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Packbaskets

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Packbaskets are sometimes discussed here, usually with someone asking if they are PC/HC. I've just returned from a trip to the Adirondacks where I learned quite a bit about baskets. As I've remarked on the forums before, packbaskets definitely aren't HC/PC for anything other than a portrayal of a northeastern outdoorsman after the Civil War. A researcher at the Adirondack Museum, Blue Mountain Lake, NY, told me there is scant history of packbaskets being used anytime before the Civil War. Adirondack style packbaskets are used northward into Maine, but aren't indigenous to any other part of the country. Using a packbasket to carry gear to a pre-1840 trans-Mississippi rendezvous definitely is not HC/PC.

Nessmuk, who many will be familiar with, mentions packbaskets being used in the early 1880s. I'm told by the museum the baskets were most popular in the late 19th, early 20th centuries.

Nessmuk did favor a muzzle loading rifle to the end of his days, so packbaskets and muzzleloaders can be said to go together, I guess, although they were more often used in conjunction with breech loading rifles.

Here is a picture of a common commercial packbasket:



As you can see it is woven of wide strips. The spokes appear to be actual pounded ash splints, however the weavers are reed. The handle is a leather loop. It's carried by a cotton webbing harness. The rim is attached with clinched nails. This is an example of a very late basket, not handmade, and is only HC/PC for the 20th century. I found this one at a junk shop here in Kansas. I took it with me to the Adirondacks, where I showed it to one of the last living master basket makers, who told me overall it is a good basket.

Here is a picture of an actual handwoven basket made by that master weaver:



The spokes are slightly narrower than on the commercial basket. The weavers are very much narrower. This basket is made from ash that was soaked as a log in a trout pond for over a year, then pounded until the layers separated. The wood was then split to make basket material. The color of the material is variegated grey-tan. It definitely is not the dark brown sometimes seen on packbaskets.

The handle is a piece of bent ash wood, not a leather loop or other device. It isn't quite obvious in the picture, but the basket is woven in such a way as to leave a "notch" under the carrying handle and the packstraps, not a harness, are wrapped around the rim. The straps are nailed to the bottom of the basket. The man who made this basket, now in his 80s, learned to make packbaskets many decades ago from an old Indian who attached the shoulder straps to the basket in the same way. The rim of the handwoven basket is bound with crisscrossed ash splints, and not secured with clinched nails. These are traits of an authentic handmade packbasket, and if you want to create the illusion your packbasket is PC/HC these are traits it should have.

Good packbaskets are ridged. Set one on a solid surface, grasp the rim and give it a twist back and forth. If the basket twists, or does the hula, it isn't a good basket, or not as good as it could be. An excellent basket will be nearly as ridged as a box.

A basket used a lot, especially if it's taken out into wet weather, will form itself to the carrier's back. The back will be somewhat indented. If you must use a basket to carry your gear to a rendezvous, and you have made an effort to make sure it all looks used and spent some time in the mountains, you should make an effort to shape the back of the basket to match your back. Carry it wet and loaded until it begins to look like it's lived outdoors for a while.

The old master showed me a basket made for him long ago by the Indian. That packbasket has spent a lot of time outdoors carrying traps and other items. It's weathered looking, and obviously shaped to it's owner's back.

If you're straining for an HC/PC look, let the basket weather.

I could tell you where to get authentic real oldtime handmade packbaskets, but I won't, because the master makers are quite elderly, and already have enough work on their hands. They only make a few baskets a year. I'll leave it up to you to seek them out. Expect to pay about $400 for a master craftsman's handiwork.

If you are constrained to using a commercially made packbasket, perhaps you can use some of the above information to make it look like it fits in with the remainder of your gear.


 

Robert Egler

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Thanks for that information, very interesting. :hatsoff:

I have a pack basket almost identical to the commercial one you show. Use it a lot when I am trapping. They seemed to be common among trappers in northern Pennsylvania in the 70s, in fact we always called them "trapper's baskets". But I haven't seen one down here in North Carolina. There was a long stretch when I didn't trap at all, so for I know they may have been popular here in NC in the 70s also, or maybe they've fallen out of favor everywhere.

Also used it a lot when I was camping by canoe, just a handy thing to have. Considering how beat up it gets though I'd have to think twice before I carried a really nice one like the other one you show out trapping.
 

vern faulkner

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Squirrel Tail, I also used a trappers basket like that when I was running trap lines here in Pa. back in the late 50's and 60's. Was big enough to hold most all my equipment. Sorry to say that I haven't run a line for many years now (don't know anyone who does either). Bottom just fell out of the market. Sure did enjoy it though while it lasted.

