
Sheer he cleft the bark asunder,
With a wooden wedge he raised it,
Stripped it from the trunk unbroken.

The "Taquamenaw" is the tea-colored Taquamenon River located in the eastern part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Although smooth-flowing and serpentine throughout most of its length, it becomes Longfellow's "rushing Taquamenaw" as it dashes over a pair of falls a few miles before it enters Lake Superior.

The Lake Superior region is the locale for most of the Song of Hiawatha..."By the shores of Gitchie Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea Water."

Canoes and Romance VI

Here again are the lyrics of the 1916 University of Michigan song "Out In My Old Town Canoe":

"I've nestled down in limousines and heard love's whispered pleas, Tender, true,
In sailing yachts romantic I have skimmed o'er many seas, 'Neath skies so blue,
I've spooned in cozy corners when the lights were low,----And always missed my cue; It all seemed very pretty, but I surely know, There's no love like the love in my canoe".
"Oh! Out in my Old Town Canoe, boys, Millions of twinkling stars above,
Each little ripple enchants you, Whispering a hint of love.
No heart can long be unyielding, Sweetly 'twill answer and be true,
Float on the shadowy river, Out in my Old Town canoe"

There are more verses..

In my parents' day the canoe on a dark river or lake served the same romantic purpose as the back seat of a Model A Ford did in mine. I could never figure out how such things worked out in a buggy, though.

A digression: One of the great dates of my youth was in the rumble seat of a Ford V8 going up Pike's Peak in the dark to see the sunrise.The song "America the Beautiful" was inspired by that view in case you didn't know. Back to canoe-assisted romance:

A ditty by Richard Emmons (of Ann Arbor I believe).

"A lovely, lazy afternoon
Quite late in May---or early June---
Would place upon the Huron's bosom
Many a gay, canoeing twosome".

From The Canoe: An Illustrated History by Jim Poling

The Canoe and the North American Psyche

Today, even with the transition to a mainly urban society, North American culture brims with connections between the canoe and the human experience. Canoes are in our art, music, writing and films. Canoes float in and out of fashions. It is the North American symbol of serenity, independence and romance. Many a love song and movie scene celebrates young love paddling quietly through tranquil waters.

One of Hollywood's most famous canoe scenes has Nelson Eddy, dressed in the scarlet of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, crooning to Jeanette McDonald as he paddles her through the wilderness in the 1936 movie Rose Marie. Hollywood also used the canoe to promote Marilyn Monroe with a photograph of her trying out a canoe during a break in filming River of No Return in 1954.

Moonlight and love are common elements in North American songs about canoeing.

"O, come with me in my light canoe...O, come with me and be my love," urges the old tune "Light Canoe".

"Dreams, dreams, do you remember, Love," asks the 1916 song "On Lake Champlain in Our Little Birch Canoe".

Similarly "A Little Birch Canoe and You" from 1918 and "Beautiful Ohio" of the same year extol the wonder of canoes, moonlight and love.

"Beautiful Ohio" was stolen and reworded and became the Official Ohio State Song with turgid verse about mountains (of which there ain't any in Ohio) and skyscrapers and grain fields etc. Here are the original words:

"Long, long time ago
Someone I know
Had a little red canoe
In it room for only two!
Love found its start,
Then in my heart,
And like a flower grew".
"Drifting with the current down a moonlit stream,
While above the heavens in their glories gleam,
And the stars on high,
Twinkle in the sky,
Seeming in paradise devine,
Dreaming of a pair of eyes which looked into mine,
Beautiful Ohio, in dreams again I see. Visions of what used to be".

Canadian author and historian Pierre Berton was somewhat more descriptive about canoes and love when he said in 1973: "A Canadian is somebody who knows how to make love in a canoe."

The Boston Herald remarked on August 24, 1903:

"It may not be wicked to go canoeing on the Charles River with young women on Sunday, but we continue to be reminded that it is frequently perilous....The canoeist arrested for kissing his sweetheart at Riverside was fined $20. At that rate it is estimated that over a million dollars' worth of kisses are exchanged at that popular canoeing resort every fine Saturday night and Sunday".

From Bill Whalen, Dayton, Ohio

"The younger members of the Dayton Canoe Club often try to coax the older guys to tell us tales of canoeing adventures in the past. Sometimes this leads to a lot of tall tales, and we end up rolling on the floor, laughing.

The discussion once got around to courting in a canoe. An old timer began by comparing the comforts and atmosphere of a canoe to the horse hair seats of a Model A Ford, adding that the cost was too high for most young men to own a car. He described how they would take all the cushions off the front porch furniture to line their floating love nests-----not always from their own front porches! He actually claimed that the song "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" referred to sparking in a canoe!"

Canoes and Romance V

In my 2001 article in "Wooden Canoe" I said that the pictures and text in the 1908 Morris Canoes catalog resulted in a positive identification of the old Pratt family canoe. It happened this way:

After months of correspondence back and forth I traveled to Bainbridge Township of Berrien County to the home of my cousin (Phil Shane) who had inherited the canoe. He took me upstairs in a building behind his house and there it was! The old Pratt family canoe. He rigged a light so that I could examine the canoe and consult the catalog reprint. Within minutes we had it and all the accessories identified. It was in remarkably good shape considering its age (probably built in 1906 or 1907), had its original canvas and the only major flaw was a stem split part way down the stern. Also there was the like-new canoe seat that my Mother sat on and the spruce-wood paddles my Dad used to propel the canoe during their honeymoon at Paw Paw Lake back in 1921. The cousin also had some good photographs in an old family album showing Pratt aunts and uncles and others in and by the canoe both on the water and on shore.

My visit and identification of the canoe apparently inspired the cousin for he joined the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association and enrolled in a class in wood and canvas canoe restoration at the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven. The class was taught by Scott Barkdoll, proprietor of Skywoods Canoe, an expert canoe restorer who has since moved his shop to Vermont. Under Scott's tutelage he repaired the split stem and re-canvased the old Morris. What else he did I do not know. So far as I can tell, the job was not finished when he died unexpectedly..

He and I had planned on co-authoring an article for "Wooden Canoe", as a sequel to the Eisenhower article, telling the story of its restoration. A planned feature of the article was to be a photograph of the restored Morris floating on Paw Paw Lake again after nearly a century. Out of concerns for his widow's feelings I didn't make a direct contact after I learned of his death but eventually I raised the question of the fate of the canoe with other cousins. All I really learned was that the canoe had gone to an adopted son. My current hope is to someday see the restoration finished and to see it float again on Paw Paw Lake with family members paddling it with those Style 2 Morris spruce-wood paddles.

I have offered to pay for transportation of the canoe to and from a professional canoe restorer and pay whatever

Canoes and Romance IV

The canoe still exists. Although it has been a family tradition that it is an Old Town, the realty is that it is not. It is an eighteen-footer with the number 4971 on a brass plate attached to the left inwale forward of the bow seat. Benson Gray says he never saw an Old Town with a brass plate and that the build card for Old Town number 1471 was for a fifteen-foot HW model built in 1906. He speculates that it might be a Morris.

