Friday, December 30, 2016

Coon Creek Recce - Trail Scouting for Edible & Medicinal Plants

This morning we had some light showers. They passed by 10 a.m. so I decided to go out to my favorite trail, the Coon Creek Trail in Montana de Oro State Park. I wanted to test out a solid camp stove fuel I'd purchased and look for edible and medicinal plants. I started my hike at about 11:25 a.m. It was grey overcast and windy at the trailhead, cool but warm enough for just a T-shirt.

Coon Creek Trail

Coon Creek Trail is about a 5 mile round trip hike out and back. It is a lush riparian zone that parallels a small creek that pretty much runs year-round. There is an abundance of plants, as well as wildlife that call it home, though it is rare to see anything but bird life. Seep Willows and Coast Live Oaks are found along the trail. Coast Live Oak acorns drop in the Fall and were very much a part of the aboriginal diet, and were made into cakes and cooked as a mush. Some of the oaks have Usnea or "Old man's Beard" growing in them.

Usnea growing on Oak tree

Usnea is an air plant that grows at the elevation where average morning coastal fog settles, and thus gathers its water. Usnea has an antibacterial quality and was used by the aboriginal peoples for diapering their infants, other sanitary applications, and as a packing material for their belongings.


Another useful plant I found was Coffeeberry. This plant has small dark brown berries in the Spring and early Summer which have a flavor reminiscent of coffee. They have a laxative application and were used by the aboriginals to offset the constipating effects of a heavy acorn diet. In my experience, just a small handful will gently open the bowel in just a few hours.


Bracken fern grows along the trail in several places. My understanding is that a tea made from the  roots can relieve stomach cramps and diarrhea, and can be applied as a poultice for burns & sores. I also have read the aboriginals used the roots for cordage and weaving baskets. Even when most other plants are dried out, Bracken ferns remain green because they have such deep roots and thus access deeper moist ground.

Bracken Fern

One animal that's presence is very much in evidence is the Dusky Footed Woods Rat, or Pack Rat. Actually just their dens, which are abundant in the woods alongside the trail.

Woods Rat den

I have never seen a "live" Woods Rat on the trail, but did come across a dead one once. They are quite large, about the size of a common Grey Squirrel, with a long slender tail. They were consumed by the aboriginal Californians as food. A hunter with a long pole would probe the nest and attempt to locate the rat. A notch was cut in the pole and a slight twist caused it to bind in the rat's fur and hold it. If the rat panicked and fled the nest, archers stationed around the nest would pick it off. It would then be thrown on a fire and cooked, fur, entrails, and all! The presence of fresh green vegetation fragments at the entrance holes indicates an active nest.

I reached the end of the trail, which is a grove of old trees. Here I stopped to make some coffee and something to eat.

Trails end

I used a Swiss M71 stove with BOILEX "ZIP" fuel, a product of the U.K. dating back to 1936, which I found at RITE AID in their sporting goods section. Using my STANLEY "Adventure Cookset", I achieved a boil of 1 pint of water in about 20 minutes.

Cookset and "ZIP" fuel

Afterwards, I observed that a fairly good piece of the fuel remained inside the stove, so it made a boil and had fuel leftover when I extinguished it. I enjoyed a hot cup of coffee and a meal of beef ramen with beef jerky mixed in.

Cooking some lunch [Video]

After my break I started walking back down the trail, looking for more resources as I went along. I saw these little plants growing and the leaves are like strawberry's, so they might be Wild Strawberry. Supposedly, a nice tea can be made from the leaves, but I am not certain that is what these are and will need to check further before attempting a brew.

Wild Strawberry?

Another plant I recognized was this narrow-leaf Plantain [below]. Plantain was a plant brought to America from Europe. The leaves can be made into a tea to treat cough and diarrhea. A poultice can be used for sores and insect stings.  A few months ago I was working on a trail and dug up a Wasp or Hornet nest. One of them stung me on the head. I did not have my sting pen, so I plucked some Plantain leaves, chewed them into paste and plastered the paste onto the sting. I experienced instant cooling relief that was long lasting and allowed me to continue to work.

Narrow Leaf Plantain

A little further down the trail I began to see new Hummingbird Sage plants growing. This plant's leaves can be made into a tea that tastes nice and has a decongestant quality. Later in the Spring they will have a tall purplish flowered stalk protruding from their center.

Hummingbird Sage

When I say "Make a tea" generally, you need a good amount of leaves, like your hands cupped together, to 1 cup of water. Boil the water, remove from the fire, and then add the leaves and allow them to steep.  More or less leaves can adjust the taste to your liking.

