Trail Signs for Help




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By Daniel Beard 

On the other side of waters, straw is used very commonly as sign of danger.  A bundle of straw hanging from the arch of a bridge tells the traveler that it is undergoing repairs or is in a dangerous condition. Some wisps of straw in a horse's tail is a warning to all people to keep away from its heels because it is a kicker.  A handful of straw tied to a stall-post in a stable, barn or hitching post at the fair or tavern warns the public that the horse standing there is a vicious animal and will kick.

Vicious bulls are often labeled by having straw tied to their horns or bunches of straw tied at the top of a pole in the fields where the bulls are grazing or fastened to the gates leading to the pasture.  One cannot coax a tramp in South Ireland to enter a gate decorated with a wisp of straw, for that is a notice that ill-tempered dogs are on the premises.

Weak places in the ice, air holes, etc., are strewn with straw as a warning to the skater. Bunches of the straw are used in London to denote danger in the streets where repairing is being done.

Among sportsmen in the Old World, especially in England, straw at the top of a tall red pole warns the fox hunters that there is a barbed wire fence or other, danger ahead and during the shooting season the peasantry are warned, by stakes with straw attached, that the "gentry" are shooting there and it is a dangerous ground.

Masons in Denmark and Norway and roof-makers in Germany use bundles of straw to warn the passerby of danger overhead; but I know of no instances of straw being used in this manner as a danger signal in this country, unless it is the three tufts of grass Fig. 62. However, it might be appropriate to include a large bunch of grass suspended from a pole or some prominent place as a danger sign, here in America.



Fig. 59.  The United States flag is used to designate the condition of the garrison, fort, ship or camp. In times of dire distress, the flag is run part way up the mast or staff with the Union Jack upside down.  Whenever this is seen it is an appeal for assistance, telling one that the people in camp, or aboard the ship, are in dire need of help. 
Fig. 60.  Three stones piled one on another; danger or help needed. (Boy Scout sign.)
Fig. 61.  Three sticks driven in the ground. Danger. Help needed. (Boy Scout sign.)
Fig. 62.  Three wisps of grass each with ends tied together. Danger. Help. (Scout sign.)
Fig. 63.  Three smudge fires burning, enemy approaching. I am lost, in distress, help wanted. (Apache Indian sign.)
Fig. 64.   Whenever you hear in the woods three reports of a gun at regular intervals about as you would count 1, 2, 3, you must give it your immediate attention.  In the Northwest, at Mt. McKinley region and Alaska hunting ground, Mr. Belmore Browne tells me they fire the three shots and then three more shots to be sure to attract attention, but in other localities, usually three shots are sufficient to call for help, and more is a waste of ammunition which must be conserved under such circumstances
We cannot be too careful in regard to our "trouble" signs, for life often depends upon making them understood; so keep the number 3 in your mind as always meaning danger, trouble or a cry for help and as a sign that should be recognized by all woodsmen.
Fig. 65.  A piece of bark or wisp of grass hung on the limb of a tree or on a tripod means that someone is sick in camp. "Smoking a piece of birch-bark and hanging it on a tree means, "I am sick." (J. W. Powell, U. S. Ethnological Report.)

Fig. 66.  Bark removed near the butt of a tree. Bad luck. (Indian BAD LUCK sign.)

Fig. 67.  All the bark removed means a grave and dangerous situation. According to H. L. Masta, Chief of the Abnaki Indians, cutting the bark off from a tree on one, two, three, or four sides near the butt is to be read "have had poor, poorer, poorest luck." Cutting it off all around the tree, "I am starving."

See Also:

Dan Beard's Wilderness Signs of Direction

Ernest Seton's Trail Signs & Blazes

Traditional Scouting Trail Signs

American Boys' Book of Signs, Signals & Symbols






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.