With that lead and a concurring opinion from Gil Cramer, I hunted up Jeff and Jill Dean's 1985 articles on Morris Canoes in "Wooden Canoe" (Issues 21, 22 and 27) and sent copies to the cousin who has the canoe (Phil Shane). He reports that the canoe has splayed stems and that except for six at each end, every rib is screwed to the keel, both Morris characteristics, but its decks do not look like any of those pictured in the Deans' articles.

This temporarily stumped me, but I remembered that I had a copy of the 1982 WCHA reprint of the Morris Canoe Catalog. The pictures and text in this reprint resulted in a positive identification of the canoe. It turns out that it is a Model A, Type 1 Morris canoe with heart shaped decks, open gunwales and five-inch "braces" (thwarts) all of mahogany. The center brace is removable to provide a space of 70 inches for a passenger in a canoe chair. A folding canoe chair in like-new condition exactly like the one shown in the catalog (Style No. 1) is stored with the canoe. Also, there are two original Style 2 Morris spruce wood paddles. The canoe still has the original floor grate.

According to the price list in the catalog the canoe was priced at $42. The mahogany open wales added $5 and braces of mahogany $1.50 more. The paddles were $1.50 each (second quality for $1.25), and the folding mahogany and cane seat was only $2.25. The grand total then was $53.75. Sometime prior to 1915 my grandfather bought it second hand so he probably got it for less. Using the modified "Dean-Brinker" formula for dating Morris canoes I calculate that the canoe was built around 1906 or 1907.

That the honeymoon canoe has been proven a Morris rather than an Old Town in no way diminishes its aura of bygone romance for me. If anything, it has been enhanced. For now in my mind's eye I can see my mother as a newlywed relaxing in that Morris folding chair while my proud father in the stern

Monday, February 9, 2009

Canoes and romance III

The place where the Eisenhowers rented the canoe had to be the Huron River Boat Livery on Argo Pond, a backwater behind a low dam on the Huron River located within walking distance of the University of Michigan campus. There is still a popular canoe livery at this spot, but both the building and the canoes are made of metal.

What kind of canoe did the Eisenhowers paddle that June night so many decades ago? It is intriguing to speculate. The probability is that it was an 18-foot Old Town. Why an 18-footer? It doesn't seem that two grown young men and their coed dates plus a Victrola could have fit comfortably and safely in anything smaller.

Why an Old Town? If Old Town did not dominate the rental market in those days, would the composers have titled their song, "Out in my Old Town Canoe"?

In an attempt to obtain additional evidence to support my theory that the canoe was an Old Town, I sent an inquiry to Sue Audette, author of Old Town Canoe Company, Our First Hundred Years. She referred me to Benson Gray who has been heading up the effort to build an electronic archives of Old Town Canoe Company construction records. Many thousands of the "build cards" have been scanned to create a database containing specific details on each canoe built such as serial number, model, length, grade, color, date shipped, destination etc.

In response to my questions, he did a statistical analysis of the records of canoes shipped from Old Town to Michigan prior to June 1911. From his analysis he concludes that the dark green Charles River model was the most popular eighteen-foot canoe in Michigan at the time of Ike's visit. Thus it is not unlikely that is what Edgar rented. He also pointed out that the presence of the large model Old Town canoes on top of the player piano at the canoe livery as shown in the Kemnitz drawings (Illustrations of the article) confirms that a large number of Old towns had been shipped there. The models were generally awarded as incentives for the purchase of two complete railroad cars full of canoes.

(Charlie Parmelee camped near the canoe livery one cold night last year during his Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge).

I had also directed an inquiry to Old town. In response, Joe England in Customer Service related that there nothing in their archives to show direct sales of canoes either to the University of Michigan or to the Huron River Boat Livery, but there were numerous shipments to Michigan to a Mr. Marks and a Mr. Crosier.

In 1981 the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association reprinted the 1910 Old town catalog. Comparing the illustration of the Charles River model in that catalog with photographs of canoes in University of Michigan yearbooks of that era leads me to believe I may be seeing pictorial proof of the presence of Charles River models in Ann Arbor.

The catalog says: "As indicated by the name, this model is designed for use on rivers. Its flat floor gives the minimum draft and great steadiness". This sounds like just the canoe for rental on a Michigan river. The 1910 catalog goes on, "Through its beauty of outline, steadiness and speed this model earns its place as the most popular canoe on the market".

Gil Cramer of the Wooden Canoe Shop in Bryan, Ohio, thinks the Eisenhower brothers could have been paddling a Morris canoe. He says the only fifteen-foot Morris he has ever seen was purchased from an Ann Arbor canoe livery. That canoe had a Morris decal and closed gunwales, which indicated is was probably built before the Morris factory burned in 1920. He also notes that in 1911 a Mr. C.J.Molitor advertised that he was the sole Morris retailer in Detroit. This seems to provide evidence that Morris canoes were well known in southeastern Michigan at the time.

I confess to having more than a passing interest in canoe-assisted romances. Exactly ten years after Ike's evening on the Huron, my parents were canoeing while honeymooning at a cottage on a Michigan lake.(Paw Paw Lake in Berrien County).

(I once speculated to my father that I might have been conceived in that canoe, but he assured me that that wasn't where I happened. Too bad......).

Canoes and romance II

Then there is the song, "Out in my Old Town Canoe", written for a 1916 student musical comedy which intones:

"I've nestled down in limousines and heard love's whispered pleas, tender, true,
In sailing yachts romantic I have skimmed o'er many seas, 'Neath skies so blue,
I've spooned in cozy corners when the lights were low, And always missed my cue,
It seemed very pretty, but I surely know, There's no love like the love in my canoe,"

The song's chorus makes it plain that the composers were enthralled by the vision of a girl lounging in a canoe on the shimmering water on a dark summer night:

"Oh! Out in my Old Town canoe, boys, millions of twinkling stars above
Each little ripple enchants you, Whispering a hint of love
No heart can be unyielding, Sweetly 'twill answer and be true
Float on the shadowy river, Out in my Old Town canoe."

Canoe dating was not some new fad in these early years of the twentieth century. In an 1889 issue of the magazine Forest and Stream it was stated that: "The ordinary open canoes are coming into greater use each year. For pleasure paddling, and exercise, and especially for 'girling', they are unequaled."

Chicagoland Canoe Base's Ralph Freese is quoted on the subject in the 1999 issue of Canoe Journal, "In the early 1900's on the Charles River in Boston, the water was busy with canoes. Every single cove along the bank hidden by willow branches was known to young lovers who wanted to sneak away for privacy. It got to be such a 'problem' that the city passed an ordinance that 'no heads were allowed below the gunwales.' Water police in rowboats patrolled the river night and day to apprehend the scofflaws. Now those were the good ol' days!"

Canoes and romance

In his book "At Ease, Stories I Tell My Friends", Dwight Eisenhower describes his 1911 trip from his hometown of Abilene, Kansas, to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where he was to begin his military career:

"For the trip I planned to take about a week, stopping off in Chicago to see a girl...and in Ann Arbor to visit my brother Ed. At the University of Michigan, Ed was just completing his second year. While he was finishing his final exams, I walked around the campus and was impressed by the elaborate educational institution.