As I brought my hike to an end, I observed a Cotton-Tail Rabbit cross the trail and hop into some brush. Noting where he entered the brush, I observed just the slightest trail, somewhat bare from traffic and barely visible. Were someone to need food such as in a survival situation, this would be the place to rig a snare to catch a meal.

Rabbit run

My recce took about 4 hours total and was a wonderful day spent exploring the local woods and enjoying nature.  If you have found this discussion of medicinal and edible plants useful, I would recommend that you seek professional plant identification instruction. Handbooks and guides are useful, but do not compare with hands-on learning. There are poisonous plants and some resemble "safe" plants and can harm you if ingested. Check with your Park Authority, the local Botanical Garden or Society, or local College for availability of plant identification courses. Never ingest a plant you are not absolutely certain of.

Happy Hiking!

[Bushcraft Woods Devil]

Saturday, December 24, 2016

"Colt's Paterson and Walker Revolvers"

[NOTE TO READERS: Besides blades and bushcraft, one of my hobbies is studying firearms. Having been a California Peace Officer for over 3 decades, one of my interests is the firearms that were used by Outlaws and Lawmen of early California; specifically, the percussion arms of the Gold Rush and 1850's period. I intend to run a few articles here on those early arms, as well as some articles on the Outlaw-Lawman History of San Luis Obispo County, where I live. This first article discusses the earliest revolving handguns produced by Col. Sam Colt - The Paterson and Walker pistols.]

Paterson Revolvers

It's a story well known to all who have ever collected handguns. According to legend, the idea came to a young Sam Colt while serving as a Sailor aboard a vessel. Watching the operation of the ship's wheel, Colt visualized a cylinder with chambers holding powder and bullet, each chamber coming into battery behind a fixed barrel.

Col. Samuel Colt

Col. Colt's prototype revolving pistol was nothing less than revolutionary. With one, a man could carry the equivalent of five, single-shot pistols in one neat package. If he chose to carry a second revolver or a spare cylinder, he had an unheard of ten shots at his disposal. After having several prototypes made, Colt traveled to England where he patented his "improved revolver" in 1835.

In February 1836 Colt patented his design in the United States, and on March 5, 1836 signed contracts with New York investors. Thus was formed the "Patent Arms Manufacturing Company" of Paterson, New Jersey. The following day, March 6, 1836 the Alamo fell, it's defenders massacred and burned in a mass funeral pyre; an event which would be avenged ten years later at the muzzle of another famous Colt revolver; The .45 caliber Walker Model of 1847.

The initial Paterson revolvers were sold from an office, which had been established in New York City. Small "Pocket" pistols were offered in calibers .28, .31 and .34 with barrel lengths of from 2-1/2" to 4-3/4". Mid-sized pistols with barrel lengths of 4" to 6"were available in .31 and .34 calibers. "Holster" pistols, the largest models, were available in .36 caliber only with barrel lengths of 4" to 12". The majority of the Holster pistols had 7-1/2" and 9" barrels.  

All Paterson revolvers were five-shot pistols and featured a unique trigger that retracted into the frame and deployed when the weapon was cocked. Most came with a separate loading tool, however in 1839 a fixed under-barrel loading lever was made available to replace the loading tool. In all, only about 2,850 Paterson Colt revolvers were made.

During this time Colt also manufactured about 1,650 revolving cylinder carbines and rifles that were operated by means of a "ring" type lever. About 225 revolving multi-chambered shotguns
were also produced. Colt sold fifty of his revolving rifles to the U.S. Government. These weapons were issued to the 2nd U.S. Dragoons for use fighting Seminole Indians in the Florida swamps. The poor combat performance of these rifles resulted in the government opting not to purchase any further Paterson made firearms.

Colt's ring lever rifle

Regardless of the military's experiences, Paterson Colt firearms, particularly the pistols, were soon finding their way onto the western frontier. One of the most well known users of Paterson revolvers was the celebrated scout Kit Carson. Carson wore a brace of the weapons and fought Indians all along the Santa Fe Trail with them. Unfortunately for Colt, civilian sales of the Paterson firearms were not enough to keep the company financially solvent, and in 1842 "Patent Arms Manufacturing Company" went completely out of business.

Prior to going out of business, Patent Arms Manufacturing Co. supplied 180 of their .36 caliber Paterson Colt "No. 5 holster pistols" with 9" barrels to the Republic of Texas Navy. When the Texas Navy was disbanded in 1843 the Paterson Colt pistols were given over to the Texas Rangers, a militia unit assigned to suppress hostile Indians and bandits. Each Ranger was issued two or three of the revolvers.

