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Learning from the Indian

Discussion in 'Birchbarks, Dugouts and Primitive Craft' started by beaver, Feb 10, 2013.

  1. beaver

    beaver Birchbark CanoeingBuilder

    The White Man's Canoe is Patterned After the Birch Bark <><> Outing Magazine, October 1918

    ~ "Down through the centuries, the white man has shown a light fingered facility for grabbing ideas from the savage. To these the white man has added his own ingenuity with with such masterful skill that even the savage would hardly recognize the original idea. All fair enough. That is civilization. As a notable exception to this rule we might mention the canoe. Of the many primitive implements of the Indian, the canoe is one of the few that can still be recognized.
    ~ True enough, the white man has added many improvements both to the birch bark canoe and wooden dugout of the Indian, but in essentials they remain the same. As far as size and general lines are concerned, the canoe used for an afternoon's outing on the Hudson River is about the same as that used by the Indian in the seventeenth century wilderness. The modern canvas canoe, for example, is directly patterned after the birch bark canoe and in some respects is identical with its construction. The main differences are that in one case you have a covering of canvas, in the other, one of bark; in one case metal fastenings, while in the birch bark, fastenings of wood.
    ~ There are three general types of canoes made to-day. First, the birch bark craft of the Indian; second, the canoe built of canvas over a wooden shell; third, the canoe made of wood throughout. While the Indian birch bark canoe is still made along the same lines that have been followed for centuries, the craftsmanship of old is rarely found outside of a museum. A perfect canoe of this sort is hard to find these days. Even the Indian himself has adopted the white man's canoe to a great extent.
    ~ The white man himself, when buying a canoe, would do wisely to pick the improvements of his own race. Just as the 1919 model motor car is a better machine than one of an earlier model, so the canvas or wooden canoe is a decidedly better all around craft than the one from which is was patterned. The birch bark canoe is light, graceful, and easy to paddle; when it comes to running rapids, perhaps it still remains as good a craft as one could get. But it is slower than the canvas or wooden canoe. It gets logy from soaking so that it springs a leak easily. Furthermore, it is likely to warp and twist and it is a difficult craft to handle in open water.
    ~ Birch bark canoes are scarce today, but if you can get an Indian in the back woods to make one for you it will cost much less than a canvas or wooden canoe. If you do, examine it very closely. Good bark is not as plentiful as in former years; the kind you get to-day is likely to be filled with tiny holes. See that it is well sewed and make sure the ribs are strong and the planking well placed.
    ~ Some Indian canoes are made of one or two pieces of birch bark on the bottom. In either case the craft is likely to buckle or bulge in the center. It is wise to insist upon three separate pieces of birch. Furthermore, the Indian usually makes his craft very high in the bow and stern. Such lines are good for running rapids but poor for all around work. It is better to have it as flat as possible from bow to stern. The best kind of sewing for the bark is usually that of the split and skinned roots of jack-pine or cedar.
    ~ A better plan as a rule than ordering a birch bark canoe made for you by an Indian is to buy one that he has made for himself. In this case you are reasonably sure of getting a good craft. When you embark in your birch bark, always carry a can of pitch with you, as first aid to potential leaks. Of course you will keep away from rocks and snags.
    ~ Use an equal amount of care in preventing sand from getting into the canoe. Sand is one of the greatest enemies of the birch bark canoe. It has a way of worming its way through the bark and planking, then gradually wears through the bark and plays havoc in general." ~
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2013
  2. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    Hi Ferdy, thanks for posting. I'll try to keep all that in mind. It is interesting to get a sense for the nuances of the writer's ideas.

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