That evening he hired a canoe and we set out on the river---I believe it was the Huron---with a couple of college girls. We took along a phonograph and played the popular songs. Paddling in the moon light we passed canoe loads of other students enjoying the pleasant June evening. Afterwards, we paid for the canoe and walked the girls back to their dormitories...this was, up to that moment, the most romantic evening I had ever known."

One can't help but wonder whether Ike's unnamed date realized in later years that she had enjoyed a pleasant evening canoeing with a future five-star general and President of the United States. On later occasions did she recall that night upon hearing songs which were then popular, such as "Sweet Adeline", "In the Good Old Summer Time", or "My Gal Sal"?

Searching through the literature about the University of Michigan provides plentiful evidence that canoeing was a very popular recreational activity in Ann Arbor during the first two decades of the twentieth century, especially for dating. It was not unusual for University of Michigan senior annuals (called Michiganensian) to contain illustrations of romantic Huron River canoeing scenes.

LaSalle's Elm-Bark Canoe II

The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Edwin Tappen Adney and Howard I. Chappelle devotes an entire chapter to 'Temporary Craft'. The authors state, " The details of the construction of elm canoes (and of bark other than birch) by the Iroquois are speculative since no bark canoe of their construction has been preserved."

They also state that " war parties and hunters often found it necessary to build a temporary canoe, one that could be utilized for a limited water passage and then abandoned."

Adney and Chappelle draw from the writings of another 17th Century Frenchman, Joseph Francois Fitau, a description of the Iroquois elm-bark canoe as very coarsely built of a single large sheet of bark, crimped along the gunwale, with ends secured between battens of split saplings. The gunwales, ribs and thwarts were described as " tree branches" implying that the outer bark had not been removed.

La Fitau's description is quite similar to LaSalle's, but LaSalle does not mention the crimps. This omission could mean LaSalle did not crimp his elm bark but merely fastened the ends together thus making a canoe with no rocker.

The detailed procedures for building an Iroquois elm-bark canoe contained in The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America are primarily based on a 1749 account by a Swedish traveler to North America, Professor Pher Kalm.

Among the pertinent details are: 1) In warm weather the bark could be removed without much difficulty, but in the spring or fall it might be necessary to apply heat. 2) If possible the bark was stripped from the standing tree...felling was avoided for fear of harming the bark. 3)The rough outer bark was scraped away; if the builder was hurried, the scraping was confined to the areas being sewn or folded. The bark was then laid on a cleared piece of ground...with the outside of the bark up, so it would be inside the finished boat. 4) One requirement in building these canoes was to crimp the edges of the bark at the gunwales in such a manner that the bottom of the canoe would be rockered and at the same time molded athwartships. 5) Water tightness was insured by merely forcing clay into the stems from the inside, or by forcing in a wad of the pounded bark of a dead red (slippery) elm which would swell when damp.

LaSalle's men built the canoe in cold, early April weather. His account says they had to use boiling water to loosen the bark.

LaSalle says he had the tree cut down. This was probably necessary to apply the boiling water. Imagine chopping down an elm tree---with only the hatchets they carried---large enough to obtain a single canoe-size piece of bark.

It must have been a large canoe. It had to accommodate six men, together with what LaSalle listed as their gear: blankets, clothing, kettles, hatchets, guns, powder, lead, skins to make moccasins ( they were constantly wearing out), snow shoes (which they probably discarded early on), knives and hatchets for trade goods, and of course, food.

(My article goes on for several more fairly technical paragraphs which I will be glad to share with anyone who is interested.).

Now back to LaSalle and the fate of his men and their canoe. Ironically, their elm-bark canoe did not serve its intended purpose. As LaSalle said about their journey on the Huron:

" the river was almost everywhere encumbered by heaps of wood which the swollen waters carried down or cast into its bed, we got weary of carrying our baggage every moment when the masses of wood prevented the canoe from passing, moreover the river made enormous bends..."

They finally figured out that in five days of struggling with their canoe on the choked-up river they had made no more progress than one day's march on land. Therefore they abandoned the canoe and walked the rest of the way to the Detroit River.

I have self-published a comprehensive, illustrated study of elm bark canoes under the same title as this article. Take a look at it when you visit my display at the Quiet Water Symposium at MSU on Saturday March 7.

Erik Vosteen and Kevin Finney, a pair of midwestern primitive technologists, have constructed an elm-bark canoe. Try this link: <

Friday, February 6, 2009

Continuing with LaSalle's 1680 cross-peninsula trek:

The night of April 2-3 turned cold and their wet-from-wading clothes froze "stiff as a stick" in LaSalle's words. So they had to build a fire in the morning to thaw out the clothes. (They were camped on a knoll near the west bank of the Grand River,.which runs from south to north where they were north of present day Jackson. There are swamps on both sides) The Mascoutens, waiting in ambush on the east bank, saw the fire and tried to attack but the ice that had formed wouldn't hold them. LaSalle's party, taking shelter behind trees with their muskets, palavered across the river and convinced the Mascoutens that they were friendly Frenchmen, not Iroquois. The Mascoutens departed and LaSalle's group crossed the Grand. He did not tell how.
On April 22 1790, Hugh Heward and his seven French-Canadians on their way toward Lake Michigan, paddled down the Grand past the site of LaSalle's encounter with the Mascoutens.

On a spring day in 1990, 200 years later, I stood on the Berry Road Bridge a few rods downstream of where I think that encounter took place, admiring the Grand and thinking back to those days. There were about a dozen beautiful male wood ducks swimming around. A magical moment.

LaSalle's party continued east still mostly wading in marshes. On April 4, two men became so ill they could walk no farther. I figure they would have been about at the Portage Lake Swamp north of Waterloo. LaSalle said he went forward looking for a river leading to Lake Erie. From his description it sounds as if he found the Indian trail (now traced by North Territorial Road and Island Lake Road) which led to the Huron River at present day Dexter. The location where his straight-to-the-east path would have intersected the Indian trail is about at Lyndon Center.

LaSalle probably didn't recognize it, but shortly before he hit the Indian trail he had crossed the Lake Michigan/Lake Erie drainage divide. Also he would have been only about 4 miles southeast of the ancient Indian portage which Heward's party was to cross 110 years later.

Here again the Heward party would have crossed or traced LaSalle's path. Dexter is where Mill Creek joins the Huron. It was at that confluence that Heward, having no Indian guide, took what he later called the"wrong fork" and paddled up Mill Creek, instead of the Huron mainstream, looking for the portage to the Grand River watershed.

They wandered around for five days trying to find the portage before they gave up. Later, when Heward finally got an Indian guide to lead them to the portage (up the Huron to Portage Lake, then Little Portage Lake, then upstream on Portage Creek through Hell, and then finally on up Portage Creek to the portage southeast of Stockbridge) he came back down the same Indian trail to Dexter that LaSalle took 110 years before. He was on his way to the French settlement at present day Ypsilanti for more corn. Returning to the portage with the corn he would have traced LaSalle's path again, only backwards, from Dexter to Lyndon Center. Got all that?

