Human Tracks: Characteristics




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By Gillcraft

From a series of tracks it is possible for a trained tracker to deduce quite a number of facts regarding the person who made the tracks. In dealing with the human footprint it was mentioned that it was possible for the trained man to distinguish a person from his tracks as readily as from his face. In this case the person was known and his tracks were known, and the recognition consisted in remembering the characteristics of the track in conjunction with the identity of the person who made them.

A tracker employed by a police officer in India could, by studying the ground at his master's gate, tell which of the servants had gone in and out that day; for in a few days he was familiar with the characteristics of the feet and boots of each member of the household.

That is a comparatively easy matter, but a further stage is reached when the tracker on seeing an unknown track can tell from looking at it the sex of the person who made it, height, build and weight, class, physical condition, and possibly character. His accuracy will, of course, depend upon his proficiency and practice, but such deductions are within the bounds of reason and of fact.

The influence that the sex of the person making a track has on the track itself has already been alluded to in discussing the difference between the size and shape of the shoes worn by the average man and the average woman: These differences are also noticeable in the bare footprint. Apart from the size and shape of the impressions made, it will be found that the length of stride of a man is ordinarily appreciably greater than that of a woman. The depth of the impression of a woman's foot is also less than that of a man, on account of the lighter weight, but women wearing shoes usually leave a fairly deep impression of the heel on account of its smaller surface area.

The same differences, to a lesser degree, are noticeable in the children of either sex.

It is with some hesitation that I mention another point of difference between the track of a man and a woman, because later on this difference will serve as a clue in the deduction of character! The difference is that apparently women turn their toes out more when they walk than men do. I have already said that this may be due to the practice of wearing high heels, but in some places, especially on the continent, girls are taught to point their toes out when they walk.

Height can be deduced tolerably easy from the length of stride and from the length of the footmark. A tall person is supposed to take a longer stride than a short person (not a very reliable point this) and his foot is generally considerably longer. A properly proportioned man, if there is such a person in reality, can be built up from the length of his foot somewhat in a similar way to the method that scientists employ in building up the skeleton and picture of an extinct animal from a fossilized fragment of it. The length of the foot should equal the distance between the point of the elbow and the wrist bone. This portion of the arm bears a certain proportion to the whole length of the arm; the length of the arm bears a certain proportion to the height of the individual. Scientifically the argument is, I believe, recognized as fairly sound; the ordinary professional tracker knows nothing of science, logic or retrospective prophecy; he merely knows these things happen to be so, and he makes his deductions accordingly.

You will remember that in Scouting for Boys there is a yarn about the arrest of a native boy by soldiers hunting for one of their comrades who had got lost, because in answer to their queries he asked: "Do you mean a very tall soldier, riding a roan horse that was slightly lame?" They said, "Yes; that was the man. Where did you see him?" The boy replied, "I have not seen him, but I know where he is gone." In this case the boy deduced the height of the soldier from the fact that he had broken a branch from a tree, which would have been out of reach of a man of ordinary height.

I mention this yarn specifically because it is a good illustration of the fact that in deducing anything from a track, it is necessary to look at more than the track on the ground.

Weight can be deduced from the depth of the impression and from the heaviness of the track left. If a clear impression is left on comparatively hard ground, the maker of the track was probably a heavy person. A combination of the characteristics that help in the deduction of height and weight will give an indication as to build, but further characteristics are seen in the case of persons who are stout. They are inclined to plant their feet farther apart to afford them more balance, and, I regret to say, are also inclined to turn their toes outwards.

As I have already mentioned, deductions in regard to class are becoming increasingly difficult now that those employed in various professions no longer adopt styles of footgear peculiar to those professions. Similarly deductions from footmarks that show signs of patches and old footgear are apt to be misleading. On the whole, therefore, I should be very dubious of any deductions in regard to class made even by a trained tracker.

Physical condition has, however, a very considerable effect on a track. It is possible even to tell whether the man making the track is knock-kneed or whether he turns his toes in. In the former case the man walks with his heels apart, so that the right heel will fall a little to the right and the left heel a little to the left of the central line of the track. The inner side of the back of his heel, and not the outer side, will strike the ground first and leave a correspondingly marked impression. At the same time the toes will be turned slightly out as in the average man's walk. In the latter case the turning in of the toes will be apparent on the ground, and the inner side of the back of the heel will also touch the ground first. Lameness, blindness and age have their tale to tell. A wound, injury or malformation of the leg will frequently entail a difference in the length of step. Usually it will be found that the marks of the feet come in pairs, that is, two footmarks are found fairly close together, then there is a space and another two footmarks are found. It is difficult at first to determine which is the foot that is lame until an analysis has been made of the way in which the lameness affects the man's walking powers. I am forced to disagree in respect to the track of a lame man with the authority which I would otherwise implicitly follow. G. W. Gayer says: "The affected leg takes the shorter step, the sound leg doing the lion's share of the work; and the shorter step is frequently uneven in length, sometimes being longer than at other times."

