Our program on the use of native plants and animals by native Americans was fun and informative. Darry Wood of Hayesville area had much to tell and show participants on Wednesday the 4 th . Time went all too fast with items left in his homemade baskets whose uses we missed.
Darry demonstrated the twisting of fibers from the inner bark of the poplar tree into cord of 2 and 4 ply, showing how each addition of of another ply created a stronger and thicker cord. One could eventually make a thick rope by this method. Dog bane fibers and animal sinew, were popular cordage fibers, but many plants have the right characteristics. Of course animal hairs and fur could be used, too.
Darry emphasized that many techniques of making ropes and cordage for nets, sewing, lashings and bowstrings have been found in the history of man for thousands of years prior to native use in America.
Colonial America had deer aplenty, plus beaver, groundhog, buffalo, elk, bear and wolf, whose furs were in great demand in Europe. Early trade centered on deerskins, used in Europe for bookbindings, leather aprons, saddles, shoes and other items of everyday use.
The term “buck” became synonymous with the value of one deer or an item made of deerskin.
Native Americans used the unique plants and animals of America in very creative ways. Every possible part of an animal, killed for food, was used in some way.
Skins made clothes, moccasins, tents, and boats; bones made awls, drills, spoons, drumsticks; and animal organs were used to cure hides. Hair, fur and quills decorated clothing, masks and saddlebags.
Horn was made into handles for stone or metal knives, for flutes and decorative items and fastenings; hooves were boiled and produced a sticky substance used as a glue or binder for weapons and containers. Rendered fats made usable oils for lighting and preservation of skins and food.
Plants provided innumerable items beside food and medicines. Bloodroot made an orange dye, walnut husks a dark brown. Shredded oak bark's tannic acid became a dark black when iron was added. These dyes were used in baskets, clothing and leather goods.
Cattail fluff was a substitute diaper for the papoose. Dried cattail stalks made torches and mats.
Rivercane was a big staple. Stacked vertically became walls for their huts or fencing; cut into thin strips could be woven into baskets and mats. Canes were hollowed out and straightened to make blow guns, some up to 12 feet long. These were used to hunt birds, squirrels and rabbits. The dart was made from a thin piece of walnut heartwood, shaved down to size and fletched with the fluff of thistle.
Darry demonstrated the delicate technique of separating the fluff from the dried flower and winding layers with cord along a dart shaft for 3 to 4 inches.
It was suggested that those with a desire to learn more about these skills attend an Earthskills Rendezvous in Georgia, held in the spring and fall. Many likeminded persons camp together at Cherokee Farms and share their skills and artifacts and campfire. Go online to Earthskills Rendezvous for further information about these events.