Later, after they has crossed the portage and gone down the Portage River towards the Grand, Heward's party would have crossed LaSalle's eastward path through the marshes. My best guess is that it might have been near the Farm Museum on Waterloo-Munith Road at the headwater marsh of the Portage River in Waterloo Township of Jackson County.

When all of LaSalle's party arrived at the Huron (near Dexter) he decided that they should build an elm-bark canoe and launch it on the Huron to go down to Lake Erie. This was a hell of a project for a party of five Frenchmen, two of whom were incapacitated, and one Indian to undertake. How to make a temporary canoe from the bark of the American elm was apparently well known to explorers and Indians but with no tools bigger than knives and hatchets and a cooking pot to boil water it had to be a daunting task, nevertheless they did it. How they did it is another story that I will tell in some detail in later messages.
Once the canoe was finished and paddles carved they loaded up men and gear and launched on the bosom of the Huron. Here are LaSalle's words on what happened next:

" the river was almost everywhere encumbered by heaps of wood which the swollen waters carried down or cast into its bed, we got weary of carrying our baggage every moment when the masses of wood prevented the canoe from passing; moreover the river made enormous bends, and we observed after five days rowing we had made less progress than we usually made in a day's march."

They thereupon abandoned the canoe, and the sick men having recovered, walked cross-country to the Detroit River and Lake Erie. I believe they would have left the river about at French Landing where the Huron makes a turn from flowing easterly to southeasterly. If I am right in that speculation it means Heward's crew going upstream in 1790 traced LaSalle's downsteam route from there to Dexter.

Hugh Heward's journal makes no mention of floodwood or downed trees being any impediment to their upstream progress on the Huron. I can't believe the Huron cleaned its self up over the years so I assume he just didn't consider the woody debris problem worth recording.

When LaSalle reached the Detroit River, he left two men behind to build a canoe to go to Michilimackinac. The remainder of the party rafted across the river to present-day Ontario and walked cross-country to Lake Erie near Pt. Pele, built another canoe and paddled along the shore to Niagara, arriving on Easter Sunday, April 22,1680.

We don't know how or when Hugh returned to Detroit from the Mississippi but we do know that after the Americans took over Detroit he went to York (Toronto). He died there in 1803.


The intrepid LaSalle built an Iroquois-style canoe, but was it worth it?

Robert Cavalier, Sieur de LaSalle, was a French explorer and entrepreneur who built the first sailing ship on the Upper Great Lakes. This ship, which he named the Griffon, had the ability to carry large cargoes of trade goods and furs, and was the key to LaSalle's grand plan to develop a French commercial empire in the North American interior.

In the spring of 1679 LaSalle set sail from the Niagara River on a journey which took him through Lake Erie, the Detroit River, Lakes St. Clair and Huron, the Straits of Mackinac and finally across Lake Michigan to Green Bay. There he traded for a load of furs and the Griffon, without LaSalle on board, set out for the return voyage to Niagara.

LaSalle then set off on a canoe voyage south around Lake Michigan until he reached the mouth of what he called the River of the Miamis (at the site of present day St. Joesph, Michigan), where he built a fort. Then he and fourteen men traveled the St. Joseph-Kankakee river route to the Illinois River, where at the site of present-day Peoria he erected another fort, Crevecoeur.

In late March, 1680, LaSalle returned to Ft. Miami to learn that his ship had disappeared---and with it, most of his assets and his hope for future fortune. He decided to hurry back to Niagara and Montreal in an attempt to recoup his losses. On March 25, 1680 he left Ft. Miami with four Frenchmen and a Mohegan Indian hunter, determined to walk across the wilderness of what is now Michigan's Lower Peninsula, something never before attempted by Europeans.

After days of bushwhacking through briars and brambles, walking across prairies, wading through seemingly endless marshes, and escaping two Indian ambushes, the party reached the Huron River, a tributary of Lake Erie, at a point somewhere upstream of present-day Ann Arbor. Since two of his men were too sick to walk, LaSalle decided to build a canoe to go down the river.

The following description of the construction of the canoe is in his own words:

"I found a stream and had a sort of elm cut down which the Iroquois call Arondugalte, the bark of which can be stripped off at all times though with more difficulty at this season, when it must be continually moistened with boiling water and great care must be taken not to break it. The end of the bark is placed inside; the two ends are sewn together, and all along the sides poles are fixed half as thick as one's arm, which are connected by
cross pieces, fastened to them at regular intervals which serve as seats or for the head of the canoe. The bottom part of the bark is strengthened by small floor pieces made of sticks running from one side piece to the other, and if there are any cracks they are filled up with peelings of thin bark which serves as pitch."

Why did LaSalle use elm rather than birch bark? The place where the canoe had to be built was south of the area where the paper birch (betula paperifera) grew. Furthermore, even if paper birch trees were available, they might not have been used due to the time and complexity involved in building a birch-bark canoe.

Since LaSalle had spent time in Iroquois territory, and since he referred to the particular species of elm that he used by its Iroquois name, it can be assumed that he patterned the canoe on the Iroquois model and used their construction method.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

LaSalle and Hugh Heward II

Following LaSalle across the State:

LaSalle's plan for the Griffon had been to have it unload its furs at Niagara and then sail to Ft. Miami (St Joe) with ship-rigging supplies and equipment. At Ft. Crevecoeur (south of Peoria) in February 1680 he decided that he himself had to return to Ft. Miami, and if the Griffon was not there, to go on to Niagara. Of course we know that the Griffon disappeared after leaving Green Bay, never to be seen again.

He started upriver on the Illinois on the first of March, 1680. They ran into ice and eventually abandoned their canoes about where Joliet is now and walked and waded though slush until they got to Lake Michigan. They hit the beach probably about where Gary is now and then followed the beach up to the mouth of the St. Joseph River, arriving at his fort on March 24. The Griffon was not there and he learned from the men left at the fort that it had never arrived at Niagara.

So, when the Heward party paddled down the lake shore south of St. Joe in May of 1790 they were going backwards not only on LaSalle's 1679 eastward and northward water trail they were also going backwards on his 1680 beach walk. Further, when they were wind bound on May 4 through May 7 they literally camped in LaSalle's tracks. I'm guessing that would have been about where Warren Dunes Sate Park is now.

LaSalle was determined to get back to Niagara but he had no ship and canoeing up through Lake Michigan to the Straits and then down Lake Huron would take too long so he decided to walk to Lake Erie.

LaSalle's party for the cross-peninsula hike consisted of himself, four other Frenchmen and a Mohegan Indian hunter/scout. The Indian was not a guide because he was from Massachusertts thus didn't know any more about the Great Lakes country than LaSalle.

On March 25 they built a raft and crossed the flooded St. Joseph River (which they called River of the Miamis). Then they headed up the valley of the Paw Paw River, a tributary of the St. Joseph, following its left bank. LaSalle said that for the next two and a half days they struggled through brambles and briars. (When they were following the Paw Paw eastward between present day Coloma and Watervliet if they had looked across the river through the leafless trees at a particular place on the north side they could have seen the 15 acres where I was to be born and grow up).

