Friday, February 27, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes VIII

Michigan Maritime Museum on Dugouts:

"Dugouts were the earliest form of watercraft used in the Great lakes region. They have been used here for thousands of years. It is believed the birch bark canoe developed somewhat later, although this is difficult to say with absolute certainty.
The oldest dugout discovered in the great Lakes region was found in a peat bog in Northern Ohio in 1976. Through radiocarbon dating analysis the 23-foot dugout was determined to be approximately 3,500 years old. This dugout canoe is currently displayed at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History (CMNH). (For an audio "tour" of the Ringler dugout at the CMNH: 

Since Native Americans were present in the region as early as 10,000 to 12,000 years ago it is very likely that dugouts were built and used here earlier than 3,500 years ago. There is archaeological evidence of travel by natives to some islands in the Lakes region before that time. It is possible this travel was done in dugout canoes.
The historical records kept by European missionaries, explores and travelers in the Lakes region during the 1600's and 1700's indicate dugouts were being widely used along with the birch bark canoe. In fact, it appears that all groups which built and used bark canoes, built and used dugouts. Europeans sometimes referred to dugouts as "pirogues" (pronounced "pir-rog" with a long "o" and accent on the "rog").
Dugouts were used by native people as a form of transport for trade an communication between distant groups, hunting and fishing, and gathering aquatic plants and other resources from the regions biologically rich wetlands. Wild rice was often harvested this way."
The Maritime Museum's discussion adds other woods possibly used for dugout construction in the Great Lakes region including black walnut, red and white oak and aspen. I question these conclusions. Walnut and oak are hard to work and I doubt that many aspen got big enough to make a canoe log. They don't mention cottonwood which I know was used for dugout construction along the Missouri if not in Michigan.
They also discuss construction details and the technology of radiocarbon dating and the history of the dugouts they have on display.
Finally this is the end of the dugout series. I hope to see you at the Quiet Water Symposium.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes VII

Many years ago while rummaging around in the stacks of the Library of Michigan, in their clipping files I found an article "Dugout Canoes in Michigan" by one Robert Galbreath. It is from some publication by the Cranbrook Institute of Science, name and publication date not shown on the clipping. Since I have run out of my own stuff on whitewood dugout canoes and several of you have Emailed comments on dugouts, I will pass on Galbreath's words:
"In Michigan, as elsewhere in Pre-Columbian America, efficient transportation was a primary concern of the Indian. Densely forested, as was most of the Great Lakes area, and interrupted by lakes, swamps and streams, it was neither possible to travel rapidly nor feasible to transport supplies overland in large quantities. Thus the Indian turned to the streams, rivers, and lakes which provided a vast network of water highways. To exploit this system, the Indian developed one of the most efficient watercraft known to man---the birchbark canoe. It was light, maneuverable, and could float in six inches of water. The canoe birch, however, was not common in the entire region, and in southern Michigan suitable trees did not occur. Elm, though, was commonly used in the construction of bark canoes. For longer-lived vessels, the Michigan Indians constructed dugouts of white cedar or white pine. Compared to the bark canoe, they were clumsy craft, difficult to carry on portages, and required longer to construct. Dugouts, however, did not puncture as easily as bark vessels and were suited to permanent camp sites.
Many of the early Spanish explorers of the Southeast, including Cabez de Vaca and the DeSoto chroniclers, note the use of dugouts, as did Roger Williams in New England and Captain John Smith in Virginia. Dugouts were used in the Hudson River valley and the coastal regions of New York, the Paciifc Northwest and Alaska.
Bela Hubbard, in the early 19th century, noted that the Indian tribes in our area (Chippewas, Ottawas, Pottawatomies, and Sacs) made use of dugouts. Around early Detroit both elm bark and dugout canoes were to be seen, but the birchbark canoe was largely confined to Canadian Indians.
Throughout the wide range of dugouts in North America, the method of their construction apparently varied little. Thomas Harriot, in his Narrative of the First English Plantation of Virginia; described how the Indians of Virginia fashioned their canoes. After selecting a tree of sufficient size, it was felled with fire, carefully controlled so as not to burn more than a small area of the trunk. Limbs and foliage were likewise burned away, and the log then placed on a platform of convenient working height. The outer bark was scraped off with shells. Finally, the interior of the log was carefully burned, and the charred wood scraped away until the log was sufficiently hollowed. Indians of the Great Lakes doubtless used similar methods. With the advent of the white man, fire, shell and stone were abandoned in canoe construction in favor of iron tools.
When the dugouts were not in use, they were liable to crack and shrink if left to dry in the sun. To prevent this, it was customary to submerge them in water or bury them in wet sand. It is no doubt due to this fact that many dugouts have survived in Michigan"
He then goes on to describe four dugouts that Cranbrook had in its collections:
White cedar. 17 ft 6 in. Found in Bailey Rapids, Manistee County
White pine. 12 ft 1 in. Found in Maple River, Emmet County
White pine. 12 ft. Found in Cedar Lake, Oakland County
White cedar. 12 ft. From Peshawbestown, Leelanau County.
Note: the photo above is not a depiction of the canoes in this list - just an interesting shot of dugouts. 

NEXT: One last message on dugouts. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes VI - Answers for doubters

Some have questioned my 
conclusion that "whitewood" meant the Tuliptree, suggesting instead that the pioneers might have been referring to the Basswood (tilia Americana).
"A Field Guide to Trees and Shrubs" by George A. Petrides says about the Tuliptree: Indians made trunks into dugout canoes.
"The Audubon Field Guide to North American Trees" says:Pioneers hollowed out a single log to make a long, lightweight canoe.
Neither field guide attributes such use to Basswood but both note that its fibrous inner bark was used by Indians for making ropes and mats.
Referring to the Tuliptree in "Tree Habits, How to Know the Hardwoods", author Joseph S. Illick says: In some places the local name canoe-wood is applied for the reason that the Indians formerly made their dugout canoes of the trunks.
Donald Curloss Peattie in a "Natural History of Trees" wrote regarding the Tuliptree: More commonly the pioneer made a fine canoe out of this straight-growing tree, hollowing out a single log to extreme thinness, for the wood is easy to work and one of the lightest in the forest. Such a canoe sixty feet long did Daniel Boone make, when his fortunes were low, and into it he piled his family and gear and sailed away down the Ohio into Spanish territory, away from the ingrate Kentucky.

In "Trees of Michigan and the Upper Great Lakes", Norman F. Smith, then of the Michigan Department of Conservation, said:... the lumber of the tulip tree is sold commercially as  'yellow poplar' or just' poplar'. Years ago it was often marketed as ' whitewood'.
"American Woods" by Shelly E. Schoonover contains a list of common names in use for Tuliptree. Among those are "White-wood" which she says is used in Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, South Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Ontario, and the trade.
The question has also been raised as to why Bois Blanc Island in Lake Huron is so named when it is far north of where Tuliptrees grow. In French Bois Blanc means "white woods" (as in forest), not "whitewood". Without a doubt the Lake Huron Island was named for its expanses of Paper Birch and Aspen ("popple" to the Michigan Deer hunter) along its shore.
The same cannot be said for Bois Blanc (Boblo) Island in the Detroit River which is well south of where the Paper Birch grows. I have not found an account of its naming, but I speculate that the the "white woods" the French explorers saw was largely made up of riverside Sycamores. The upper trunks and branches of Sycamore tress are strikingly white when leafless.
That's the end of my "whitewood" dugout stories and speculations. Dugout canoes made in the Northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula were usually made of White Cedar or White Pine. I have some stuff I can pass along on them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes V - A ride with Indians and dugout construction

