Saturday, October 23, 2021

The Matchcoat

 Fall Rendezvous And Trek: Thursday, October 28-Sunday, October 31!


With inclement weather approaching, you might be wondering how explorers of the frontier protected themselves from the elements while trekking. Certainly a poncho could be improvised it you didn't mind cutting a hole in your blanket. A more practical, non-destructive solution is the matchcoat. To quote Wikipedia:

"...A matchcoat or match coat is an outer garment consisting of a length of coarse woolen cloth (stroud), usually about 2 meters (7 ft) long, worn wrapped around the upper part of the body like a toga. Historically, they have been worn primarily by the Indigenous peoples of the Northeastern Woodlands in North America, who may still wear them as regalia or for traditional events. The matchcoat might be worn by people of either sex. It was a common article of trade by the English and French with the peoples of several Nations.

The matchcoat was usually fastened with a belt; no buttons or pins were used. It could also serve as a blanket for sleeping.

The name "matchcoat" is a transliteration into English of an  Algonquian word referring to clothing in general..."

I couldn't find any videos with the same quality as those posted by Townsend's, but this one gets the point across. Eric Reynolds curates The Woodsman's Journal Online, which features many articles of interest to the new trekker.



I first learned about the matchcoat from the Longhunter Series of videos featuring Mark A. Baker, noted experimental archaeologist and longhunter reenactor. One of Mr. Baker's compatriots gave a demonstration of how to wear a matchcoat, and I would like to add that he used a blanket pin (penannular)  to close the matchcoat at the neck. 

Possibles Bag Positioning: Stay with me on this. It was not uncommon for trekkers to attach their powder horn to the straps of their possible bag. When you think about it, these two accoutrements always travel together anyway, so it makes sense to leash the two items together.  In this photo, you can see that the horn also helps to keep the bag shut.

Mr. Baker suggests that the bag (and horn, if attached), be worn slightly above the waist so that one's elbow can help to keep the pair from flopping about should one need to run away from danger.

Here's where the matchcoat comes in. If you wear your bag and horn at or above your waist, the belt/sash/thong you use to close the matchcoat will keep everything safely tucked inside, safe and dry. And if the cold turns to rain, your precious powder will be well-protected, while the folds of the hood will prevent your priming from getting wet.

If you purchased a blanket for use on the trek, you might want to try making it into a matchcoat.  Keep some cordage with you at all times, and if the weather should get really bad and your not ready to make camp, your blanket turned matchcoat will keep you warm and dry.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Safety, Safety, Safety!

 Fall Rendezvous And Trek: Thursday, October 28-Sunday, October 31!

No Stronger Bond by David Wright
During the Golden Age of Flintlocks, shooters adopted many practices that are definitely unsafe by modern standards.  It's a fact that for many frontiersmen (and women), rapid fire as the only way one could be sure they lived another day, and that the lives of loved ones and the protection of personal property were preserved.

Friends, this is the 21st Century, and you're not living in the hostile frontier at the edge of civilization. Shooting competition is NOT a race to see who can survive a historically correct injury, or succumb to a historically correct death. There is no justification for neglecting safe loading practices while shooting.

Blowing Down The Muzzle - Unsafe!

Many shooters believe that a quick blow down the muzzle would extinguish any glowing embers that might remain in the bore. Also, the moisture in one's breath was supposed to keep the powder fowling soft.

Safer! A more effective procedure it to attach a jag to the tip of your ramrod (wiping stick) and quickly swab the bore with a spit-moistened cleaning patch. This effectively extinguishes any remaining embers while moistening the powder fowling. You'll find that this makes the loading easier, too.

The American Rifleman by David Wright
Loading Directly From The Horn - Unsafe!

There's an old saw that says you can't load enough black powder to blow up a barrel. That being said, some neophytes might conclude that it is safe to pour the powder directly into the barrel instead of first measuring it. Barrel strength aside, this is an extremely dangerous practice. If powder is poured directly into the barrel, a single ember could ignite the charge and send a fireball up the barrel and directly into your open powder horn, turning it into a small bomb.

Safer! Use a powder measure designed for your rifle or pistol. As a general rule, you would un-plug your powder horn, then fill your powder measure to the brim. Then you would replace the plug in your horn before pouring the powder down the bore. Your horn is now sealed and safely tucked under your arm, away from the barrel.

Measuring Powder Charges By Eye - Unsafe!

Even as a kid, I heard stories where trekkers would put a single musket ball the palm of their hand and pour powder over it until it was completely covered. This was supposedly the optimal load for the rifle. Needless to say, this method was hardly repeatable with any level of precision.

Safer! Use a powder measure designed for your rifle or pistol. As a general rule, for every caliber of your bore, you should have one grain (not granule!) of powder. The grain is a unit of measurement and equal to  1/7000 of a pound. If you have a 50 caliber rifle, buy a 50 grain measure, it will hold 50 grains of black powder by volume. For pistols, use half of the prescribed rifle load. Don't guess - If you have both rifle and pistol, buy a fixed measure for each gun, or get one that's adjustable.

To The Rockies by David Wright
Careless Loading Practices - Unsafe!

The biggest challenge for new shooters is remembering all of the numerous steps required to load your rifle or pistol. It's not as simple as grabbing a cartridge, inserting into breech, closing the breech, and firing the gun. The steps required just to load a single shot can be a little daunting unless you come prepared with the necessary components and commit to a set loading sequence.

Safer! This procedure works for me. I carry a leather belt pouch for storage along with my possibles bag. Before you load:

  • Put some shooting patches of the proper diameter and the desired thickness in your left cheek to moisten them.
  • Put some cleaning patches in your right cheek to moisten them.
  • Have some properly sized round balls and a proper cleaning jag in the belt pouch.
  • Adjust your powder measure to the proper charge weight, or select the appropriate fixed measure.
  • Fill your capper (percussion) or fill your priming flask (flintlock).
  • Fill your powder horn.
  • Fill your possibles bag for extra shooting patches, extra cleaning patches, basic tools, and your short starter.

The Crossing by David Wright
Loading follows s specific sequence.

  • Open your horn and fill your powder measure. Replace the stopper.
  • Pour the powder down the bore. Replace your measure.
  • Take a shooting patch from your left cheek and hold it over the bore. This is to remind you that your gun has been charged.
  • Take one ball from the leather pouch and hold it in place over the patch with your thumb.
  • Retrieve your short starter and ram the ball home.
  • Remove your wiping stick and seat the ball firmly against the powder charge with one smooth motion. Be sure that the ball seats firmly against the powder charge. Return the wiping stick to its place beneath the barrel.
  • Cap or prime only when you approach the shooting stand.
After you've taken your shot:
  • Take a cleaning patch from your right cheek.
  • Take the cleaning jag from your leather pouch and attach it to your wiping stick.
  • Swab the bore with the cleaning patch. Use the patch to wipe the nipple, or the frizzen and the flint. A buildup of gunk on the nipple may prevent the new cap from seating properly, causing a misfire.
  • Put the used patch and the cleaning jag back in your belt pouch. The patch can be used a second time, or kept for tinder.
David Wright's internationally recognized works hang in numerous collections, as well as in the Booth Western Art Museum in Cartersville, GA, and the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville. David's commissioned painting for Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, titled Gateway to the West - Daniel Boone Leading The Settlers Through The Cumberland Gap, 1775 has been made into a breathtaking wall-size mural that is on display at the Cumberland Gap Visitor's Center. He and his wife reside in Gallatin in a beautiful 18th century style house situated over the ever-running falls of historic Asher's Creek, across from the ruins of an old gristmill.