On March 28 they came to "more open woods" (Grand Prairie west of Kalamazoo). The sound of their shooting game for food attracted Pottawatomie Indians who were scared off by being fooled into thinking LaSalle's little group was an Iroquois war party.

LaSalle's letter doesn't mention the Kalamazoo River but that is what they would have to cross next. There was a good ford where Kalamazoo is now but they wouldn't have taken it since they were deliberately avoiding Indian trails for fear of Iroquois war parties. Thus they must have crossed the river well to the north beyond a huge tamarack swamp that lay on the west bank.(I'm guessing they constructed another raft to make the crossing).Then they were in a big prairie (Gull Prairie, the largest in Michigan) and set the grass on fire to cover their tracks.

The navigation technology of the time allowed travelers to know their latitude (how far north or south) but not their longitude (how far east or west). Thus LaSalle knew the direction to the Detroit River and Lake Erie but not how far they had to go. So he set a course straight east and they continued walking and burning the grass behind them. This course took them between Gull Lake and the northernmost bend of the Kalamazoo River until they ran into marshes northeast of present-day Battle Creek on March 30.

For the next three days they had to wade through wetlands leaving easy-to-follow tracks. The Iroquois ruse (drawing Iroquois signs on trees with charcoal) which scared off the Pottawatomies got them in trouble because they were being followed by a Mascouten Indian war party which was hunting Iroquois.

NEXT: Ambush at the Grand.

LaSalle and Hugh Heward

My retirement hobby has been "topology", topographic studies of places in relation to their histories. I take a primary source describing someone's travel in and about Michigan centuries ago and; using my extensive topographic map collection, library research and road reconnaissance, work out their route.

All I or anyone else knows about LaSalle's 1680 walk across the Lower Peninsula is contained in a single letter he wrote to an investor back in France in September of 1680. The sole and primary source on Hugh Heward's 1790 expedition from Detroit to the Mississippi is his detailed journal which fortunately has been preservred and published.

Here is a story about both of them based on their own words.

Robert Cavelier, Sieur de LaSalle, the famous French explorer who built and navigated the first sailing ship on the Upper Great Lakes was the first white man to go down the Mississippi to its mouth. In 1679 and 1680 he traveled on, up, down, across and along Michigan waters and actually walked across the Lower Peninsula.

In 1790 British trader Hugh Heward and his party of seven French-Canadian paddlers in two birchbark canoes traveled from Detroit down the Detroit River to Lake Erie then went up the Huron Riiver and a tributary to a portage that took them into the Grand River valley. Then they went down a tributary and the Grand to Lake Michigan and along the shore to the Chicago River. They then portaged into the Illinois River system and followed the Illinois all the way to the Mississippi.

In so doing they crossed or traveled on LaSalle's paths of 110+ years before several times. Example: In 1679 LaSalle sailed up the Detroit River in his ship Griffon while in 1790 Heward's party paddled down the Detroit River in their birchbark canoes. Here in bits and pieces are some of their coincidents (is that a word?).

In 1678 and 1679 LaSalle caused to have built adjacent to the Niagara River a sailing ship to be known as the Griffon. In the summer of 1679 the ship, loaded with trade goods; sailed across Lake Erie, up the Detroit and St. Clair Rivers and Lake Huron, through the Straits of Mackinac and across northern Lake Michigan to an island at the entrance of Green Bay. There they took aboard a load of furs and the Griffon departed to return to Niagara.

After the Griffon departed, LaSalle with 14 men in four canoes embarked on an arduous journey around the west and south shores of Lake Michigan to the mouth of what he called the River of the Miamis. They built a small fort on the bluff overlooking the lake at the site of present-day St. Joseph (my wife Elaine's home town). There would have been four paddlers in three of the canoes and three in the other one. Thus their canoes were probably about the same size as Heward's, 20 footers.

In April and May of 1790 the Heward party traveling south along Lake Michigan's east coast from the mouth of the Grand River arrived at the mouth of the St. Joseph River. From then on they traced LaSalle's path in reverse as far as the Chicago River.

In the fall of 1679 LaSalle's party went upstream on the St. Joseph River as far as present-day South Bend and made a five mile portage into the marshes that were the headwaters of the Kankakee River. They followed down the Kankakee to its junction with the Des Plaines River where the two conjoined rivers became the Illinois River. Then they paddled down the Illinois to a place south of present-day Peoria where they built a fort that LaSalle called Crevecoeur (broken heart). They spent the winter of 1679-80 working on a ship they hoped to use to explore the Mississippi River, which had been discovered by Marquette and Joliet seven years earlier.

When the Heward party arrived at the Chicago River in the spring of 1790 they went up that river to the portage to the Des Plaines River. There they traded their two canoes for a pirogue (dugout canoe) and hired Indians to carry their gear and goods across the portage. They launched their pirogue and headed downstream (south) on the Des Plaines to its junction with the Kankakee then followed the Illinois all the way to the Mississippi From the confluence of the Kankakee and the Des Plaines to where they passed the site of Ft. Crevecoeur they were following LaSalle's 1679 route.

They were also going in the opposite direction on the Illinois on the route taken by Marquette and Joliet when they were returning in 1673 from "discovering" the Mississippi (the Indians already knew where it was). In 1675 Father Marquette was dying as he was being paddled by a single companion along the Lake Michigan shore from the Chicago River trying to get back to his mission at St. Ignace. He didn't make it. He died along the way, probably near present-day Ludington by the lake that bears his name. Thus both LaSalle in 1679 and Heward in 1790 traced Marquette's path.

If you visit me at my display at the Quiet Water Symposium March 7 I have this all on a big map.

NEXT: LaSalle heads north.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Low tech canoeing part X

The restoration of the 1921 Old Town Otca:

At some point while my son Jim was growing up I unilaterally decided that the restoration of the family's Old Town canoe would make a good father-son project so we drove down to Watervliet from our home in Lansing, loaded the canoe on our car top carrier (tied down very securely) and hauled it back to Lansing where we hung it up in the carport. (Wife Elaine didn't think it was particularly decorative hanging there in full view from the street).

So father and son had at it. After removing the gunwhales and keel and carefully saving all the brass screws etc we stripped off the old damaged canvas and undid my brothers' repairs. Thus made naked, we were able to examine the hull and determine what repairs and replacements were necessary. We ordered replacement ribs and planking etc. through a local Old Town dealer but the prices quoted were too much for me to justify given the state of my young family's finances and my son's rapidly diminishing interest in the whole idea. I now know that the prices quoted by Old Town were really quite reasonable.

Discouraged, I finally hauled the hull to Watervliet and hung it up in the old family barn and put the stuff we had removed up in my attic. The years went by, the son grew up, I lost one brother and the other became incapacitated, so we decided to give the pieces of the Otca to someone who would fix it up and find it a good home.

I first met Scott Barkdoll of Skywoods Canoe Company at a Quiet Water Symposium at Michigan State University. He makes a business out of building, restoring, buying and selling wood and canvas canoes. He used to be at Honor, Michigan, but now he is located in Vermont. I told him the story of the old Otca and offered it to him for free if he would restore it and find it a good home. So he and a helper went to Watervliet and got the hull out of the barn and I gave him the parts I had in the attic.

