Tag Archives: Mountain Man

Rifles, Guns, and Muskets

When I was 12 years old I won a dutch oven by beating a grown man in a “mountain man run”. Technically we tied in the run but I broke the tie by shooting a gong that was placed 300 yards up on the side of a mountain.dalynflintdownrange2I won with a flinch. The first time I pulled the trigger the hammer just snapped back to half-cock and I flinched so hard I almost fell over. When I reset the hammer I was shaking so bad I should never have hit anything. But I did. The gong made its noise and despite the groaning and laughing of everyone involved, I was crowned the victor.

That was the last mountain man run I ever entered.

pistolsMy Uncle Tommy was never really my uncle but my step-great grandfather. My great grandma went through multiple husbands and he was the one that lasted the longest. He was a giant man whose shoulders appeared to attach right to his ears with hands like bloated catchers mitts. He who would sit in a chair at my house and just talk at whoever crossed his path.triggerguards

He would talk about things like how he was the direct descendant of an Old West outlaw called Kid Curry that used to run with Butch Cassidy, about how he used to cook for the mob in Vegas, and how he once choked a man to death when he was in the army. That last one always kind of freaked me out because his victim was a fellow American soldier. It only sorta freaked me out because like most everything Uncle Tommy said, we didn’t believe him.pistolpointUncle Tommy owned more than a dozen hand guns, most of which he kept in velvet Crown Royal bags. My Dad tells a story of how one day he had heard enough of Tommy’s tall tales and that it was impossible for this ogre of a man to be as good a marksman as he claimed.

Tommy arranged for the two of them to go out to the desert with a Smith & Wesson revolver and a bag full of pre-school building blocks. You know, the multi colored wood blocks that have letters on their sides.

marcelfireDad would throw a hand full of blocks up in the air and while they were flying Dad would yell out a letter. Tommy would raise his pistol and shoot that letter out of the sky before the lot of them hit the ground.

He did it again and again to make sure all doubts were put to rest.dalynonehandUncle Tommy passed away before I got a chance to see this trick first hand. I could just trust my dad but he has a trophy on his shelf that is shaped like a bull. He won it for telling stories.

 

 

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Algebra and Tomahawks: when will I use this in real life?

I am quite skilled at a number of things that have no practical use. Like most suburban kids, all of my time and efforts during youth were spent acquiring those abilities. But unlike those other kids, my dad never taught me how to properly throw a spiral, I don’t think we ever played a single game of catch.

But he did teach me how to throw a tomahawk.medoubleThere really isn’t much to it. The secret is all in your distance, the number of paces you are away from the target. At five and a half paces I can stick a hawk in block of wood every time. So can my little sister. At seven paces I flip the blade around backwards and the hawk sticks upside down.

meheadonI have labored to teach my daughter about things like oligarchy and the risks of confirmation bias but I was recently excited to teach her something much more important.

A young woman must be prepared to defend herself against the onslaught of tree stumps.

marleebehindI’m not exactly sure why throwing a hatchet at a tree is so satisfying but trust me when I tell you that it is. It feels primal, is only slightly challenging, and makes a nice little “thunk” sound when the blade buries itself in the wood. It also makes a disturbing “ping” when it ricochets off into the bushes.

ethanhaedonBut perhaps the most satisfying thing about the tomahawk is that I have yet to find a tournament in Brooklyn or Silver Lake. Maybe there is one in Portland but I haven’t heard about it. Not that I don’t like Silver Lake, I rather like the place, but I also like that I have something in my roots that, much like my youth, lacks any social cache’ but is packed with personal enjoyment.

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Special shout-out to my brother-in-law for pulling off the perfect tomahawk version of the “Robin Hood”. You owe my Dad a new handle.robinhood

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Eat Your Hipster Hearts Out: Dad’s stuff

My father has never been hip. I have not asked him if he was ever cool, but I’m guessing he would happily agree with me. Hip isn’t high on his priority list.

Growing up with him I never saw him doing the cool things, saying cool words, or even paying attention to anyone everyone else said was cool. We lived in a place that we all knew wasn’t cool (Utah) and while in this backwater we didn’t even do the only thing people did there that was considered cool (ski).

rugsrailImagine my surprise when years later I began seeing the cool kids of the coolest place (Brooklyn) doing things I used to see my dad do. I was, and to some extent still am, confounded. To make matters worse, The cool kids were not just doing things my dad did but they were for the most part doing it poorly.