What was it like to ride in a dugout canoe? British author Frederick Marryat wrote a two-volume account of his travels, "A Diary in America with Remarks on Its Institutions", which was published in 1839. In it he tells of his ride in a dugout canoe paddled by two "Menonnomie" Indians:
 "I got into the canoe with them ...The canoe would exactly hold three, and no more; but we paddled swiftly down the stream...Independently of the canoe being so small, she had lost a large part of her stern, so that at the least ripple of water she took it in, and threatened us with a swim; and she was so very narrow, that the least motion would have destroyed her equilibrium and upset her. One Indian sat in the bow, the other in the stern, whilst I was doubled up in the middle. We had given the Indians some bread and pork, and after paddling about a half an hour, they stopped to eat. Now the Indian in the bow had the pork, while the one in the stern had the bread; any attempted move, so as to hand the eatables to each othermust have upset us, so this was their plan of communication: the one in the bow cut off a slice of pork, and putting it into the lid of a sauce pan which he had with him, and floating it along side the canoe, gave it sufficient momentum to make it swim to the stern, where the other took possession of it, He in the stern then cut off a piece of bread, and sent it back in return by the same conveyance. I had a flask of whiskey, but they would not trust that by the same perilous little conveyance; so I had to lean forward very steadily, and hand it to the foremost, and when he returned it to me, to lean backwards to give it to the other, with whom it remained till we landed for I could not regain it. 
How were the dugouts built? Here are three accounts describing the process:

In a 1710 letter Jacques Raudot, then Intendent of New France, tells how the Indians used fire:
"The black poplar (Tuliptree)is also a tree of this country. It grows very tall and big and serves theses savages in making large canoes for navigating on their rivers and lakes. Formerly it was an endless task for them to make these canoes; not having iron, it was necessary to set fire to the foot of a tree, to fall it and scrape it with their stone axes, and to remove the charcoal which remained on, in order that the fire penetrate to the center. After felling it they cut it the same way to the length that they wish and also to hollow it out with fire."
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, in his monumental six volume "History of the Indian Tribes of the United States", published in 1852, described how the Indians of the Great Lakes used fire and stone tools:
"The ancient Indians, prior to the era of the discovery of America, had indeed no use for an axe, in the sense in which we apply the term now-a-days. Fire was the great agent they employed in felling trees and reducing their trunks to proper lengths. There was no cutting of trees. No stone axe, which we have ever examined, possesses the hardness or sharpness essential to cut the fibers of an oak, a pine, an elm or any other species of American tree whatever.
When the wants of an Indian hunter had determined him to fell a tree, in order to make a log canoe...he erected a fire around it close to the ground. When the fire had burned in so as to produce a coal that might impede its further progress, a stone instrument of a peculiar construction, with a handle to keep a person from the heat, was employed to pick away the coal, and keep the surface fresh. This is the instrument called by them Agakwut.
The mode of using this ancient axe, which would be more appropriately classed as a pick, was by twisting around it...a simple wythe, forming a handle, which could be firmly tied together, and which would enable the user to strike a firm inward blow. This handle was not at right angles to the axe.
He states about small specimens of this tool which were found...these small axes were adapted to the strength of boys and children, whose labors in the process of fire-fretting were always welcome and important...particularly when we reflect that this labor was generally done by females.
Eric Sloan, the late Connecticut writer and artist whose works celebrate Americana, stated in his book "A Museum of American Tools": The word canoe (canow and canoo in the 1600s) described a hollowed out log. Until the Indians saw the English hand adze, they used fire to burn out the hollow portion and flint knives and shells to scrape out the burned wood. They then devised their own adze, using flint instead of metal for the blade.. .
NEXT: Answers to the doubters.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes IV - Tales of pioneers in whitewood dugouts

Pioneers' tales of dugout canoes:
An advantage of the dugout for settlers was the log-canoe's ability to withstand being pushed and hauled over barriers in the upper rivers such as floodwood log jams, snags and shallows or riffles without unloading their cargo of potatoes or oats or whatever.
The following account is from an 1879 history of Branch County:
"Another event of the spring of 1830, which may, perhaps, be worth noticing, was the first attempt by white men to transport freight on the St. Joseph. J.W.Fletcher and John Allen went to Allen's Prairie in Hillsdale County, and bought ten bushels of seed potatoes and fifteen bushels of seed oats. They constructed two whitewood canoes, loaded in their oats and potatoes, ran down Sand Creek from the Prairie to the St. Joseph, and set out on a navigation of the latter stream.
Until they reached the mouth of the Coldwater, they found their way seriously impeded by shallow places, dams of floodwood, and similar obstacles. But they made basswood 'skids' on which they slid their canoes over the dams, while in the shallows they promptly jumped into the water, and each helped the other lighten his boat...Below the mouth of the Coldwater the water was high and the way clear, and they had no serious difficulties reaching their destination".
When sawmills to provide boards for boat building became widespread, pioneers built flat boats or arks to transport their goods and agricultural products. Meanwhile they used Indian-built dugouts or made their own.
In his paper "Indians of the Western Great lakes", author W.V.Kinietz describes Indian trails that parallel the Kalamazoo, Thornapple, Huron and Grand Rivers and adds: "The rivers, of course, were dotted with birchbark canoes and pirogues cut from whitewood logs."
                                          TIPPYCANOE *
Pioneer accounts often dwell on the instability of the craft: "...dugouts were made with great labor from Whitewood logs. They were very narrow and one inexperienced in handling them was sure to be capsized." Or, voyaging down the Looking Glass (another tributary of the Grand) in a "...dugout which shipped water at every slight turn and finally upset in the rapids..."  Or "Deer and other game were frequently seen on the banks of the river, but the rocking of the canoes prevented the rifles of the navigators from furnishing them with venison." 
                * My take-off on Indiana's Tippecanoe River and the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.
In 1834, another party on the Looking Glass found a means to cope with the dugout's instability: "The men of the party at once began their construction and after several days of diligent work, completed two boats and a raft. The boats, commonly known as dugouts, were each made from a whitewood log, and were about eighteen feet long and two and one half feet wide. They were lashed together..."
On the St. Joseph, dugouts were sometimes sawed though lengthwise and widened by inserting boards.
In another pioneer history is an account about a settler on the Grand River near what is now Lansing: "He and some companions once employed some Indians to make them a canoe which they dug from a whitewood log. It was 44 feet long and 3 feet 2 inches inside. They paid the Indians 20 gallons of whiskey, and cheated them by watering it..."
Another Grand River valley pioneer recalled procuring "...a clumsy, square-toed white man's build of a canoe..."for the purpose of bringing home a supply of flour and pork. He describes the upstream journey: "I poled and Bennet pulled---that is he walked in the river or on shore ahead of the boat and towed with a rope while I poled."After days of struggle and about 40 river miles, they were both utterly exhausted and had to walk overland to get help to get it the rest of the way home.
Then there was the settler on the same river who floated his grain down steam to a grist mill and then made the return trip with the flour by hooking the dugout to a team of oxen with a log chain and pulling it cross-country through the woods back to his point of origin.Try that on your birchbark canoe---or your fiberglass canoe for that matter. The grist mill in this story was located at a spot about 450 yards downstream of my home on the Grand, within the view of Verlen Kruger's canoe base.
In these latter two accounts the pioneer didn't specifically say the dugouts were of whitewood, but I have assumed they were since Tuliptrees grew in the Grand River watershed and other stories about the Grand and the Looking Glass were about whitewood canoes.
NEXT: A ride with Indians and dugout construction.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes III - Sleek Dugouts

Continuing with my "Michigan Whitewood Dugout Canoes":
Tim Kent of Ossineke, author of the definitive two-volume "Birchark Canoes of the Fur Trade", who is working on a similar book on dugouts, expresses a contrary opinion (to Dunbar's "rough and slow moving craft" characterization). In an October 1999 Chicago Tribune article on canoes, he is quoted as saying "There were an awful lot of dugouts used on rivers. There is a misconception that they were big, clunky, heavy watercraft that couldn't be portaged. Many were sleek vessels".
I found evidence that there must have been many dugouts that were indeed "sleek vessels" while researching for my narrative/monograph "Across Lower Michigan by Canoe-1790", the tale of British trader Hugh Heward's 1790 odyssey when he and seven French-Canadian paddlers in two birchbark canoes crossed the Lower Peninsula from Lake Erie to Lake Michigan. To do this they went upstream on the Huron River and downstream on the Grand River. The headwaters of these two rivers are interconnected by a series of small creeks and lakes, a three mile portage and extensive marshes.
It was an account of "two pirogues from Detroit" that crossed the Lake Erie-Lake Michigan divide in high water without having to exit their canoes. Such a feat meant that the two pirogues had to have gone down the Detroit River to Lake Erie, then upstream on the twisting and turning Huron River, up the small stream now known as Portage Creek, through a series of lakes along the Livingston/Washtenaw County Line to the divide between the Lake Erie and Lake Michigan watersheds near the village of Stockbridge.
Today in this area there are many muck farms. In pre-settlement days those were interconnected wetlands that in high-water times allowed uninterrupted passage by watercraft. There is no way such journeys could have been accomplished by clumsy log dugouts. 
NOTE: The Ultimate Hugh Heward Challengers will be following this route in April but there is no chance of them paddling across the divide. Deforestation and agricultural drainage has reduced the water table radically over the last couple of centuries.

