Sunday, October 6, 2013

White Oak Canyon Scout: Testing your kit in foul weather

A Virginia Spy makes his way to a cold camp.  In the rain, I keep my lock under my arm,
instead of keeping my firing hand on over the wrist.  I keep the muzzle down, to reduce the
amount of moisture in the barrel (I never put a tompion on a loaded firelock).
                 "I was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia in 1764, and moved to the Clinch with my father when it was yet Botetourt County (prior to 1773). I was called out as a volunteer at Blackmore's Fort under Captain Joseph Martin in the spring of 1776, while I was yet a boy, but well grown." 
-Alexander Ritchie, Indian Spy[1]

               It is a rainy weekend in Virginia.  Not a day for a scout, but perfect weather for war.  You see, rain muffles the sounds of movement.  It is good weather in which to attack...provided you can keep your powder and lock dry.  That was the aim of this scout.  I am a lone "Spy" on the Virginia frontier.  It could be 1763 or 1793.  Either way there were men who would go out alone in times of trouble to sit in silence and watch the passes though which the war paths crossed.

              My aim was to test my equipment.  I want to stay dry, be unseen, and be able to fight and withdraw.  Specifically, I want to test the waterproofing on my moccasins and for my firelock.  For my moccasins I used a combination of beeswax and neet's foot oil.  Lard was used during the 1800's and reapplying grease to your moccasins was a daily chore.  Part of looking after your acoutrements.  The first time I greased this particular pair, I ensured that my concoction was hot to allow it to permeate into the leather.  Now, I simply slather it on and work it in.

The heights offered  poor visibility of the pass in such dense brush. 
There's no good place to hunker down and nothing to cover my back.

                  "...In this fort there was constantly about 20 or 25 men besides the spies. The Indians were not so troublesome in the immediate vicinity of Moore's fort, but they were more troublesome lower down on Clinch and Powell's Valley. In August the Wyandots [sic, Wendat] from the north appeared in our vicinity. When out he saw Indian sign. Three persons only were killed in his neighborhood, to wit: John English's wife, Molly and two of her little boys. The Indians retreated down Sandy and they were pursued by the spies as well as the others who remained in the fort to guard it. We were unable to overtake the Indians. They had stole some horses. These are the particular circumstances that I now recollect of. The spies had particular sections allotted to them, where the war paths of the Indians passed, and some time we would not return unless Indian signs were seen for a month, but in August and September the Indians were always most troublesome in stealing, murdering, and burning. The spies below had a running fight with the Indians and they retreated. This was with the lower squads..."

                                                                          James Fraley, Clinch Spies c.1779[2]

                  The second goal was to keep my firelock dry.  This I did by loading down in the "settlements" at the base of the trail and applying my mixture of beeswax and turpentine (a waxy paste) around the pan, once the hammer (frizzen) was seated firmly on top (after loading).  I am careful not to get any wax on the strikeface of the hammer.  I then cover the lock with my cow's knee.  I would note that the use of beeswax and turpentine (camphor) rubbed into the barrel also makes an excellent rust preventative.  See my previous post on Period Methods for Cleaning your Firelock.

Greased moccasins lined with an old blanket and a greased cow's knee. 
These are virtually impermeable and keep feet and firelock in working order.

                  My  cow's knee is simply two pieces of scrap leather (from the moccasin project) that are sewn together to fit snugly over the lock.  Mine extends from just behind the swell in the stock (in front) to cover below the thumb escutcheon (in rear)  It is tied in front and back with leather thongs or whangs.  I tie it tight in back and just wrap the thongs around the stock in front.  This way I can pull it on and off to load/fire without taking the who off the firelock.

                 I took with me the following:

Powder Horn
Shot pouch (Shot, ball, turn screw and vise, patches, oil, worm, vent pick, whisk, rag, beeswax mixture)

Blanket and Tumpline, Canteen, Tomahawk
Knapsack (This is waxed with pure beeswax, and the contents say bone dry):  Knitted cap, Cup, spoon, food (venison, bread, cornmeal, tea), spare stockings, moccasin grease

I wore:  Body Shirt, waistcoat, trowsers, stockings, leather leggings (also well greased and tied at the knee with fingerwoven garters) moccasins, flopped hat, kerchief, leather belt, and hunting shirt.

