To Preserve the Heritage of the Fur Trade Era

New Mexico Mountain Men

Winter Encampment February 10-12, 2006

February 10: Seven adventurous souls hiked up the trail carrying everything they would need for a winter encampment in the Manzano Mountains right on their backs. It was snowing, below freezing, and everyone had a big smile on their facesÖhome again. Horsetooth, Long Tongue, Redwing, Hands, Storm Dancer, and two pilgrims Lazy Horse and Flaming Canvas made their way to the rendezvous. Three of these were poor, one had no weapon, two had only bow and arrows, and the remainder was well armed. Methods of carrying gear ranged from a pack basket, wooden framed pack, haversacks, and knapsacks.

The trekkers made their way up a canyon to a clearing in the sun and set camp. The snow had stopped falling, the clouds were clearing, and the temperature was rising. The group gathered a large pile of firewood since much would be burned to stay warm. Long Tongue ceremoniously started the fire with his flint and steel. Once this crucial task was accomplished, the search for a water source began. Most of the scout traveled up the canyon looking for any source of water that could be melted and boiled. About ľ mile from camp was a small flowing spring, clear, and covered with only a thin layer of ice. Horsetooth dug out the watercress and dammed it up providing a great source of water (and food). A bit farther up the trail was a small, clear pool of spring water; we were lucky to find good water in such dry conditions.

Several folks continued up the canyon scouting the area as the temperature warmed. After several miles two of the scouts came across signs of food. Deer fur scattered across the trail, then a large stomach, entrails partially covered over, more fur, a very large pile of debris scraped together. And finally, the fresh carcass of an 8-point buck deer that had been stripped of all meat. No meat on the neck, nothing between the ribs, legs cleaned down to the bone, no blood, heart, or lungs. This kill area had all the signs of a mountain lionís work. There was no blood on the deerís antlers and this deer was large. The mountain lion must have been stealthy and big; its scrape marks were at least 3 feet long. After deciding that there was no meat left for us to take, we quickly left the area, carefully watching our back trail, so as not to become the lionsí next meal.

Late in the afternoon, back at camp (after several ambushes on the trail), the fire was blazing and the coffee was on. Food was brought out and it was fine vitals for all. Being fresh from the settlements our provisions included fresh pemmican, canned oysters complete with an oyster fork (thanks to Hands), atole, lentils, red chili, jerky, salt, coffee, and hard tack.

By dinner time the sky had cleared and the temperature began to drop. Beds were made by gathering oak leaves and pine needles for warmth and wool blankets and canvas set on top. Lean-to, plow point, Indian-style tied, and flat throw-down designs were a few of the camps made. Flaming Canvas repaired his mitten, and the warm clothing came out. Redwing had a fine pair of red and black-stripped wool socks. Most of the group made their beds separately and slept alone that first night. Two were smart and made their beds as one, to conserve body heat. With full bellies the group crawled into their beds, testing their gear and fortitude, hoping they would stay warm. The night was long, clear, and bright as the full moon had appeared over the mountain top and down into our camp. Morning light finally came, but some folks were already up blowing the embers into a blaze of warmth. No one complained of the cold other than a few cold feet, but not many slept. We must have been listening for mountain lions all night long. We noticed that all our water was frozen solid, canteens, cups, and boilers. Then the thermometer appeared, thanks to Horsetooth, it was 4 degrees. Breakfast was well deserved that morning, bacon, bannock bread, hot coffee, hot Mexican chocolate, hot tea, dried fruit, parched corn, pinon nuts, pecans, all quickly devoured by the cold camp. We were lucky to be in friendly territory and allowed to have a fire.

February 11: The day began to warm up once the sun came up. Flaming Canvas and a pilgrim went in search of food and tested their firearms in the cold conditions. Others stayed at camp as guards. Only one hostile with two dogs passed our camp, we let him go unmolested. But the conversation drifted to the taste of dog and whether a captive would last the night if left outside in the cold. The chances of survival would be very low.

We passed the day scouting the area and comparing our gear. Some fine supplies from the settlements made their way into camp including Storm Dancers brass compass, a telescope, candle lantern, salt horn, wool toques, a frying pan, tomahawks, beads, files, three rifles, one fusil, and tobacco.

The second night came too quickly and as the sun dropped, so did the temperature. With the lessons learned the night before, the group made adjustments to their camps and moved closer together to conserve and share body heat. This turned out to be a good strategy and many slept warmer in spite of the full moon shinning bright as day. Morning light came much quicker and even though our water supplies were again frozen solid, we found the temperature was a balmy 23 degrees.

February 12: After a hearty breakfast and our scout complete, we broke camp and headed back to the settlements. The campfire was put dead out, gear packed up, and promises were made to meet again down the trail. One pilgrim, in his hurry to get back to warmer camps, left his food bag, powder horn and shooting bag hanging from a tree. (What pilgrim's name havenít we mentioned so far?)

Many lessons were learned, how to pack and carry gear, how to make a warm camp, trail scouting, ambush planning and avoidance, animal sign reading, and to never be with out your weapon. There were no injuries, the weather was perfect, water and firewood was plentiful, the food was excellent, and the company was worthy Thank you all for your willingness to experience some of what our predecessors went through. I think we have a fuller understanding and appreciation for our "hobby" after having completed this winter encampment.

Redwing, having completed this trek, has now met all the requirements for the New Mexico Mountain Men Patron standing. He has participated in treks in all four quadrants of the state, completed a canoe trek, and a winter trek. Redwing has exhibited all the skills required and necessary to become only the second Patron in New Mexico. Congratulations to Redwing!!!!

Storm Dancer

Storm Dancer & Horsetooth
Hands Lazy Horse

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