Photo credit for Louisiana Cypress dugout: Thomas Wintz, Jr.
NEXT: Tales of pioneers in  whitewood dugouts.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes - Chippewa Dugouts

Continuing about whitewood dugout canoes:
In contrast to the Pottawatomie's, the Chippewas (Ojibwas) who occupied the more northern parts of Michigan, were expert birchbark canoe builders. Yet, when circumstances warranted, they chose to build dugouts. In 1864 a band was moving from the valley of the Thornapple River (a tributary of the Grand) to a new location considerably farther north and on the shore of Lake Michigan. They went into the woods a few miles away where they built a fleet of canoes from whitewood logs. The completed dugouts were hauled by wagon to the river. Some were as much as 40 feet long. This migration must have presented a scene much like the illustration by artist David Christofferson in the book "A Toast to the Fur trade" by Robert C. Wheeler.
In 1876 an old chief of this band traveled their route in reverse, going upstream on the Grand and Thornapple to his boyhood home at the mouth of a creek where he constructed a wigwam. He had come home to die and shortly thereafter he did.
In his 1888 book "Memorials of a Half-Century in Michigan", Bela Hubbard, an assistant to the renown Geologist Douglass Houghton, tells of a dugout procured from the Chippewa Indians in the fall of 1837 for a trip on Saginaw bay and Lake Huron:"It was a 'dug-out' of wood , thirty feet long, but so narrow that, seated in the centre, we could use a paddle on either side. In this puny craft we were to undertake, in the middle of autumn, a lake journey of 150 miles."
This was probably a whitewood dugout since we know from the account about the Thornapple band of Chippewas that they made canoes from whitewood logs and Tuliptrees did grow in the southern pat of the Saginaw Valley.
There are a number of references to dugouts on lower Michigan river systems, which, although not specifting that th canoes were whitewood, have been of interest to me because they were made and used in areas where Tuliptrees were plentiful.
In 1915 a massive four volume study was published which was entitled "A History of travel in America". Its author, Seymour Dunbar, after having described how an Indian canoe builder obtained and prepared a suitable log stated: "The log was shaped and hollowed by fire and cutting implements, and a very strong and serviceable though rough and slow moving craft was obtained." He then concluded: Such canoes were only adapted for lakes and single rivers".
He could have been describing the situation and needs in southern Michigan when settlers started arriving in the 1820s and 1830s. Those pioneers were primarily interested in a vessel's cargo carrying capability, not its portability. Likewise, the waters of their concern were the larger rivers that provided access to the Great Lakes such as the Grand, Kalamazoo and St. Joseph which empty into Lake Michigan, and the Saginaw River system which flows to Lake Huron.
NEXT: Sleek dugouts.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Whitewood Dugout Canoes

Here is a study of Michigan's "whitewood" dugout canoes that resulted from my participation in Grand River Expedition 2000 ( I hope there will be a Grand River Expedition 2010). An article based on this study appeared in Issue 93 June 1999 of "Wooden Canoe."


While researching to compile a guidebook to the geology, geography and history of Michigan's longest river, the Grand, I kept running into references to the use of "whitewood" dugout canoes or pirogues by Indians and pioneers in lower Michigan in the early 1800s. Eventually, like a hound dog on a raccoon's trail which is diverted when a rabbit crosses the track, I put the guidebook project on temporary hold in order to pursue the intriguing dugout story.


The pioneers' "whitewood" tree is what modern field guides identify as the Tuliptree or Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tuliperifera), the tallest Eastern forest tree. As is the case with many tree species it is or was known by various names at various times or in different regions of the country. In addition to being called Yellow poplar, it was in some places called Blue Poplar, Hickory Poplar, Sap Poplar, Tulip Poplar and White Poplar.

The earliest reference to this tree that I have found was a 1710 letter in French in which it was called Black Poplar. These poplar names are really not appropriate since the Tuliptree is not of the poplar family, but is actually a member of the magnolia family. Other names include Saddle Tree or Saddle Leaf. The Onondaga Indian name was Ko-yen-ta-ka-ah-ta (white tree). Most appropriate to this article is the Tennessee name, Canoe Wood. The Tuliptree is the Official State Tree of Indiana and the unofficial State Tree of Kentucky and North Carolina.

The Michigan references I have found all use the term "whitewood". The wood of the Tuliptree is straight-grained, fine, soft, free from knots, resistant to splitting, and easily worked. Tuliptrees are tall with straight, clear trunks, frequently reaching 100 feet or more with diameters of four to six feet.

In its September 1904 issue, Outing Magazine had an article "Aboriginal American Canoes" in which it was stated that the Indian dugout builder "...demanded Trees with long, uniform trunks, without knots, and soft enough to be cut down and hollowed out with stone axes." Plainly, the Tuliptree fits this aboriginal specification.

The whitewood name refers to its white, clear sapwood. The yellow poplar name probably comes from the fact that its heartwood is usually light yellow.


In the Great Lake states, the southern limit of the Paper Birch (Betula paperifera) approximately coincides with the northern limit of the Tuliptree. This is a natural circumstance that obviously influenced the type of canoe made and used by indigenous peoples. for example, in a 1777 letter from Michilimackinac a French trader complained that the Pottawatomie Indians who occupied what is now southern Michigan and northern Indiana were "...totally ignorant of bark canoes."

The Pottawatomie's apparently didn't find that to be a handicap. They were proficient in the construction and navigation of dugout canoes, or pirogues as they were called in areas of French influence. They used dugouts going either upstream or downstream on area rivers and regularly paddled them long distances on Lake Michigan. An early day expert on the history of the St. Joseph River described Pottawatomie "canoes dug out of large white wood trees, which were very plentiful in this territory then, this being their means of travel down the river from the south in the spring on their way to the Straits of Mackinac and back up the river in the fall."

NEXT: Chippewa dugouts.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe VII - Supplementary Remarks

Supplement to my "Hiawatha's Canoe":
Jim Dina of South Windsor, Connecticut, is a member of the Society of Primitive Technology who builds canoes with only those tools of flint, stone, wood, bone and antler used by Native Americans before  the advent of the White Man. He has built canoes of birchbark, elm bark and spruce bark and has carved and gouged out a dugout, all with primitive tools.
He described his birchbark canoe project in an article in a 1990 issue of "Wooden Canoe" entitled "Voyage of the Ant". It consisted of excerpts from his book of the same name.
About my discussion of the various species of trees whose roots have been used in birchbark canoe construction he says:
"As for root lashings any evergreen root that I've been able to dig up has proved suitable for canoe lashings. Being a 'hands-on' person, I tend to search the 'soil', not the literature.
Interested, and astute observers recorded what they could. But Native peoples used anything that was available where and when they needed it. My own birch is lashed entirely with white pine roots, which received secondary mention in the literature. They were available, and I had a convenient local source. Dig a root, tie a simple overhand knot, then pull it tight. If it doesn't break, it can serve as canoe lashings."
In other words, Jim is saying that ease of harvesting trumps species. That makes sense.
                           Birch bark, birch-bark or birchbark?
You may have noticed that when referring to canoes I use "birchbark" as if it were one word. "Spell Check" always disagrees and tries to get me to use "birch bark" or "birch-bark".It may seem ungrammatical or strange but when referring to canoes "birchbark" is  used by most authors of canoe books in my library.
Birchbark examples: John Jennings' "Bark Canoes, The Art of and Obsession of Tappen Adney" and "The Canoe, a Living Tradition". Bill Riviere's "The Open Canoe" and "Pole, Paddle and Portage". Bill Mason's "Path of the Paddle". Sue Audette's "The Old Town Canoe Company, Our First Hundred Years". Tim Kent's "Birchbark Canoes of the Fur Trade"
Birch-bark canoes, hyphenated, is used by Robert C. Wheeler in "A Toast to the Fur Trade", Jim Poling, Sr. in "The Canoe", and Adney & Chappelle in "The Bark and Skin Boats of North America".
I don't own it, but I understand that David Gidmark's book "Birch Bark Canoes" uses two unhyphenated words.
This is the last of the Hiawatha's Canoe series. I have one more series ready to send out before the Quiet Water Symposium on March 7. It will be about the "whitewood" dugout canoes built by Michigan's Indians and pioneers. Kit Lane will be interested in the one about dugouts the St. Joseph River. She is writing one of her Rivers of Michigan series on the St Joe now.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe - Comparing Longfellow to Schoolcraft