Eventually I got a message from him:

"Hi James: I have been terribly delinquent in letting you know that just before we left Michigan the 18-foot Otca sold to a very nice woman with a cottage in Hessel. It was fully restored for her last year and painted white with a blue Greek spiral and is a stunning canoe which will be loved and used--and will stay in Michigan. She would probably love to talk to you...I suspect she will love the stories that go with that canoe."

That "very nice woman" turned out to be from an "Old Money" Indianapolis family with a fancy summer home in the Upper Peninsula's Les Cheneaux Islands in Lake Huron where the boathouses are bigger than the cottages most other places. She subsequently gave the Octa to another "Old Money" Les Cheneaux summer home owner only from Virginia. I contacted her to be sure she had the canoe's history and asked for a photo of it in its new home. She thanked me for the story of the canoe but I have yet to get a picture. Nevertheless I am content.

This is the end of the Low-Tech Canoeing series. If you have enjoyed reading them a fraction as much as I did writing them, I am doubly content.

Don't forget the Quiet Water Symposium Saturday March 7 at Michigan State University. The Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge starts at Belle Isle in Detroit on April 17. The annual Hugh Heward Challenge 50 miler takes place on Saturday April 25..

Low tech canoeing part lX

The history of the Watervliet Old Town:

The Watervliet Old Town canoe is an 18 foot Otca Model built in Old Town, Maine, in 1921. (That's the year before I was born). My family bought it from a family who had a home on Paw Paw Lake in Berrien County, Michigan. The owner was an executive in the local paper mill and his daughter was a couple grades ahead of me in high school. It was acquired in the mid 40s while I was a student at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado (where they brew Coors beer).

After serving in World War II (Army Engineers in the Pacific, Okinawa and Korea) I returned to Mines on the GI Bill and graduated as a Geological Engineer in 1948. During that last school year I started planning my big canoe trip and talked two of my fraternity brothers (Beta Theta Pi) into postponing going out into the cold, cruel world of career and work to go along. My younger brother, a Navy veteran and a student at Michigan State, was to be the fourth member of our expedition.

I have told you the story of our 1948 canoe trip in Western Ontario in earlier Emails in this series.

This was a once-in-a-lifetime trip for one who fell in love shortly afterward and had to spend the next decades making a living and raising a family. Ned and Ken, my two fraternity brother companions, went on to careers in Mining Engineering all over the world and never canoed again so far as I know.

The next spring after the Canadian trip the Paw Paw River was in flood, so hot-shot canoeist that I considered myself to be, I decided to run it solo in the Otca. I put in at Paw Paw Lake, and sitting on the rear with the bow in the air I am off down the Paw Paw River towards the paper mill where there is a backwater behind a couple low-head dams. I passed up the so-called Upper Dam and when I got to the Lower Dam there was enough water flowing over it that I thought I could shoot it which I did without even slowing down. I managed to avoid the back curl but in trying to make a sharp left turn just below the dam the canoe overturned ejecting me (still no PFD) and headed downstream, upside down and alone.

Well I got tangled up underwater in some submerged tree branches. I thought to myself "This is a stupid way to die, drowning less than a river mile from the house where you grew up!" (The thought took a lot less time than the telling). Obviously I extricated myself or you wouldn't be reading this. I caught up with the canoe, pulled it out on the bank and emptied it, got in and finished the trip. I landed in the flooded woods behind the house and got my brother to help me carry the canoe up to the barn and hang it up. I don't remember what I did for a paddle but I always had a spare lashed into the canoe so maybe that's what I used.

This is the first time I have ever told the whole story. There's no one left to give me hell any more. My grandfather's oldest brother drowned in the Paw Paw River on the 4th of July, 1869, at age eighteen..

We used the canoe on short trips on Michigan rivers. Each trip had a good story, like the duck hunting trip down the Paw Paw when I fired at a duck at a 90 degree angle to the long axis of the canoe causing it to tilt and dump my brother and his pet 16 gage shotgun into the river. Then there was the a trip down the Manistee where we froze our butts
in inadequate GI blanket sleeping bags and ended up standing around a fire all night.

Then there was the not-so-funny story of my two brothers coming home from a goose hunting trip trip without adequately tieing down the Otca on their car top. It flew off and followed their Chevrolet upside down down Michigan Highway 140 at about 50 miles per hour. Repairs were made that made the canoe useable again but really ugly.

NEXT: Restoration of the Old Town.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Low tech canoeing VIII

Continuing about my 1948 canoe trip from "Wooden Canoe":

" Grandpa complained that the one thing they could count on throughout the trip was that the wind would always be in their faces, no matter from which direction they were paddling. The same phenomenon held true for smoke from campfires---always in the eyes."

We only got really lost once. It was after a day in civilization. When we reached the northernmost point of our journey we had arrived at the little wide-place-in-the road on TransCanada Highway 17 known as Wabigoon. We spent a short time in a Hudson's Bay Post replenishing our provisions and a long time in an Official Ontario Purveyor of Beer. We returned late to our last campsite which we had named "Slimy Island" because that's what it was. Next morning we are off on the return which, after some upstream paddling and a couple of portages, will find us in the Turtle River, a tributary of Rainy Lake. In a big marshy bay we find what we think is the right river flowing in and confidently head upstream. It is extremely serpentine thus masking what direction we were really heading. The hangovers from the previous day's imbibing didn't help. Late in the day we came to a bridge where no bridge should be. We have inadvertently arrived back at the TransCanada Highway an unknown number of miles east of where we spent the day before. Determined not to waste an entire day we decide to skip camping and spend the night going back downstream to where we started the day. So with the bow man snoozing and the stern man steering we drifted all the way back to our point of departure. Daylight enables us to find the right stream and we are on our way again. Today I used Google Earth and MapQuest to go back and relive that misadventure.

" The year 1948 was back in what Grandpa called the good old days when smoking was fun and guilt-free. The veterans' habits had been nurtured during the war by the availability of cigarettes at 5 cents per pack in the PX or ship's store and free in field rations. The point of his telling about their low-cost addiction was to try to explain away why, after leaving their last pack of cigarettes on a rock towards the end of the trip, two grown men would paddle back several miles to retrieve the fags and travel an equal distance to get back to where they turned around. Grandpa said that one consolation was that one of these legs was downwind."

Cigarette adds used to dominate magazines and radio like prescription drug commercials and two-page ads dominate TV and magazines now. My Dad smoked Camels so that was what I learned on. I didn't start until I was 19 and had a hard time with coughing and hacking but I stuck with it until it took. "I'd Walk a Mile for a Camel" their ad went. "Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War" their ad said when they changed from green packs to white to save chromium. "Blow a Little My Way" said the seductive girl to the Chesterfield smoker.

"It was four skinny, hard muscled, sun tanned, mosquito bitten, unshaven, smelly canoeists who successfully and happily arrived back at Rainy Lake. Ken, Ned and Jim, freshly graduated from engineering school, went on to start their careers and John went back to college."