What we have to consider is what is the work that the sound leg is called upon to do? Surely it has to propel the person forward, and, as it bears the lion's share, it will throw the unsound leg farther forward, that is to say that there is no reason to take the weight of the body off the sound leg sooner than is necessary and in consequence the unsound leg can be carried a full step forward. There is every reason to take the weight of the body off the unsound leg as soon as possible and so the sound leg cannot be carried a full pace forward, but steps short. It is not the leg in the air that matters, but the leg on the ground.

In each pair of footsteps, therefore, the sound foot will ordinarily be the leading foot of the pair.

But lameness will leave other signs, according to the cause of it. If the heel is hurt, its impression will be correspondingly light. If a toe is hurt, its impression will not be so deep as the sound toe. If the leg is stiff, the steps may be of equal length, but there may be signs of the foot brushing into place on the ground, usually from an outward and backward direction.

It is extraordinarily hard to simulate lameness for the purpose of demonstrating a lame track, and in such case the track made is not a true one.

There is always a certain amount of luck in these deductions, and it is inadvisable to be too emphatic in one's opinion, but frequently it comes off! I once hazarded the opinion that a man had something wrong with his knee on seeing the track he left on sand. He confessed to a hockey injury - two years old! In that particular case it was the angle of the foot to the line of march as compared with the other foot that gave a slight clue.

In the track of a blind man the pace is shorter, the line of march is apt to be uncertain, the feet are planted wider apart - the influence of sight on balance has already been mentioned - and there may be marks of a stick, or if the man has not been trained, of some person who is accompanying him or of a dog. It is worth mentioning that a St. Dunstan's man does not show the characteristics of a blind man's track to any marked degree. His training has improved his other senses so that they aid him in his movements. His sense of touch is such that it does not need contact with a thing to warn him, he can sense an obstacle, apparently, before he meets it. In himself he is a constant example of what perseverance and grit can do.

Age influences the walk to a considerable degree. Old people are apt to become infirm on their legs, their powers of balance are lessened, entailing a spreading out of the feet, the line of march is not so straight, and the steps are shorter. It is said that after middle age the older one grows the shorter one's steps are likely to become. In many cases, too, indications of shuffling can be noticed, in this case in the direction the foot would ordinarily be planted.

Physical condition accounts for another peculiar characteristic. In the last chapter the track made by a man who was exhausted was described; a similar track will be found in the case of a man who is inebriated, or who is mentally deficient, or who is merely wool-gathering. The characteristics will be marked or not according to the state of inebriation, but in all these cases the symptoms point to the fact that the person has lost complete control of his legs. It has then to be decided as to why control has been lost, and other signs have to be found before a true deduction can be made.

In the case of Ram Bux, whose sad story I recounted, the sign was that he had entered the wine-shop sober and come out a different being. The deduction may have been false, he might have been knocked on the head inside, but the village tracker was fairly safe to assume that as he had entered the wine-shop he had partaken of wine, for otherwise there was no apparent reason for him to go there unless he hoped to convert the proprietor!

And now in regard to character. I must confess that there is not very much in it for people to be alarmed about. But both in Egypt and in India, and probably in other parts of the world, trained trackers assert that a man who turns his toes out unduly when he walks is apt to depart from the strict truth so that his word is not to be depended upon. Possibly there is something in it! That estimable fellow the backwoodsman points his toes straight forward when he walks and nature tells us to do the same. As a matter of fact very frequently a criminal's track contains one or two almost indeterminate features which lead one to suspect the maker of the track. These features cannot be described in any way, but combined together they leave an impression that there is a kink in the nature of the person who made the marks. Again, a man whose brain is below normal is apt to leave a shambling sort of track, a picture that is not clear cut, a pattern that does not repeat truly right down the line.

It may be argued that all these peculiar characteristics are a matter of conjecture. I have tried so far as I can to avoid any theories that have not been actually found to be true in fact. Naturally I have had to treat each peculiarity in rather a general way, and I cannot frankly say that these peculiarities will be found in every case, nor that the deductions I have made will be correct in every particular, but I can say that in the great majority of cases these things are so.

Training in Tracking

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What Is It All About? ] General Training of the Senses ] Observation Indoors ] Observation Outdoors ] Training in Tracking ] Human Footprints ] Booted Tracks ] Human Tracks ] [ Human Tracks: Characteristics ] Tire Tracks ] Animal Tracks: General ] Animal Tracks: Characteristics ] Bird Tracks & Snow ] Tracking Rules ] Appendix ] Foreword ] Author's Note ] Scouts Cubs ]

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