Analyzing the two poems:
Two differences between Longfellow's epic and Schoolcraft's "Birchen Canoe" struck me (1) Schoolcraft's rhymes while Longfellow's has rhythm. (2) Longfellow's Hiawatha used Larch/Tamarack roots to lash his canoe while Schoolcraft's Birchen Canoe  lashings were of fir roots.
Different from either was Schoolcraft's "Canoes of Bark" description in which the lashing roots were cedar.
Curious about the differences I decided to do a less-than-comprehensive search of the canoe literature to see what the experts say or use.
Ontario birch-bark canoe builder Tom Byers uses jack pine roots.
New York Forest Ranger Gary Hodgson's canoe, which he built himself and uses on the job in the Adirondacks, is lashed from roots of the white spruce.
Michigan's Tim Kent in his 1997 two-volume study "Birchbark Canoes of the Fur Trade" says black spruce roots were the most favored for lashing, followed by tamarack/larch. White cedar roots were sometimes used as were those of the white spruce and red spruce.
Adney and Chapelle in their "Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America" have black spruce as the root most used. Other roots used according to them were white cedar, tamarack and jack pine.
Henry Vaillancourt, the subject of author John McPhee's "Survival of the Bark Canoe", was being interviewed in 1984 for a "Field and Stream" article. As he lashed a canoe he said, "These are spruce roots, they're not quite as nice as cedar."
I have found no endorsement for the use of "the fir's thready roots" for lashing as set forth in Schoolcraft's 1826 poem.
What do the two poems have in common rather than the use of birch bark and cedar?
Longfellow's last words about the canoe are:
"Like a yellow leaf in autumn,
Like a yellow water-Lilly".
While the last line of Schoolcraft's poem from 30 years earlier is:
"And our bright yellow birchen canoe".
Now a newly made canoe is a thing of beauty but its color is hardly bright yellow, tan maybe, or beige or chestnut brown but not yellow. I think what we have here is what is called "poetic license". After all, how would a poem sound that said, "like a tan leaf in autumn" or a "beige water-lilly" or "our bright brown birchen canoe"?
In his book "The Open Canoe" Bill Reviere says:
"Those who see a birchbark canoe for the first time are often surprised that the bark is reddish-orange in color, not white. That's because the inner surface of the bark becomes the outer surface of the hull, so the familiar white faces into the canoe. This provides a smoother outer finish."
Another thing about color: In the second line of the very first stanza I that I have quoted Hiawatha speaks of yellow bark...."Of your yellow bark, O Birch tree!" 
and a few lines later..."Lay aside your white-skin wrapper". I have no explanation. .
This all reminds me of an item I found while reviewing the canoeing literature that has always puzzled me. In her book "The Voyageur" Grace Lee Nute says, "In what dim age Algonquin tribes learned the secret of making canoes from the rind of the yellow birch is not known". There is a yellow birch (betula lutea), one of the largest hardwoods in northeastern North America, but hers is the only reference of which I am aware that infers its bark was widely used for canoes.
On the matter of the paper birch for canoes Adney and Chappelle say:
"The bark of the paper birch (betula papyrifera) was preferred for canoe building....Birches other than the paper birch could be used, but most of them produced bark that was thin and otherwise poor, and was considered unsuitable for the better types of canoes".
I think I should stop here. I could go on and wonder whether Hiawatha's magical canoe used cedar boughs for ribs and didn't need any sheathing between bark and ribs or whether Longfellow deliberately ignored such details for poetic reasons. It is plain he would have been aware of them from studying Schoolcraft, but I've already over-analyzed the poem so I'm going to quit speculating and re-read it just for pleasure. I urge you to do the same.
NEXT: Supplementary remarks

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe V - Schoolcraft's Words

I scoured Schoolcraft's scholarly works looking for the words about canoe construction which might have inspired or instructed Longfellow. In volume 2 of his massive six-volume "Historical and Statistical Information Respecting the History, Conditions and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States" I found:
Canoes of Bark
"..These are made from the rind of the betula papyracea which is peeled in large rolls. A frame, which is called a gabarie by the Canadian French, is then suspended by four stout posts. This indicates the inner form and length of the vessel. Gunwales are then constructed of cedar wood, which sustain the ribs of the same material, that are arranged closely from its bow to its stern. The next process is to sheet the ribs with thin, flat and flexible pieces of cedar, placed longitudinally.  The sheathing of  bark is then adjusted, and sewn together by means of a square-bladed awl, and thread composed of fibrous roots of the cedar, called watab, which is soaked in hot water. The seams are pitched with boiled and prepared gum from the pitch pine, which is payed on with a small swab. The bow and stern, which are secured, are usually decorated with figures of animals or other pictographic devices."
These words were written sometime prior to 1847.
Then in "The Literary Voyager", a weekly magazine written by Schoolcraft, I found the following poem (Issue No. 2, December 1826)
The Birchen Canoe
"In the region of the lakes, where the blue waters sleep,
Our beautiful fabric was built,
Light cedar supported its weight on the deep,
And its sides with sunbeams were gilt,:
The bright leafy bark of the betula tree,
 A flexible sheathing provides;
And the fir's thready roots draw the parts to agree,
And bind down its high swelling sides.
"No compass or gavel was used on the bark,
No art but the simplest degree,
But the structure was finished and trim to remark,
And as light as a sylph's could be;
"Its rim with tender young roots woven 'round,
Like a pattern of wicker-work rare;
And it pressed on the wave with as lightsome a bound,
As a basket suspended in air.
"The heavens in their brightness and glory below,
Were reflected quite plain in the view,
And moved like a swan-with as graceful a show,
Our beautiful birchen canoe.
The trees on the shore, as we glided along,
Seemed moving in a contrary way;
And our voyagers lightened their toil with a song,
That caused every heart to be gay.
"And still as we floated by rock and by shell,
Our bark raised a murmur aloud,
And it danced on the waves, as they rose, or they fell,
Like a Fay on a bright summer cloud,
We said as we passed o'er the liquid expanse,
With the landscape in smiling array,
How blest we should be if our lives would advance
Thus tranquil and sweetly away.
"The skies were serene-not a cloud was in sight-
Not an angry surge beat on the shore;
And we gazed on the water, and then on the light,
Till our vision could bear it no more,
O long will we think of those silver bright-lakes,
And scenes they exposed to our view
Our friends, and the wishes we formed for their sakes,
And our bright yellow birchen canoe.
NEXT: Comparing Longfellow and Schoolcraft

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe - Hiawatha's paddles

Continuing with my "Hiawatha's Canoe":
You may have noticed that the description of canoe construction contains no mention of how to make paddles or what wood was used. Longfellow explains:
"Paddles none had Hiawatha,
Paddles none he had or needed,
For his thoughts as paddles served him,
And his wishes served to guide him;
Swift or slow at will he glided,
Veered to right or left at pleasure."
What canoeist wouldn't envy such power? And what canoe livery operator or canoe expedition leader wouldn't like to have an employee such as Hiawatha's Friend?
Then he called aloud to Kwasind,
To his friend, the strong man Kwasind.
Saying, "Help me clear this river
Of its sunken logs and sand-bars."
Straight into the river Kwasind
Plunged as if he were an otter,
Dived as if he were a beaver,
Stood up to his waist in water,
To his armpits in the river,
Swam and shouted in the river,
Tugged at sunken logs and branches,
With his hands he scooped the sand-bars,
With his feet the ooze and tangle.
  And thus sailed my Hiawatha
Down the rushing Taquamenaw,
Sailed through all its bends and windings,
Sailed through all its deeps and shallows,
While his friend the strong man Kwasind,
Swam the deeps, the shallows waded.
Up and down the river went they,
In and out among the islands,
Cleared its bed of root and sand-bar,
Dragged the dead trees from its channel,
Made its passage safe and certain,
Made a pathway for the people,
From its springs among the mountains,
To the waters of Pauwating.*
To the bay of Taquamenaw.
* Sault Ste. Marie
NEXT: Schoolcraft's words.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe III