Vern
 
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I did see a lot of older baskets in the Adirondacks with the bottoms out of them. They were also dirty and weathered looking. When they get used hard, they do wear out.

The basket I mention that the old Indian had made for the master basket maker when he was young is also dirty and weathered. It's shaped to it's owner's back, but the back edge of the rim, the part away from the carrier's back has sagged down a little, too. Baskets that get used take on a personality of their own.

Packbaskets aren't PC/HC for just about anything anyone on this forum is interested in. However, they do get used for re-enactments and stuff. If the re-enacters would make an effort to age their baskets, they would come closer to fitting in.

I'm thinking about going back to the Adirondacks in February, when a community harvests ice from a lake the old fashioned way. I'd like to try that. I'm thinking if I do, I should make some extra effort to learn the history of the packbaskets. Those who really know it are a dying breed.

This place does sell commercially made packbaskets, like the one shown in my top picture. http://www.oldforgehardware.com/ Baskets aren't shown on the web site, but the do have quite a lot in the store. Someone in search of a basket might try starting with the store. Email them. Nessmuk launched his canoe journeys into the Adirondacks from Old Forge.
 
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gizamo

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The Adirondac style is considered by some, to be a later version of a Maine Abenaki basket. That resembles the second type you posted, by the old master.

That one is incredible, by the way. :hatsoff:
 

tg

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Good post, while the woven basket of many styles /sizes goes back to neolithic times it does seem hard to connect it with 18th or early 19th century white mens usage, I went to a fiber glass trap basket in 1990 after my second wicker one went to pieces, my firts was a hand me down from a family member that was old in 1965 when I got it but it was cool for a 13 year old kid with a dozen of so traps and a nearby creek full of coon, nutria, mink and various other critters along with one of Moms favorite cats...ouch! that one cost me dearly :redface:
 

gizamo

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Hmmm,

Pack baskets as a form, appear in European illustrations in about 1740. Not the Abanaki splint and rush style we have been discussing. Oh wait, Adirondac.

Then we skip a century, and all of a sudden, the Rusticaters are using them, here in America.

Interesting.
 
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I have no idea what Gizmo just wrote. Maybe he'll elaborate.

I said above the straps on the old style handmade baskets were nailed on. I don't know why I wrote that. They are riveted with copper rivets. The bottoms of the two types of baskets are differently constructed. I'll try to post pictures of them when I get back home from a long weekend.
 

gizamo

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Basically, there are paintings and drawings of Europeans using packbasket in the mid 18th century. One would assume that the were in use in the colonies....but we lack any historic record to prove that. Perhaps they were uncommon... and not documented. Fast forward into about 1840 and the New England type basket becomes somewhat common, gaining wide use with the Rusticator movement. That form of basket is still with us.
 

Rod Lassey

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The case might be made that those in very close contact with the natives out beyond the frontier could be in possesion of a native-made basket. These vary widely from tribe to tribe, however, and you'd have to research what's appropriate for your era.

For instance, in my era/area [northern plains, early 1800s] of study, I could see a fellow married to a Hidatsa woman using a basket made by her, or maybe a guy passing through buying one from a Hidatsa woman---if he had use for such a thing. For an example of the Hidatsa/Mandan type basket, see Bodmer's painting of the interior of an earthlodge.

The same could be said for baskets from the southwest, or the Pacific northwest, just to name some of the more well-known types.

I think some of the problem with basket use by modern day trekkers or reenactors is their use of a basket that should be limited to the northeast.

Like anything it boils down to who, what, when , where.


Rod
 

BillinOregon

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Many of the baskets from the Pacific Northwest utilized a very specific design for a very specific purpose. A basket for huckleberries would bear almost no resemblance to a basket made for collecting shellfish.
 
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I don't re-enact. Actually haven't shot any of my muzzleloaders in a long time. I just follow this stuff out of interest. I recall in various older books seeing pictures of Indians carrying basic conical shaped basket, or near conical shaped, by tumpline. I can't give any references. If I were to use a basket to carry my stuff into a primitive rendezvous, I believe I'd weave one of willow, conically shaped, and use that with a tumpline. Willow is almost universally available, and doesn't require the somewhat complicated processing of ash. Weaving with willow is so easy, even a Mountain Man could do it.
 

BillinOregon

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KV: The conical shape helps to reduce pressure on the contents at the bottom. The "first peoples" found that you could pick several pounds of fragile berries and if the basket was cone-shaped, the ones at the bottom didn't get crushed on the way back to the village site for processing. When your very survival depends on harvesting and/or preserving every last bite of food you can, this is a very important feature. Smart folks who could teach us all many lessons!
 

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