Not everyone (Hollister Hovey does taxidermy right) but I saw dudes buying axes who have never, nor will ever, chop wood. I was confused.

stagmountsI had been away from my Dad’s home for longer than I thought and was struck by the volume and variety of objects in his home that meant something to me, and even more struck that the quality of his collection was even better than I remembered.

throneHis collection of Native American rugs were not purchased but rather they were either inherited or bartered. I remember artisans from New Mexico and Arizona who didn’t speak Spanish or English weaving rugs that would make any Urban Outfitter designers swoon.

kachinaThe antlers on the wall were shot and mounted by either my father or one of his friends. The lattice throne was brought back from Berlin back in the 60’s, kachinas and baskets from off the reservation, and Michelangelo’s Moses from Italy.

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Dad spent hours sitting in the same room as the television completely ignoring whatever was on. He was engraving on tusks of mastodon or walrus, powder horns (either cow or buffalo), and now he even has wild boar tusks. A ship carved into an imitation whale tooth makes sense, but looking at it now, the plains warrior scrimshawed onto a walrus tusk-not so much. It didn’t seem odd to me when he did it back in the 80’s.

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While Dad’s flintlock normally hangs on the wall of his living room, it has also shot an elk.

Recently.

flinthawkhornWandering the loft I touched the objects and experienced tactile nostalgia. I remember the times years ago when those things were part of my environment, and like all things in youth I took them for granted. Now that I am older than Dad was when he created or collected these things, I recognize their value independent of my memories but mostly appreciate them through my appreciation of him.

I look up to him and strangely enough I look up to his things.

His things represent experiences, places, and all the various aspects of him. They are him. They are him so much that as long as he lives he does not collect things as much as he earns them. For instance the the objects from Samoa do not come from my youth but from his old age.

He tells me the staff and fan were gifts. They are symbols or talismans representing speech giving, talking, or pontificating. If you have met my father this makes sense. I don’t need to know anything about Samoa or her traditions to believe my Dad. Not because I trust his expertise in this South Pacific nation, but rather I know for a fact that were he to ever earn anything, it would be for talking.

I appreciate things that are earned. Especially things with a good story. That stick is inherently both.

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Those things are cool. They are real in so many ways. They have not only aesthetic value-which I’m glad people are recently appreciating-but more so they meaning. Not a fad. Not an a crafted image. No irony.

Actual cool.

You can’t have a collection this cool without some it it rubbing off on you. Or maybe its more likely that the objects got some of the cool as it rubbed off from him.

Maybe he was cool all along, just not hip.opafisher

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Why Wouldn’t I want a Tomahawk?

Not just any sort of tomahawk and definitely not one of those modern “tactical” tomahawks. I want a northern plains or as it is called in this case, a Sioux pipe axe.____8909144

I have wanted one since I was a kid. Yes, since I was somewhere around five years old I wanted that hawk with the pipe bowl on the poll, preferably with a weeping heart cut out of the blade. I have wanted one since I was five which is when I most likely first saw one.

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I was and am no stranger to tomahawks. These early American weapon/tools were strangely enough a regular part of my youth. I had a regular throwing hawk and could regularly stick a bulls eye from 8 paces. Always 8 paces. I tried 12 once but you have to really throw it from that far whereas at 8 paces you just sort of set the thing in rotation and the weight of the axe head does all the work. I always had access to a throwing hawk, but I never got one of those fancy ones.

I don’t throw those sorts of things much these days. About the only thing I might throw would be a disc in my lower back, but none-the-less I want that stylish weapon for the wall of the study I will one day have. On a peg toward the corner will hang a long barreled flintlock with a possibles bag and powder horn slung over the stalk. hanging from the sash of the bag will be that beautiful colonial era styled pipe tomahawk.

And then if I want to upgrade to whole other level, I’ll lean one of these bad boys in the corner.

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Why is it that horrible tools of war and gore can be so stylistically designed? Man, of which I am one, are strange animals indeed.

 

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What Does One Wear?

Dad claims it started when he was in college and was looking for something interesting to paint. He says a friend knew where a bunch of strange looking people hung out and that Dad should come along to take photographs. Surely he would find some interesting subjects to subject to watercoloring.

That was before I was born and I cannot attest to the truthfulness of that tale. All I know is that by the time I came on the scene tee pees and tomahawks were a regular part of our existence.

I was doomed

With those sorts of roots one cannot afford to take ones self too seriously. Nor can one make fun of what ever anyone else chooses to wear. I for one wear what I want- strike that- I wear what I can afford.