Longfellow continues:
  "Give me of your quills, O Hedgehog!
All your quills, O Kagh, the Hedgehog!
I will make a necklace of them,
Make a girdle for my beauty,
And two stars  to deck her bosom!
   From a hollow tree the Hedgehog
With his sleepy eyes looked at him,
Shot his shining quills, like arrows,
Saying with a drowsy murmur,
Through the tangle of his whiskers,
"Take my quills, O Hiawatha!"
    From the ground the quills he gathered,
All the little shining arrows,
Stained them red and blue and yellow,
With the juice of roots and berries;
Into his canoe he wrought them;
Round its bows a gleaming necklace,
On its breast two stars resplendent.
Thus the Birch Canoe was builded,
In the the valley, by the river,
In the bosom of the forest;
And the forest's life was in it,
All its mystery and its magic,
All the lightness of the birch-tree'
All the toughness of the cedar,
All the larch's supple sinews;
And it floated on the river
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily.
How did a New England intellectual and literary lion writing in 1854 and 1855 learn the details of building a birch-bark canoe? Take away the talking trees and porcupine and you are left with a fairly accurate (though incomplete) description of the materials and method of birch-bark canoe construction, including how and when to harvest bark.
Longfellow made no secret of the fact that he borrowed heavily from the works of Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. At the beginning of his writing he made a note to himself, "Look over Schoolcraft's great volume on Indians..." Later he said, "I poured over
Mr. Schoolcraft's writings nearly three years."
Schoolcraft was the geologist on an 1820 expedition by birch-bark canoe led by the then Governor of Michigan Territory, Lewis Cass. Among other places, the expedition explored the west shore of Lake Huron, the south shore of Lake Superior and the Upper Mississippi River.
Much of his research and writing was conducted later while he was the Indian Agent at Sault Ste. Marie, close by "Gitchie Gumee". There he married the half-Ojibwa daughter of fur trader John Johnston.
In his book "Michigan in Four Centuries" author/historian F.Clever Bald says:
"Schoolcraft had become interested in Indians during the journey of 1820, and now began an intensive study of these poeple. With the intelligent assistance of his wife and her relatives, he aquired a vast collection of Indian lore, and he published numerous books on the Indians. It was from his writings that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow got both inspiration and material for his epic."
Schoolcraft knew and was proud that Longfellow used his work as the basis for "Hiawatha"
NEXT: Hiawatha's paddles.

Hiawatha illustration by Andrea Kowch. Used with permission.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe II

Longfellow continues with Hiawatha's words:
"Give me of your boughs, O Cedar!
Of your strong and pliant branches,
My canoe to make more steady,
Make more strong and firm beneath me!"
   Through the summit of the Cedar
Went a sound, a cry of horror,
Went a murmer of resistance,
but it whispered, bending downward,
"Take my boughs, O Hiawatha!"
  Down he hewed the boughs of cedar,
Shaped them straightway to a frame-work,
Like two bows he formed and shaped them,
Like two bended bows together
  "Give me of your roots, O Tamarack!
Of you fibrous roots, O Larch-tree!
My canoe to bind together,
So to bind the ends together
That the water may not enter,
That the river may not wet me!
   And the Larch, with all its fibres,
Shivered in the air of morning,
Touched its forehead with its tassels,
Said, with one long sigh of sorrow,
"Take them all, O Hiawatha!"
  From the earth he tore the fibres,
Tore the tough roots of the Larch-tree,
Closely sewed the bark together,
Bound it closely to the frame-work.
  "Give me of your balm, O Fir-tree,
Of your balsam and you resin,
So to close the seams together,
That the water may not enter,
That the river may not wet me!
   And the Fir-tree, tall and somber,
Sobbed through all its robes of darkness,
Rattled like the shore with pebbles,
Answered wailing, answered weeping,
"Take my balm, O Hiawatha!
    And he took the tears of balsam,
Took the resin of the Fir-tree,
Smeared therewith each seam and fissure,
Made each crevice safe from water.
NEXT: What Hiawatha wanted from the porcupine.

Hiawatha sketch by Andrea Kowch. Used with permission.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Hiawatha's Canoe

Here is a study of the relationship between the poet Longfellow and Michigan's Henry Rowe Schoolcraft. I originally wrote it as an article for "Wooden Canoe" magazine. When it was published I was disappointed by the cutting the editor had done. Editors drive me nuts. I have had similar experiences with the editor of "Michigan History" magazine. That partially explains why I self-publish my narrative/monographs. Also, I can't imagine some publisher paying for my stuff or seeing my stuff in bookstores like Larry Massie, Kit Lane, or Tim Kent. I am happy with you, my select (and growing) audience.
                                       HIAWATHA'S CANOE
In his epic poem, "The Song of Hiawatha," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow describes how the legendary Ojibwa (Chippewa) Indian hero and leader built his canoe:
Give me of your bark , O Birch-tree!
Of your yellow bark, O Birch-tree!
Growing by the rushing river,
Tall and stately in the valley!
I a light canoe will build me,
Build a swift Cheemaun for sailing,
That shall float upon the river,
Like a yellow leaf in Autumn,
Like a yellow water-lily!
"Lay aside your cloak,O Birch-tree!
Lay aside your white-skin wrapper,
For the summer-time is coming,
And the sun is warm in heaven,
And you need no white-skin wrapper!"
    Thus aloud cried Hiawatha
In the solitary forest,
By the rushing Taquamenaw,
When the birds were singing gaily,
In the Moon of leaves were singing,
And the sun from sleep awaking
Started up and said, "Behold me!
Geezis, the great Sun, behold me!"
And the tree with all its branches
Rustled in the breeze of morning,
Saying, with a sigh of patience,
"Take my cloak, O Hiawatha!"
With his knife the tree he girdled,
Just beneath its lower branches,
just above the roots, he cut it,
Till the sap came oozing outward,
Down the trunk, from top to bottom,
Sheer he cleft the bark asunder,
With a wooden wedge he raised it,
Stripped it from the trunk unbroken.

The "Taquamenaw" is the tea-colored Taquamenon River located in the eastern part of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Although smooth-flowing and serpentine throughout most of its length, it becomes Longfellow's "rushing Taquamenaw" as it dashes over a pair of falls a few miles before it enters Lake Superior.
The Lake Superior region is the locale for most of the Song of Hiawatha..."By the shores of Gitchie Gumee, By the shining Big-Sea Water."
NEXT: What Hiawatha asks of the Cedar, the Tamarack/Larch and the Balsam Fir.

Hiawatha illustration and Taquamenon photo by Andrea Kowch. Used with permission.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Canoes and Romance VI - Lyrics and cultural commentary

