The line separating the past and present was temporarily blurred Saturday at Ladd Marsh.
CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer Maddie Seggerman of La Grande prepares to fire a muzzleloader at Youth Outdoor Day under the direction of Lyn Purvis of the Grande Ronde Muzzleloaders.
Blurred by muzzleloader smoke, tomahawks and people who may know more about the 1800 to 1840 fur trade era than some do about the present.Visitors found all this at the Grande Ronde Muzzleloaders station at the annual Youth Outdoor Day at the Ladd Marsh Wildlife Area. Youths visiting the station took turns loading and firing muzzleloader rifles under the supervision of experts, learned how pioneers threw tomahawks at accuracy competitions, examined a type of trap used in the old west, inspected a model of a tent used by early Pacific Northwest explorers and more.
Members of the Grande Ronde Muzzleloaders, wearing period clothing, have run a station at Youth Outdoor Day each year because they believe in the importance of getting young people to appreciate what the day-to-day life of mountain men in the fur trade era was like.
“You have to understand the past to appreciate the present,’’ said Cherie Austin, a member of the Grande Ronde Muzzleloaders, who helped run her club’s station at Youth Outdoor Day.
A big part of understanding what the past was like for early trappers and explorers in the Pacific Northwest is knowing how their muzzleloaders operated. Youths learned Saturday that one of the most critical elements to shooting accurately is holding still after firing for about a second. The reason is that it may take a muzzleloader this long to discharge after the trigger is pulled.
The rifles of course are no match for modern sophisticated firearms but they did and still do offer a significant advantage. They are much easier to fix, especially when you are hundreds of miles from a gun shop.
“The simpler a gun is the easier it is to repair,’’ said Lyn Purvis of the Grande Ronde Muzzleloaders.
Purvis said it is like the difference between hand crank and electric car windows. Hand crank windows are less likely to malfunction and are easier to fix.
CHRIS BAXTER / The Observer Seven-year-old Karlin Hooley of Cove gets a helping hand from his dad, Dan, as he practices the casting part of fishing.
Muzzleloaders, although basic by today’s standards, were an effective weapon for hunting deer, buffalo, elk and other wildlife. Hunters had great incentive in the 1800s to land such big game because of the value of their hides. A deer hide was worth a dollar in the fur trade era, a princely sum in the 1800s. This value was so standard that it is why a dollar today is called a buck, Austin said.
A buffalo robe made from a bison hide was worth considerably more than a dollar. Under the barter system a buffalo was worth three metal knives, 25 loads of ammunition, a large metal kettle or three dozen iron arrow points, according to information provided by Austin.
An assortment of animal hides and pelts were at the Grande Ronde Muzzleloaders station for people to examine. The collection included beaver pelts, which were of particular significance because of their role in western history. Austin pointed that the only thing beaver pelts were good for then was the making of hats, which were popular in the eastern United States and Europe. Beaver pelts drew top dollar until silk hats became the rage in Europe and the eastern United States. Beaver trappers were in for a shock when they learned that their pelts had declined dramatically in value after silk hats took off.
“It happened in about one season,’’ Austin said.
She noted that before this time several foreign companies tried to trap beavers into extinction in the Pacific Northwest in the fur trade era. They did so to discourage Americans from coming here. They wanted to keep Americans out so that England could claim this region. The companies succeeded in dramatically reducing the Northwest’s beaver population but this did not discourage Americans from moving here.
Austin said it is a common misconception that the companies tried to wipe out beavers throughout the West to keep Americans from coming. It was done only in the Pacific Northwest, she said.
The Grande Ronde Muzzleloaders have had a station at Youth Outdoor Day since the event started in 2008. Purvis hopes the station run at Youth Outdoor Day helps interest more people in the ever-fascinating world of the fur trade era and will get them to join groups like the Grande Ronde Muzzleloaders.
“It is very family-oriented,’’ she said.