Sandy was scheduled to hit our home Sunday night. Monday morning I woke under the safe roof as always and checked my flight status. United flight 2109 to  Hartford was “on time.” In disbelief I got  online, because we had had electricity, and saw that the airport was in fact open. I dragged myself out of bed and into the car. No one else did the same.

I drove on empty roads to an empty airport. I drug my bags past the TSA guards who were busy herding no one into empty body scanners. I arrived at the United counter to find it deserted and covered in clear plastic.

Of course.

There was no one to talk to so I dialed them up.

“Hello may I help you.”

“Yes. I was supposed to be on flight 2109 and need to re-book, cancel, whatever you are doing.”

“Sorry sir, that flight is listed for an on-time departure.”

“I know. That’s why I drove to the airport.”

“Okay. So what can I do for you?”

“Um yeah… ”

I drove back home.

At home my small crew of creative women were determined that with Dad home and no school our best option was a formal lunch complete with invitations delivered by the 8 year old. This is the same 8 year old who kept complaining last night that the power wasn’t going out. She sat disappointed holding her flashlight.

I have learned I cannot afford to resist such invitations.I feel very much the same in my Black Watch jacket as I did in buckskins. I would argue they aren’t all that far apart.

We are all to some extent wearing a costume, it just depends on the event. Bow ties or plastic fangs are both fine depending upon the venue. I was once at a U Penn event and saw an MBA student wearing a madras jacket with no shirt underneath. He looked very appropriately appointed as he leaped from a balcony at the Blue Horizon into the middle of the boxing ring whilst the fight was in progress. What else would one wear while acting a fool?

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I Grew Up In A Tipi, Part 2

Before our wedding I thought it best to show my fiancé’ all the card she was about to be dealt.  We drove north, past the University, up a scenic canyon, off the road, and finally to where my family had set up camp.  The Cache Valley Rendezvous was always one of the tamest so I figured it the best venue to inform without terrifying my city dwelling bride to be.

Dad

We had been dating almost a year and she knew nothing of this.  It was and has been that dark corner of my closet that cannot go away, but hasn’t seen the light of day for more than a decade.  I was not ashamed of my roots, but much like wasabi, too much at once, or even a little bit if unexpected, can be hard to recover from.  The two of us did not dress up, we just played tourist.

It did not take long to shock her.  “Was that man naked?” she asked forgetting not to stare.  “Of course not, he’s wearing a breach cloth, and I’m pretty sure a beard that long counts as a shirt,” I answered.  I could see I was losing her so I suggested we try something more up her alley, like shopping.

Trade’s row had lots of shiny things but no sequins. Glass beads, feathers, carved horns and all sorts of animal products did not elicit the same response from her I had witnessed in countless malls.  Perhaps it was due to the ornamental wares being accessorized by rifles, pistols, large knifes, and steel traps.  It all seemed normal to me.  Perhaps it was the raccoon hat that did her in; the one with the animal’s face left intact and positioned right over the wearer’s brow.  I had to act quickly or she would never last to to the campfire that night.

The people I knew growing up.

Navajo Tacos saved the day.  She had never heard of this staple food, nor had she ever heard of, nor met, a Navajo.  She decided that anything involving fry bread, or its Anglo cousin the scone, was almost worth enduring and she decided to stay.  Unfortunately so did the breach cloth man.

As we sat in camp with family and friends we regaled her with tales of rendezvous past.  She was unimpressed with my boasting of winning the men’s division “mountain man run” at the age of twelve, wanted nothing to do with black powder, but was frighteningly natural with a tomahawk.  I told her of how it was common for the nights to get a little loud at some encampments, and how it was just as common to find those who got too noisy to find themselves paraded through camp at unreasonably early hours wearing horse hobbles being forced to ring non hangover friendly cowbells.  She had never heard of hobbles.

I don’t think she had ever heard a dulcimer before that evening either.  The campfires of my youth were not the contrived sorts of scout camps.  They were places where camp business was handled, awards for the day’s contests were given, and where my father would compete for the tall tales trophy.  He was especially good at creating fantastic lies of his mountainly exploits and recounting fictional adventures.  He explained how he had battled grizzly bears, Black Feet, and mothers-in-law.  His stories won prizes and the hearts of his children.  I think it took another Navajo Taco to win the heart of my wife.

The breach cloth man my wife saw, forgot the rest of the outfit displayed above.

The two of us have never been back.  We soon left that part of the country entirely.  As I write this the summer is coming to a close, she is with the kids at a city park, and I’m in a library at a major University.  I hear jackhammers through the window, can see lots of golf shirts and boat shoes, and I smile to myself knowing I can “stick” a Green River knife from more than ten paces.

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