Here again are the lyrics of the 1916 University of Michigan song "Out In My Old Town Canoe":
"I've nestled down in limousines and heard love's whispered pleas, Tender, true,
In sailing yachts romantic I have skimmed o'er many seas, 'Neath skies so blue,
I've spooned in cozy corners when the lights were low, And always missed my cue;   
It all seemed very pretty, but I surely know, There's no love like the love in my canoe."
"Oh! Out in my Old Town Canoe, boys, Millions of twinkling stars above,
Each little ripple enchants you, Whispering a hint of love.
No heart can long be unyielding, Sweetly 'twill answer and be true,
Float on the shadowy river, Out in my Old Town canoe" 
(There are more verses.)
In my parents' day the canoe on a dark river or lake served the same romantic purpose as the back seat of a Model A Ford did in mine. I could never figure out how such things worked out in a buggy, though.
A digression: One of the great dates of my youth was in the rumble seat of a Ford V8 going up Pike's Peak in the dark to see the sunrise. The song "America the Beautiful" was inspired by that view in case you didn't know. Back to canoe-assisted romance:
A ditty by Richard Emmons (of Ann Arbor I believe).
"A lovely, lazy afternoon
Quite late in May---or early June---
Would place upon the Huron's bosom
Many a gay, canoeing twosome."
From The Canoe: An Illustrated History by Jim Poling
                     The Canoe and the North American Psyche
Today, even with the transition to a mainly urban society, North American culture brims with connections between the canoe and the human experience. Canoes are in our art, music, writing and films. Canoes float in and out of fashions. It is the North American symbol of serenity, independence and romance. Many a love song and movie scene celebrates young love paddling quietly through tranquil waters.
One of Hollywood's most famous canoe scenes has Nelson Eddy, dressed in the scarlet of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, crooning to Jeanette McDonald as he paddles her through the wilderness in the 1936 movieRose Marie. Hollywood also used the canoe to promote Marilyn Monroe with a photograph of her trying out a canoe during a break in filming River of No Return in 1954.
Moonlight and love are common elements in North American songs about canoeing.
"O, come with me in my light canoe...O, come with me and be my love," urges the old tune "Light Canoe".
"Dreams, dreams, do you remember, Love," asks the 1916 song "On Lake Champlain in Our Little Birch Canoe".
Similarly "A Little Birch Canoe and You" from 1918 and "Beautiful Ohio" of the same year extol the wonder of canoes, moonlight and love.
"Beautiful Ohio" was stolen and reworded and became the Official Ohio State Song with turgid verse about mountains (of which there ain't any in Ohio) and skyscrapers and grain fields etc. Here are the original words:
"Long, long time ago
Someone I know
Had a little red canoe
In it room for only two!
Love found its start,
Then in my heart,
And like a flower grew".
"Drifting with the current down a moonlit stream,
While above the heavens in their glories gleam,
And the stars on high,
Twinkle in the sky,
Seeming in paradise divine,
Dreaming of a pair of eyes which looked into mine,
Beautiful Ohio, in dreams again I see. Visions of what used to be".
Canadian author and historian Pierre Berton was somewhat more descriptive about canoes and love when he said in 1973: "A Canadian is somebody who knows how to make love in a canoe."
The Boston Herald remarked on August 24, 1903:
 "It may not be wicked to go canoeing on the Charles River with young women on Sunday, but we continue to be reminded that it is frequently perilous....The canoeist arrested for kissing his sweetheart at Riverside was fined $20. At that rate it is estimated that over a million dollars' worth of kisses are exchanged at that popular canoeing resort every fine Saturday night and Sunday".
From Bill Whalen, Dayton, Ohio 
"The younger members of the Dayton Canoe Club often try to coax the older guys to tell us tales of canoeing adventures in the past. Sometimes this leads to a lot of tall tales, and we end up rolling on the floor, laughing.
The discussion once got around to courting in a canoe. An old timer began by comparing the comforts and atmosphere of a canoe to the horse hair seats of a Model A Ford, adding that the cost was too high for most young men to own a car. He described how they would take all the cushions off the front porch furniture to line their floating love nests--not always from their own front porches! He actually claimed that the song "A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight" referred to sparking in a canoe!"

Most of this is from Jim Woodruff's Cultural Anthology of Canoes and Canoeing, Poetry, Humor, Art, Romance and Song. Copies will be available in my booth at the Quiet Water Symposium on March 7. See the link in my "handy links" list at right for more details. (Or you can email me and I'll get one to you)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Canoes and Romance V - What happened to the old Pratt family canoe?

Follow-up after the "Wooden Canoe" article: 
In my 2001 article in "Wooden Canoe" I said that the pictures and text in the 1908 Morris Canoes catalog resulted in a positive identification of the old Pratt family canoe. It happened this way:
After months of correspondence back and forth I traveled to Bainbridge Township of Berrien County to the home of my cousin (Phil Shane) who had inherited the canoe. He took me upstairs in a building behind his house and there it was! The old Pratt family canoe. He rigged a light so that I could examine the canoe and consult the catalog reprint. Within minutes we had it and all the accessories identified. It was in remarkably good shape considering its age (probably built in 1906 or 1907), had its original canvas and the only major flaw was a stem split part way down the stern. Also there was the like-new canoe seat that my Mother sat on and the spruce-wood paddles my Dad used to propel the canoe during their honeymoon at Paw Paw Lake back in 1921. The cousin also had some good photographs in an old family album showing Pratt aunts and uncles and others in and by the canoe both on the water and on shore.
My visit and identification of the canoe apparently inspired the cousin for he joined the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association and enrolled in a class in wood and canvas canoe restoration at the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven. The class was taught by Scott Barkdoll, proprietor of Skywoods Canoe, an expert canoe restorer who has since moved his shop to Vermont. Under Scott's tutelage he repaired the split stem and re-canvased the old Morris. What else he did I do not know. So far as I can tell, the job was not finished when he died unexpectedly..
He and I had planned on co-authoring an article for "Wooden Canoe", as a sequel to the Eisenhower article, telling the story of its restoration. A planned feature of the article was to be a photograph of the restored Morris floating on Paw Paw Lake again after nearly a century. Out of concerns for his widow's feelings I didn't make a direct contact after I learned of his death but eventually I raised the question of the fate of the canoe with other cousins. All I really learned was that the canoe had gone to an adopted son. My current hope is to someday see the restoration finished and to see it float again on Paw Paw Lake with family members paddling it with those Style 2 Morris spruce-wood paddles.
I have offered to pay for transportation of the canoe to and from a professional canoe restorer and pay whatever it costs to finish the restoration, so far with zero response.

Jim Woodruff 
On the Grand River 
in Delta Township

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Canoes and Romance IV - The Honeymoon Canoe

The canoe that my parents paddled on their 1921 honeymoon on Paw Paw Lake survives. Thus it is now over 100 years old.
Continuing from my 2001"Wooden Canoe" article:
The canoe still exists. Although it has been a family tradition that it is an Old Town, the realty is that it is not. It is an eighteen-footer with the number 4971 on a brass plate attached to the left inwale forward of the bow seat. Benson Gray says he never saw an Old Town with a brass plate and that the build card for Old Town number 1471 was for a fifteen-foot HW model built in 1906. He speculates that it might be a Morris.
With that lead and a concurring opinion from Gil Cramer, I hunted up Jeff and Jill Dean's 1985 articles on Morris Canoes in "Wooden Canoe" (Issues 21, 22 and 27) and sent copies to the cousin who has the canoe (Phil Shane). He reports that the canoe has splayed stems and that except for six at each end, every rib is screwed to the keel, both Morris characteristics, but its decks do not look like any of those pictured in the Deans' articles.
This temporarily stumped me, but I remembered that I had a copy of the 1982 WCHA reprint of the Morris Canoe Catalog. The pictures and text in this reprint resulted in a positive identification of the canoe. It turns out that it is a Model A, Type 1 Morris canoe with heart shaped decks, open gunwales and five-inch "braces" (thwarts) all of mahogany. The center brace is removable to provide a space of 70 inches for a passenger in a canoe chair. A folding canoe chair in like-new condition exactly like the one shown in the catalog (Style No. 1) is stored with the canoe. Also, there are two original Style 2 Morris spruce wood paddles. The canoe still has the original floor grate.
According to the price list in the catalog the canoe was priced at $42. The mahogany open wales added $5 and braces of mahogany $1.50 more. The paddles were $1.50 each (second quality for $1.25), and the folding mahogany and cane seat was only $2.25. The grand total then was $53.75. Sometime prior to 1915 my grandfather bought it second hand so he probably got it for less. Using the modified "Dean-Brinker" formula for dating Morris canoes I calculate that the canoe was built around 1906 or 1907.
That the honeymoon canoe has been proven a Morris rather than an Old Town in no way diminishes its aura of bygone romance for me. If anything, it has been enhanced. For now in my mind's eye I can see my mother as a newlywed relaxing in that Morris folding chair while my proud father in the stern wields a Morris Style 2 spruce paddle.
NEXT: What happened to the old Pratt family canoe and the Pratt family since I wrote the article?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Canoes and Romance III - What kind of canoe did Ed and Ike rent?

