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By Dan Beard

(See Also: How to Make Snowshoes)

Since we have now clothed our feet with appropriate wear for the winter woods, it seems that the next thing to be done is to find some sort of contrivance by which we can walk over the top of the winter snow.

We cannot wade through it except where there is a comparatively light fall of snow. Do not for a moment think that we no longer have the deep snows our granddaddies tell about. Only a hundred and twenty miles west of Manhattan I have on several occasions found snow on the level above my waist. With snow waist deep it is almost impossible to make any progress at all without artificial aid. Unless we are content to be snowed in and like a bear suck our paws all winter, we must make ourselves some snowshoes.

Of course, we could get in touch with our old friend the sporting-goods dealer and buy a pair, but they would have no sentimental or educational value. When we make our own snowshoes, however, we do not do a little thing, we do a big thing. We do something that the carpenter, the builder, the cabinet-maker, with all their tools and skill, cannot do. No-no-sir-ree! It requires a Campfire Club man, a North woodsman, a red Indian, or a red-blooded boy to make a real worthwhile snowshoe, and YOU are the fellow who can do it!

There is no trouble in learning how to walk on snowshoes; it is not like skating and swimming; on the contrary any one who can walk without crutches can walk with snowshoes. We do not mean to say that they can do it gracefully the first time, but after three or four trials a beginner should be able to do at least four miles without being very tired.

Even the best of snowshoers, however, find it very difficult to travel when the ground is covered with fine, dry, powder-like snow, but if the snow is at all packed, or crusted, as it is after a thaw and a freeze, it is in an ideal condition; the slight crust keeps the broad webbed shoe from sinking deep, and if the moon is shining bright--O Boy!--there is no better sport than five or ten miles listening to the flop-flop of the snowshoes over the glistening crust.

At the first snowshoe carnival in Montreal, in 1882, which the writer attended as special artist and correspondent for the Outing Magazine, there were thousands and thousands of men, women, boys, and girls--all on snowshoes. Small children with tiny tasseled snowshoes; stalwart, rugged, white haired men with Indian-made snowshoes; and athletes with snowshoes.

At night it was a wonderful colored lights from the Roman candles lightly falling snow to showers of red, blue, and green sparkling gems! Such a hike gives more pleasure when taken over the hills, like the one we took over Mt. Royal, at Montreal. From such an elevation one has a better view and the sensation of being up high in the world is more pleasant on snowshoes than it can be in social or political life, and far more invigorating.

A few hours of this strenuous outdoor exercise not only gave us a ravenous appetite, but it also insured a good night's sleep, and made all the tenderfeet ambitious to have another trial at this sport upon the first opportunity, for the habit grows on one; and you mayhaps hear them coming home singing to the tune of "We've Been Working On The Railroad"--

"We've been snowshoeing on the mountain, All the livelong day, We've been cooking beans and bacon, Just to pass the time away. We are very sore and tired, Bet we'll sleep tonight, We're the snowshoe hikers, Yes, and we're all right. RAH! RAH! RAH!

The Eskimos Did Not Invent Snowshoes 

and know not how to use them. Snowshoes were invented further South by the Indians who perfected this tennis racket-like footgear, ages before the white man came to America. The late Langdon Gibson, Arctic explorer, naturalist, and my sometime rowing mate, used to relate with great glee his experience in the Arctic with snowshoes. It seems that while North with Peary, Langdon had only one pair and he and his Eskimo friend, with their arms over each other's shoulders and each with a snowshoe on one foot, would travel long distances hippety-hop, hippety-hop, to the great enjoyment of themselves and the amusement of the fur-clad natives.

Until recently the St. Regis Indians, inhabiting both sides of the St. Lawrence River, made practically all the Snowshoes used in New York State and marketed them at Ogdensburg and Plattsburg; but not long since, dealers told me, that their principle supply of snowshoes comes from Maine.

Until comparatively recent times snowshoeing was confined to the Indians. It was a necessary part of their life, for by means of these wonderful contrivances the Red hunters in the North were able not only to hunt over the white deserts of snow, from six to ten feet deep in midwinter, but also to bring the fruits of the chase home to their teepee, wigwam or wicky-up. On account of the great depth of the snow in the Northland it is oft times impossible to travel without snowshoes. I have hiked over blazed trails in the summertime where the blazes made in winter could not be reached from the bare ground in summertime. The Indians were originally not only skilled woodsmen but also

Skilled Craftsmen

Whenever it was really necessary for them to invent a thing they proceeded to do so in a masterly manner; their toboggans, birch-bark canoes and snowshoes have not been equaled or improved upon by white men who have made playthings of the necessities of the Red men. The toboggan is used by us for coasting, the canoe for vacation amusement and the snowshoes for winter sport. Indians use many styles of snowshoes, as may be seen by referring to the few types shown on the diagrams. The snowshoes worn in the thick brush and mountainous country are practically of one pattern, known as Bear Paws.

See Also:

How to Use Snowshoes

How to Make Snowshoes







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Last modified: October 15, 2016.