On June 8th, 1844 the Texas Rangers engaged in an event that would later result in the birth of the "Colt's Patent Firearms Company".  Ranger Captain Jack Coffee Hays and a company of fourteen Rangers were returning to San Antonio after a patrol when they were attacked near the Pedernales River by a mounted force of 80 Comanche Indians. The Rangers immediately counter-attacked the Indians with their Paterson Colts. When the battle was over, the Comanche’s fled leaving more than half of their warriors behind...dead.

Word of the Rangers great victory over the Comanche’s soon spread. For their part, the Rangers attributed their very survival to the firepower provided by the Paterson Colt revolver. One of the
Rangers who participated in "Hay's big fight" as it was called, was Samuel Walker.

Captain Samuel Walker

When the U.S. entered into war with Mexico in 1846, Walker joined a unit named the "U.S. Mounted Rifle Regiment". Now a Captain, Walker convinced his superiors of the value of the revolver and was subsequently assigned to contact Samuel Colt and arrange for the delivery of new revolvers.

Walker collaborated with Colt on the design of a .45 caliber heavy "Dragoon" pistol, so named as it was intended to be carried in pairs on the saddle in pommel holsters [Dragoon's are mounted infantry troops who ride to a location, dismount and fight on foot, unlike Cavalrymen who are trained to fight on horseback].

The Walker revolver's finalized design was a behemoth hand cannon; 9" barrel, 15.5" in overall length, and a weight of 4.5 pounds. Chambered for a .454 diam. ball, it's mammoth cylinder could accept 60 grains of powder and launch a ball to an effective range of 100 yards at an average velocity of 1,000 to 1,200 feet-per-second...nearly equivalent in performance to the .54 caliber U.S. M-1841 Rifle-Musket.  

Through an arrangement with manufacturer Eli Whitney Jr., Colt delivered 1,100 of the pistols to the "U.S. Mounted Rifle Regiment".

1847 Walker Revolver

The first pair was delivered to Capt. Walker who was later killed in battle.  The Walker was plagued by poor metallurgy and over-charging of the cylinders resulted in many of the guns having ruptured cylinders. Few survived, and after the war, many of the surviving  Colt-Walker Model 1847 revolvers were "liberated" by the mounted soldiers who had used them.

Consequent demand for revolvers for self-protection became extremely strong as more and more Americans migrated into the newly opened and dangerous territories of the west, thus giving the newly formed "Colt Patent Firearm's Company" a solid business foothold for many years to come.  The Walker was discontinued, but Colt's introduced a series of Dragoon revolvers, scaled down but still not practical for belt carry. Col. Colt commemorated the courage of the Texas Rangers by roll engraving the Pedernales River fight on the cylinders of his Dragoon model pistols.

Dragoon cylinder roll engraving

And so, that is the story of the Paterson  and Walker Colt's revolvers, the patriarchs of the 1873 Peacemaker ["The Gun that won the West"], guns that were combat christened by legendary Frontier Scout Kit Carson and the courageous Texas Rangers.

Happy Hiking!

[Bushcraft Woods Devil]

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Hot Chocolate Time!

Worked in the yard today, hoeing and raking weeds that had popped up due to recent rains. It was cool, about 51 degrees, and when I was done I decided to have a cup of hot chocolate to warm up, so I made a small fire using one of my homemade campfire starters and a folding STERNO stove!

Happy Hiking!

[Bushcraft Woods Devil]

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Tinders...what about Sisal?

It's pretty common for bushcrafter's to carry some Jute cordage in their camp kit. It has many uses besides cordage, including  use as tinder for flint & steel fire starting. But what about sisal? Will sisal ignite with spark based ignition? Let's find out....!

Happy Hiking!

[Bushcraft Woods Devil]

Friday, December 9, 2016

Toilet Paper Roll Fire Starter

Two-part video series. First video describes how to make a useful fire starter using a spent toilet paper roll, shredded jute, and some natural materials. Second shows the fire starter being used to initiate a cook fire. Can be coated with wax to make it water resistant. Compact and easily carried in your trail bag, it gives a good long burn, adequate to start a campfire if you have properly prepared your kindling

Happy Hiking!

[Bushcraft Woods Devil]

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Bushcraft Belt Kit

A brief video describing the contents of my Bushcraft belt. Generally, I wear this around camp after dropping my pack, but sometimes just wear it on short trail recce's.

Happy Hiking!

[Bushcraft Woods Devil]

Friday, December 2, 2016

Flint `n Steel Coffee!

Wood fire coffee brew much more fun than the microwave! Enjoy!

Happy Hiking!

[Bushcraft Woods Devil]