Continuing from my article in the February 2001 issue of "Wooden Canoe".
The place where the Eisenhowers rented the canoe had to be the Huron River Boat Livery on Argo Pond, a backwater behind a low dam on the Huron River located within walking distance of the University of Michigan campus. There is still a popular canoe livery at this spot, but both the building and the canoes are made of metal.
What kind of canoe did the Eisenhowers paddle that June night so many decades ago? It is intriguing to speculate. The probability is that it was an 18-foot Old Town. Why an 18-footer? It doesn't seem that two grown young men and their coed dates plus a Victrola could have fit comfortably and safely in anything smaller.
Why an Old Town? If Old Town did not dominate the rental market in those days, would the composers have titled their song, "Out in my Old Town Canoe"?
In an attempt to obtain additional evidence to support my theory that the canoe was an Old Town, I sent an inquiry to Sue Audette, author of Old Town Canoe Company, Our First Hundred Years. She referred me to Benson Gray who has been heading up the  effort to build an electronic archives of Old Town Canoe Company construction records. Many thousands of the "build cards" have been scanned to create a database containing specific details on each canoe built such as serial number, model, length, grade, color, date shipped, destination etc.
In response to my questions, he did a statistical analysis of the records of canoes shipped from Old Town to Michigan prior to June 1911. From his analysis he concludes that the dark green Charles River model was the most popular eighteen-foot canoe in Michigan at the time of Ike's visit. Thus it is not unlikely that is what Edgar rented. He also pointed out that the presence of the large model Old Town canoes on top of the player piano at the canoe livery as shown in the Kemnitz drawings (Illustrations of the article) confirms that a large number of Old towns had been shipped there. The models were generally awarded as incentives for the purchase of two complete railroad cars full of canoes.
(Charlie Parmelee camped near the canoe livery one cold night last year during his Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge).
I had also directed an inquiry to Old town. In response, Joe England in Customer Service related that there nothing in their archives to show direct sales of canoes either to the University of Michigan or to the Huron River Boat Livery, but there were numerous shipments to Michigan to a Mr. Marks and a Mr. Crosier.
In 1981 the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association reprinted the 1910 Old town catalog. Comparing the illustration of the Charles River model in that catalog with photographs of canoes in University of Michigan yearbooks of that era leads me to believe I may be seeing pictorial proof of the presence of Charles River models in Ann Arbor. 
The catalog says: "As indicated by the name, this model is designed for use on rivers. Its flat floor gives the minimum draft and great steadiness". This sounds like just the canoe for rental on a Michigan river. The 1910 catalog goes on, "Through its beauty of outline, steadiness and speed this model earns its place as the most popular canoe on the market".
Gil Cramer of the Wooden Canoe Shop in Bryan, Ohio, thinks the Eisenhower brothers could have been paddling a Morris canoe. He says the only fifteen-foot Morris he has ever seen was purchased from an Ann Arbor canoe livery. That canoe had a Morris decal and closed gunwales, which indicated is was probably built before the Morris factory burned in 1920. He also notes that in 1911 a Mr. C.J.Molitor advertised that he was the sole Morris retailer in Detroit. This seems to provide evidence that Morris canoes were well known in southeastern Michigan at the time.

I confess to having more than a passing interest in canoe-assisted romances. Exactly ten years after Ike's evening on the Huron, my parents were canoeing while honeymooning at a cottage on a Michigan lake.(Paw Paw Lake in Berrien County).
(I once speculated to my father that I might have been conceived in that canoe, but he assured me that that wasn't where I happened. Too bad......).
NEXT: The Honeymoon Canoe still exists.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Allen Woodruff, baseball, and chewing tobacco

Daughter Karen and son-in-law Ken are attending an event at Michigan State University today - the "First Pitch" dinner. Among other activities at the event, Jake Boss, Jr. (the team's new coach and son of their friend Jake) will introduce the 2009 Spartan baseball team. 

I asked Karen if she remembered the story about her grandfather playing baseball at (not for) MAC (Michigan Agricultural College). She didn't, so I recounted it for her in an email, as follows:

Your Grandfather Woodruff (Oberlin 1920) was a good athlete. When he went to Oberlin (the first college to ever enroll coeds) his Mother had notions that he might take up the ministry...Oberlin was THE Congregational college.(This is the same Allen Woodruff who was driving a milk wagon in the whorehouse district of Denver when he was a Junior in high school...) Obviously the minister thing didn't take.
In those days when you entered Oberlin you had to take a pledge that you wouldn't drink or smoke or commit any other various and sundry sins. Dad and his roommate took note of the fact that the pledge didn't specifically prohibit chewing so they bought some chewing tobacco and put a big crock in the center of their room and took up chewing and spitting.
Dad played tackle on a very good Oberlin football team (once caught a pass for a touchdown on a trick tackle-eligible play). His teammates were so good that in 1921 they beat Ohio State, the last Ohio college to do so.
In baseball he was a very good hitter but a not-so-hot fielder. Under those circumstances the coach usually assigns the good hitter to play right field where he can do the least amount of damage. Also in those days professional baseball players chewed while they played. Ken can probably remember when they still did.
One time I asked Dad what was the hardest he ever hit a ball. Without hesitation he replied that it was the one that went right back to the mound and hit the pitcher in the forehead and knocked him to the ground.
Anyway, this one spring Oberlin traveled to East Lansing to play MAC.They played on Old College Field whereMSU still plays (though they have just gussied it up I understand). Dad was in right field as usual and nothing was coming his way so he decides to have a chew. He was right handed which means that his baseball glove was on his left hand. (The chewing tobacco is in his left rear pocket). So he slips his hand out of the glove and reaches into the hip pocket for the chaw when CRACK! The batter hits the ball to right field and Dad starts after the flyball but his left hand (which should be in the glove) is around the chew like an eagle's claws on a fish.
Of course he might have flubbed the flyball under the best of conditions but trying for it barehanded with his right hand while running with his left hand in his rear pocket it was hopeless. The ball bounced off his hand and  dropped to the ground and I don't know how many runners advanced but the hitter was credited with reaching first on an error.
By that time in the telling I was laughing so hard I don't remember Dad telling what the coach's and team's reaction was but Oberlin lost the game. I hope by more than one run.

Canoes and Romance II - "Out in My Old Town Canoe"

Continuing with my "Wooden Canoe" article:
Then there is the song, "Out in my Old Town Canoe", written for a 1916 student musical comedy which intones:
"I've nestled down in limousines and heard love's whispered pleas, tender, true,
In sailing yachts romantic I have skimmed o'er many seas, 'Neath skies so blue,
I've spooned in cozy corners when the lights were low, And always missed my cue,
It seemed very pretty, but I surely know, There's no love like the love in my canoe,"
The song's chorus makes it plain that the composers were enthralled by the vision of a girl lounging in a canoe on the shimmering water on a dark summer night:
"Oh! Out in my Old Town canoe, boys, millions of twinkling stars above
Each little ripple enchants you, Whispering a hint of love
No heart can be unyielding, Sweetly 'twill answer and be true
Float on the shadowy river, Out in my Old Town canoe."
Canoe dating was not some new fad in these early years of the twentieth century. In an 1889 issue of the magazine Forest and Stream it was stated that: "The ordinary open canoes are coming into greater use each year. For pleasure paddling, and exercise, and especially for 'girling', they are unequaled."
Chicagoland Canoe Base's Ralph Freese is quoted on the subject in the 1999 issue of Canoe Journal, "In the early 1900's on the Charles River in Boston, the water was busy with canoes. Every single cove along the bank hidden by willow branches was known to young lovers who wanted to sneak away for privacy. It got to be such a 'problem' that the city passed an ordinance that 'no heads were allowed below the gunwales.' Water police in rowboats patrolled the river night and day to apprehend the scofflaws. Now those were the good ol' days!"
NEXT: What kind of canoe did Ed and Ike rent?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Canoes and Romance