John and Ken are gone now but Ned is still around, living in a fancy retirement community on the Atlantic. The Old Town Otca still exists, one year older than I am, but that's another story

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Low tech canoeing part VII

Continuing about our 1948 canoe trip from "Wooden Canoe".

"In portaging as well as in paddling the two teams were well matched. The huskier team carried the heavier Old Town and the smaller team carried the lighter Penn Yan. All portages were two man carries. No one had the skill to carry an 18 footer solo."

"Attempts to emulate the Indians by carrying gear with a tumpline over the forehead failed miserably. They could not stand the pain in the neck caused by the weight of the packs. The four college guys had to admit that volleyball, downhill skiing, or elbow bending does not develop neck muscles. The best pack turned out to be a war surplus ski trooper rucksack. It rode on the hips, had a low center of gravity, and had room to lash bulky gear on top."

(Another pack we used was a war surplus bent-plywood packboard that the Infantry used to carry mortar parts or the Quartermasters used to backpack ammunition or jerry cans. It worked OK but you always had to lash or unlash the load. We also had a traditional frame and canvas packboard. We placed the packboards in the bottom of the canoes to keep the loads out of the wet. We used GI ponchos to wear in the rain, cover the load or string up as a kitchen fly. Let's put it this way, most everything an infantryman wore or used to live and fight in the open was useful to the canoeist traveling in the wild, GI mess kits for instance. Of course we didn't have to wear helmets or carry rifles.)

(The cover photograph of the June 1997 issue of "Wooden Canoe" that carried Adam's story showed Ned and Ken portaging the Penn Yan upside down over their heads. It shows that for shoes they wore regular sneakers. Brother John wore war surplus canvas jungle boots from the South Pacific. I wore L.L.Bean canvas canoe shoes. I think the L.L.Bean shoes were best.)


These are from my narrative/monograph "Locating Michigan's Old Canoe Portages":

In an article in the August 1893 issue of "Harper's New Monthly Magazine", Frederic Remington, famed for his western art, tells of a canoe trip on an Ontario river:

"...a mile of impossible rapids made a 'carry' or 'portage' necessary. Slinging our packs and taking the seventy-pound canoe on our shoulders, we started down the trail. The torture of this sort of thing is as exquisitely perfect in its way as any ever devised. A trunk porter in a summer hotel simply does for a few seconds what we do by the hour, and as far as reconciling this to an idea of physical enjoyment, it cannot be done." At the end of the portage he concludes, "...and it is with a little thrill of joy and the largest sigh of relief possible when we again settle the canoe in the water."

The late Canadian canoeist/artist Bill Mason echoes this sentiment in his beautiful video "Water Walker", "Anybody who tells you portaging * is fun is either gotta be a liar or crazy. Now the walk back for the second load, that's the part I like."
* He pronounced it port-ta'-zhing with with the "a" like in "tag".

Deep River Jim said: "Nothing feels quite so good as the rest at the end of the carry."

Low tech canoeing part Vl

Continuing from the "Wooden Canoe" article about my 1948 canoe trip in Western Ontario.

"Shooting rapids was a thrill in more ways than one. It never dawned on them that they should have life jackets (this was before these were called "personal floatation devices"). Deep River Jim's book didn't mention them and Lloyd's Emporium didn't say anything either. Their whitewater training was strictly on-the-job when they started encountering rapids far, far out in the wilderness. Grandpa said that if they really screwed up and need to be rescued, they intended to set an island on fire in the hope that the Canadian authorities would fly over to see what's going on."

"The Otca and the Penn Yan performed admirably in the rapids (no longer catamaraned of course). They slid off rocks that their drivers weren't skilled enough to avoid with hardly any damage beyond scratched paint. Even when their drivers involuntarily bailed out, the canoes continued to run the rapids (upside down or right side up depending on what caused the paddlers' departure). Then the canoes would wait patiently in some downstream eddy until the swimming or wading voyageurs arrived. The performance of these canoes was a true testament to the practicability of wood and canvas, said Grandpa."

"According to him, the most difficult decision when facing a rapids often was not so much whether to run it, but whether to unload the canoe and carry the gear around. A bad decision in this regard meant wet sleeping bags for a couple of nights and the scorn and/or pity of one's companions."

(We didn't need maps or a guidebook to know when we were going to face a rapids. You could hear the roar well upstream and the louder the roar, the worse the rapids. We would get to shore upstream of the rapids and scout them out. The really bad ones and the falls we would portage around. The ones we decided to run we had to choose whether to run them loaded or empty. Each canoe dumped once. When brother John and I dumped we were empty, having portaged out gear around. When Ken and Ned dumped, they were loaded thus causing a delay until they could get their sleeping bags etc. dried out.).

(When you get dumped from your canoe in a rapids the thing to do to avoid serious injury is to go down on your back feet first using your arms out like a double-bladed kayak paddle.When John and I dumped it was because we didn't hit a triangular standing wave on center. I can still replay in my mind slow-motion that tilt and dump).

( Happily none of us got hurt on the trip. We were prepared. We had a good first aid kit and were well trained. Advanced First Aid was part of the curriculum at the Colorado School of Mines. I suppose that's because we were expected to graduate to hazardous jobs. Ken and Ned had Mining Engineer degrees and did, in fact, pursue mining engineering careers, mostly in foreign countries. John had already had a ship sunk out from under him in the Pacific so he was no virgin when it came to swimming for it. I was just a self-confident ex-Army Engineer, used to command. I was the acknowledged leader of the expedition but my companions irreverently called me "Shallow Puddle Jim" instead of my preferred title, "Deep River Jim").

(We were also prepared if it came to damage to our canoes We had a repair kit that included canvas and glue for patches, copper tacks and fine wire. For anything major that was fixable we had a good axe and knives, the woods were full of black spruce trees for gum, birches for bark, and downed seasoned wood. Spruce gum mixed with a little bacon grease would give us the same material that the Heward party used for "gumming" their birch bark canoes back in 1790. These days we would carry a roll of duct tape, but in those days only furnace men knew about duct tape. If we wrecked one canoe we would have doubled up, shed some gear, and hurried on downstream. If we had wrecked both canoes, there was always the Set-the-Island-on-Fire alternative).

(On the Turtle River fishing was so good it was delaying us so we adopted a rule: No more than two casts above each rapids or falls and two below. The walleyes were usually above and big old northerns below laying in wait for whatever came through. Of course we would release everything except maybe a couple of walleyes for supp

Monday, January 26, 2009

Low tech canoeing part V

Sphene Lake
Like Hugh Heward in 1790, I kept a journal of my 1948 canoe trip only I called it a Canoe Trip Log. After studying Hugh's elegant journal I am a little ashamed of mine. Here are some samples:
"Sat. 30 July: O515 left civilization between railroad and power line. Paddled 1/2 hour to Homestretch Island. Lost big muskie by horsing...caught 16" pike (Northern pike, the natives called them "jackfish") 10 minutes later Ned caught big pike at island. Ate breakfast at 1000. Canoes lashed together for rough water. Rained in at Hook Island .Long haul in rough water (We are on Rainy Lake) to Standingstone Point. Spent night. Caught pike".
" Windbound Sun July 31 Took refuge on island off point. Noon meal on island...swim. Camp Sun night..2 pike".
"0900 on way Mon AM. (Aug 1) Big bass...largemouth. Hector (Ken) caught pike. Stopped for lunch. John no longer virgin...his first pike. Camped Mon night on Sphene Lake after portage from Rainy Lake. (RAIN), Hamburgers, fried onions, macaroni and cheese and cocoa for supper...saw two deer."