I carry my firemaking kit and some food in my waistcoat pockets.
A cold camp in the lee of a rock.
              I chose a spot where I could see the trail, the opposite ridgeline, and was protected from behind.  This would have been a cold camp, that is no fire.  A meal of bread and dried venison, water.  The rock sheltered me from the rain and wind, while allowing me to see the trail and valley below.

Crossing White Oak Creek again...

          Perhaps I see a war party now, maybe a day or two later.  As a spy, I am to warn the settlements, not engage a warparty coming through the pass.  Nevertheless, my firelock must be ready.  As I move across the creek, they are within earshot, the metal of my tin military canteen clanks against the head of my tomahawk.    I know they are alerted by the whoop I hear.  I slip the cow's knee off the lock.  The pan is still sealed.  I tree and fire as the first warrior comes into view.  A slow ignition, but the charge is touched off.  The first brave drops, but a second overtakes him.  I leap up from my tree and scramble down the creek bed, shielding my pan under my arm and reloading.  A second shot.  This one a faster ignition.  The warriors pull back to regroup.  My lock has stayed dry despite the rain and I am back down the valley to the settlement

        I  am in fair shape once I take off my leggings and hunting shirt.  My feet are dry after deluge and submersion in the creek when I skedaddled.  My firelock ignited satisfactorily (albeit only twice) in a downpour.  A pretty successful day.  The only drawback was the reason I had to fire in the first place.  That noisy tin canteen...this made me think, wood is clearly better than tin for this sort of work.  I'm a scout west of the Blue Ridge...would I have a military pattern water carrier.  Probably not.  Perhaps a glass bottle?  Perhaps a wooden rundlet?  Need to look into that.  I think a tin canteen on a frontier scout is neither quiet not least I've proven the first.

[1] Pension Papers of Alexander Ritchie, Claiborne County, TN (1835), R-8784.

[2] Pension Papers of James Fraley, Floyd County, KY (1834),, accessed 06 Oct 13.


  1. I have a leather Jack canteen. Very quiet.

  2. Yes, like the Louisbourg costrel in Neumann & Kravic? I'm working on a rundlet at home right now. Trying to get awat from anything quasi-military-to include the military firelock. Up next building a rifle or fowling piece.

  3. Great post, I enjoyed reading it and great detail on the items that you used.

  4. Have you thought about making some wool leggings? Apart from there commonality, they sure are a step up, for practical purposes, to leather. Also, I could be wrong, but it looks like you used the moc pattern with the seam starting under the toe (if not, ignore this!) I've made a ton of mocs using the pattern that Isaac Walter uses here: His blog post got me starting to make them with a leather thong which has been a HUGE improvement.

    Also, Bill Payson makes phenomenal (and affordable) "cheesebox" canteens that work great for Patriot and Loyalist impressions (

    You do some great stuff, just some free advice from someone who has been doing a Culpeper militia impression for a few years!

  5. I do have a wool stroud pair that I use for other impressions and agree, in many circumstances they are superior. Appreciate the links-will certainly check them out! The mocs are centerseam, but the seam only extends to the front of the toe, conjecture on my part in trying to achieve the pucker on the top. Thanks for the comments!

  6. Nice write up. I suspect most woodland scouts would not have carried a canteen due to the general availability of water in the woods. However, now a days it is a necessity. I find a gourd is a pretty good canteen if bees waxed on the inside to cut the bitterness.

  7. Great reading. Informative and thrilling.

  8. about canteen.... shaped leather canteen... i made mine like a two quart hornlike wineskin with beewax to keep it in shape and pine resigns inside to make it leakproof.... it very comfortable carry this under arm and in ribs area and water is taste like cold pine and honey tea..this kind of canteen are historical corrected method dated back to stone age.. you can make any shape you want.

    1. Thanks for the idea! I have seen many costrels that were basically black jacked bottles (with no glass). Will have to give it a try. Thanks for visiting!