My series of emails on Low-Tech Canoeing was conceived as a sort of audience warm up for the upcoming Ultimate Hugh Heward Challenge when I will be reporting more-or-less daily on the progress of the Challengers on their journey from Detroit to Chicago following Hugh Heward's 1790 trek. I figured that this process might shake down my "Canoeist" Email list from last year's Charlie Parmelee saga to those who really give a hoot. I was wrong. Instead of the list shrinking it has been growing as there appears to be a lot more interest in old time canoeing than I had expected. Thus encouraged, I am trying a series on Canoes and Romance. This won't be nearly as historical or technical as LaSalle or Heward or elm-bark canoes. With my usual caveat that you know where the delete key is and can get off the list by merely asking, here we go:
Here is my article published in Issue 103, February 2001, of "Wooden Canoe", the journal of the Wooden Canoe Heritage Association. The cover shows a bride and groom on a lake in a wood and canvas canoe:
                                         By Jim Woodruff
In his book "At Ease, Stories I Tell My Friends", Dwight Eisenhower describes his 1911 trip from his hometown of Abilene, Kansas, to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point where he was to begin his military career:
"For the trip I planned to take about a week, stopping off in Chicago to see a girl...and in Ann Arbor to visit my brother Ed. At the University of Michigan, Ed was just completing his second year. While he was finishing his final exams, I walked around the campus and was impressed by the elaborate educational institution.
That evening he hired a canoe and we set out on the river---I believe it was the Huron---with a couple of college girls. We took along a phonograph and played the popular songs. Paddling in the moon light we passed canoe loads of other students enjoying the pleasant June evening. Afterwards, we paid for the canoe and walked the girls back to their dormitories...this was, up to that moment, the most romantic evening I had ever known."
One can't help but wonder whether Ike's unnamed date realized in later years that she had enjoyed a pleasant evening canoeing with a future five-star general and President of the United States. On later occasions did she recall that night upon hearing songs which were then popular, such as "Sweet Adeline", "In the Good Old Summer Time", or "My Gal Sal"?
Searching through the literature about the University of Michigan provides plentiful evidence that canoeing was a very popular recreational activity in Ann Arbor during the first two decades of the twentieth century, especially for dating. It was not unusual for University of Michigan senior annuals (called Michiganensian) to contain illustrations of romantic Huron River canoeing scenes.
Next: The song "Out in My Old Town Canoe".

Friday, February 6, 2009

LaSalle's Elm-bark Canoe II - What the experts say

Continuing from my article in "Wooden Canoe".
The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America by Edwin Tappen Adney and Howard I. Chappelle devotes an entire chapter to 'Temporary Craft'. The authors state, " The details of the construction of elm canoes (and of bark other than birch) by the Iroquois are speculative since no bark canoe of their construction has been preserved."
They also state that " war parties and hunters often found it necessary to build a temporary canoe, one that could be utilized for a limited water passage and then abandoned."
Adney and Chappelle draw from the writings of another 17th Century Frenchman, Joseph Francois Fitau, a description of the Iroquois elm-bark canoe as very coarsely built of a single large sheet of bark, crimped along the gunwale, with ends secured between battens of split saplings. The gunwales, ribs and thwarts were described as " tree branches" implying that the outer bark had not been removed.
La Fitau's description is quite similar to LaSalle's, but LaSalle does not mention the crimps. This omission could mean LaSalle did not crimp his elm bark but merely fastened the ends together thus making a canoe with no rocker.
The detailed procedures for building an Iroquois elm-bark canoe contained in The Bark Canoes and Skin Boats of North America are primarily based on a 1749 account by a Swedish traveler to North America, Professor Pher Kalm.
Among the pertinent details are: 1) In warm weather the bark could be removed without much difficulty, but in the spring or fall it might be necessary to apply heat. 2) If possible the bark was stripped from the standing tree...felling was avoided for fear of harming the bark. 3)The rough outer bark was scraped away; if the builder was hurried, the scraping was confined to the areas being sewn or folded. The bark was then laid on a cleared piece of ground...with the outside of the bark up, so it would be inside the finished boat. 4) One requirement in building these canoes was to crimp the edges of the bark at the gunwales in such a manner that the bottom of the canoe would be rockered and at the same time molded athwartships. 5) Water tightness was insured by merely forcing clay into the stems from the inside, or by forcing in a wad of the pounded bark of a dead red (slippery) elm which would swell when damp.
LaSalle's men built the canoe in cold, early April weather. His account says they had to use boiling water to loosen the bark.
LaSalle says he had the tree cut down. This was probably necessary to apply the boiling water. Imagine chopping down an elm tree---with only the hatchets they carried---large enough to obtain a single canoe-size piece of bark.
It must have been a large canoe. It had to accommodate six men, together with what LaSalle listed as their gear: blankets, clothing, kettles, hatchets, guns, powder, lead, skins to make moccasins ( they were constantly wearing out), snow shoes (which they probably discarded early on), knives and hatchets for trade goods, and of course, food.
(My article goes on for several  more fairly technical paragraphs which I will be glad to share with anyone who is interested.).
Now back to LaSalle and the fate of his men and their canoe. Ironically, their elm-bark canoe did not serve its intended purpose. As LaSalle said about their journey on the Huron:
" the river was almost everywhere encumbered by heaps of wood which the swollen waters carried down or cast into its bed, we got weary of carrying our baggage every moment when the masses of wood prevented the canoe from passing, moreover the river made enormous bends..."
They finally figured out that in five days of struggling with their canoe on the choked-up river they had made no more progress than one day's march on land. Therefore they abandoned the canoe and walked the rest of the way to the Detroit River.
I have self-published a comprehensive, illustrated study of elm bark canoes under the same title as this article. Take a look at it when you visit my display at the Quiet Water Symposium at MSU on Saturday March 7.
Erik Vosteen and Kevin Finney, a pair of midwestern primitive technologists, have constructed an elm-bark canoe. The photo above is from their web page. See the whole process at their website: <

Thursday, February 5, 2009

LaSalle's Elm-Bark Canoe

Here is an extract from my August 1997 article in "Wooden Canoe" magazine:
                       LASALLE'S ELM-BARK CANOE
         The intrepid LaSalle built an Iroquois-style canoe, but was it worth it?
Robert Cavalier, Sieur de LaSalle, was a French explorer and entrepreneur who built the first sailing ship on the Upper Great Lakes. This ship, which he named the Griffon, had the ability to carry large cargoes of trade goods and furs, and was the key to LaSalle's grand plan to develop a French commercial empire in the North American interior.
In the spring of 1679 LaSalle set sail from the Niagara River on a journey which took him through Lake Erie, the Detroit River, Lakes St. Clair and Huron, the Straits of Mackinac and finally across Lake Michigan to Green Bay. There he traded for a load of furs and the Griffon, without LaSalle on board, set out for the return voyage to Niagara.
LaSalle then set off on a canoe voyage south around Lake Michigan until he reached the mouth of what he called the River of the Miamis (at the site of present day St. Joesph, Michigan), where he built a fort. Then he and fourteen men traveled the St. Joseph-Kankakee river route to the Illinois River, where at the site of present-day Peoria he erected another fort, Crevecoeur.
In late March, 1680, LaSalle returned to Ft. Miami to learn that his ship had disappeared---and with it, most of his assets and his hope for future fortune. He decided to hurry back to Niagara and Montreal in an attempt to recoup his losses. On March 25, 1680 he left Ft. Miami with four Frenchmen and a Mohegan Indian hunter, determined to walk across the wilderness of what is now Michigan's Lower Peninsula, something never before attempted by Europeans.
After days of bushwhacking through briars and brambles, walking across prairies, wading through seemingly endless marshes, and escaping two Indian ambushes, the party reached the Huron River, a tributary of Lake Erie, at a point somewhere upstream of present-day Ann Arbor. Since two of his men were too sick to walk, LaSalle decided to build a canoe to go down the river.
The following description of the construction of the canoe is in his own words:
"I found a stream and had a sort of elm cut down which the Iroquois call Arondugalte, the bark of which can be stripped off at all times though with more difficulty at this season, when it must be continually moistened with boiling water and great care must be taken not to break it. The end of the bark is placed inside; the two ends are sewn together, and all along the sides poles are fixed half as thick as one's arm, which are connected by
cross pieces, fastened to them at regular intervals which serve as seats or for the head of the canoe. The bottom part of the bark is strengthened by small floor pieces made of sticks running from one side piece to the other, and if there are any cracks they are filled up with peelings of thin bark which serves as pitch."
Why did LaSalle use elm rather than birch bark? The place where the canoe had to be built was south of the area where the paper birch (betula paperifera) grew. Furthermore, even if paper birch trees were available, they might not have been used due to the time and complexity involved in building a birch-bark canoe.
Since LaSalle had spent time in Iroquois territory, and since he referred to the particular species of elm that he used by its Iroquois name, it can be assumed that he patterned the canoe on the Iroquois model and used their construction method.

Illustration from Morgan's "League of the Iroquois" 
NEXT: What the experts say.