Devil's Cascade

"Picture #4 at Devils Cascade, #5 at Sphene Lake. Picture #6 at first portage of Manitou River. Camped above rapids after 2 portages, 3 wades & 2 paddle-through rapids.
Two canoes and four guys passed us. They are going to go down the Albany."
Very soon I tightened up the herky-jerky narrative and quit counting fish and describing menus. In re-reading this log I have enjoyed reliving some of those upstream struggles of six decades ago.
Here is a sample of Hugh's journal. On April 23 the party (Hugh and seven French-Canadian paddlers in two 20 foot birchbark canoes) encountered some Indians spearing sturgeon (near present day Onondaga). He called them "an ill looking band of about 12". They traded some tobacco for a sturgeon and took off when they saw more Indians coming. They ran the rapids at present day Eaton Rapids and kept going and camped probably about where Burchfield County Park is today.

First Portage

"Saturday Apl 24th 1790. Refitted our Cannots with Gum & set off passed a Rapid in about an hour (Dimondale) after which high broken Land & some pine Trees the banks of Red land from thence came to a River from the East (Red Cedar) & a little lower two cabins of Indians from Sagana (North Lansing) they were providing Cannots for their Departure the course to this Time nearly Nore West by Nore from thence high broken Land & some pine & Cedar about 11 o'clock came to an island in the Middle of the River & a long Rapid & afterwards another Island about Mid Day. (Delta Mills) Dined the Course West Nore West & came to another Island afterwards three Small Islands and some Pine trees on each Side of the River & high Rocks on the North (Grand Ledge) & a small Run of Water from the South (Sandstone Creek) after which another small Island & and a long and pleasant drift of an equal and strong Current the Banks high but the Beach level & Gravelly bottom to a long but not very strong Rapid & to another Island the Course West by North to again high Banks to the North to another Island from thence to four others all together following from here a high Sandy Bank with some pine Trees on the south side after which a Large Island & two small ones following afterwards three Small Islands & two small meadows to North this last Course nearly West heavy Wood on all Sides Encamped Opposite an Island" (In Portland State Game Area near Sebawa Corners).
I took the time to insert punctuation at the logical places when I was doing my research in 1989 and 1990. That made it easier to follow his route on maps and along the river.
This is the day's paddle commemorated by the annual 50 mile Hugh Heward Challenge. This year's Challenge runs from Dimondale to Portland on Saturday April 25 2009.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Low tech canoeing part IV

Sustenance and sanitation on our 1948 canoe trip (from the "Wooden Canoe" article):

"Their food guide was Deep River Jim's "Grub list for a Two-Weeks' Cruise", very heavy on bacon, flour, macaroni and beans. On Lloyd's Emporium's recommendation they added hardtack, dried fruit, Canadian canned butter, sugar butter and Cadbury's Carmello Chocolate Bars. (the first time I had ever run into Cadbury's. I thought they were great, still do). Their food supply, supplemented by unbelievably good fishing, turned out to be quite adequate and nourishing but they vastly underestimated their appetite for sweets. Exertion-driven energy demands and a shameful failure of self discipline caused them to deplete a two week's supply of sugar, candy, jam and syrup in five days".

"They were thus facing many days of desperation and possible sucrose starvation when a minor miracle occurred. They rounded a point on what they believed to be a wilderness lake when lo and behold, there was a fly-in fishing lodge with two good-looking Chicago girls in bathing suits sitting on the end of the dock! Grandpa said that it was indicative of the state of their desperation that they were as interested in the prospect of acquiring sugar as they were in the girls".(We prepared food pretty much the same way Hugh and his crew did in 1790. We cooked over an open fire and used mostly "squaw wood" for fuel. Squaw wood is firewood that you can gather without using tools. I had a good lightweight L.L.Bean Hudson Bay axe but seldom used it. I still have it. It is always part of my display at the annual Quiet Water Symposium. We had no stove, no fuel container, no propane, no butane, no Coleman fuel, no freeze-dried foil-packed meals, no saw, no fire pan, no reflector oven, no folding water bucket or cooler. We did have lots of waterproofed matches. We weren't up to flint and steel which is probably what Hugh and the Canadians used. After all, they carried flintlock muskets).

(Hugh's crew probably cooked in copper trade kettles. We used a GI surplus nesting aluminum kettle kit topped by a steel fry-pan/cover with a folding handle. The biggest kettle served as our water bucket with the smaller ones for cooking. Our water came straight out of the river or lake, no filter, no chemicals).

(We didn't have any trouble with critters getting into our food except for one morning I woke up and there was a skunk going through our stuff. You can be sure I laid there quietly so as to not disturb it until it was satisfied and wandered off. We just had to trim a little bacon).

(Traveling through essentially endless wilderness, personal sanitation was no problem. We washed and bathed in the lakes or streams, although the water was too cold except for the briefest of swims. When nature called we would just slip out into the woods and scrape away a spot in the leaves or pine needles. We didn't even carry a shovel to make "cat holes". Our route was little travelled. We only saw one other canoe party the entire trip. Additionally, our jungle hammocks gave us the ability to camp where no tent-campers could. Contrast this with canoeing in the Boundary Waters now where you can only camp at designated sites with box latrines. Or contrast it with the way that Charlie Parmelee travels in his Kruger Sea Wind. He prides himself on no-trace camping, using a fire pan under his stove and some sort of traveling "Thunder Mug"---I've never actually seen it---so that the only sign of his presence might be some matted-down grass where his tent was pitched. He can even sleep in his canoe).

Here is Deep River Jim's "Grub List for two persons on a two-weeks' cruise into wilderness country":

6 lbs. Bacon 2 lbs. Cheese 1/2 lb. Cocoa
6 lbs. Flour 2 lbs. Dried Lima Beans 4 lbs.Corned Beef Hash
3 lbs. Onions 2 lbs. Dried Prunes 2 lbs. Powdered Milk
3 lbs. Cornmeal 1 lb. Dried Apricots 3 lbs. Baked Beans (cans)
3 lbs. Sugar 1 lb. Pea Soup Powder 3 lbs. Tomatoes (cans)
2 lbs. Raisins 1 lb. Chipped Beef 2 lbs. Corn (cans)
2 lbs. Rice 1 lb.Dehydrated Potatoes 2 lbs. Macaroni

The only carried food mentioned in Hugh Heward's journal was pork and corn. Catching, netting or spearing fish would have been easy and they had muskets for killing game. The French explorer LaSalle in his account about walking across the Lower Peninsula in the spring of 1680 tells of shooting stag (deer), bear and turkey for food. They carried flintlocks too.