RABBIT - SKIN BLANKETS By Martin Hunter "Wa-bo-se-kon" (T. A. Reynolds)
Taken from the Hunter-Trader-Trapper, Vol. XVII Nov. 1908 # 2
"In reply to a question asked by Emerson Carney in September number of Hunter-Trader-Trapper about rabbit-skin blankets, I have the following information to impart:"
"Some thirty years ago ( he is talking1908 minus 30 years) many of the Indians along the north shore of Huron and Superior, Lake of the Woods and on to Red River and away up in the far North, not only used rabbit-skin blankets or robes, but also coats, skirts, caps, etc., made from the skins of those little animals. Young children being clothed from head to foot, cap, coat, pants, mitts and socks all being made from rabbit-skin, and thus dressed they could stay outdoors and face the most extreme cold with impunity."
" In the olden days a blanket made out of rabbit-skins was traded at our shops for one of equal size of imported wool. The young generation, however, are above either making or using the home-made blanket, the construction of which is fast becoming one of the lost arts."
"A blanket of the size of a H.B. blanket, 3 and a half point, i.e. five feet six inches long by five feet broad, required the skins of sixty rabbits, and a blanket of the 4 point size, i.e. 6 and a half feet long by 6 feet broad, requires seventy-five skins."
" Winter skins only are used and as skinned from day to day. They are kept out in the frost until such time as the good wife or the tepee decides to cut them up in strips."
"The skins are first opened up the belly and are flattened out like coon skins. When the required number are at this stage, the woman or young girl begins cutting. She varies the breadth of the strips according to the part of the skins she is at that time cutting. The belly or thin portion in breadths of an inch and the back or thick part of the hide one-half inch wide. Back skin properly cut should give a length of from fifteen to eighteen feet long."
"As each skin is cut the strip is either baled or folded in a short coil, squeezed close together and placed in a cool, damp place, and so on till the required number of skins is finished."
"A frame is made of four dry peeled poles crossed at the four corners and tied securely. The size of the square is from four to six inches larger at the top and sides that the proposed blanket is to be. It is then propped up against the shack or a tree at an angle and a backing of number nine twine is secured around the inside of the frame about four inches from the poles. The backing or cord is kept in place by being laced to the poles with smaller twine and then it is ready to take on the skins."
"Probably a rough sketch of this frame work with a sample lacing of the first row of rabbit-skin will convey a clearer idea as to how the work is begun than I can describe in words." (note - no sketch with this article)
"The looping of the strips is worked from side to side. A slight twist is given to the strips as the work goes on. The smaller the loop or mesh the heavier the blanket, and consequently a greater number of skins are required."
"When these blankets were in general use the Indians had light weight ones for spring and heavy ones for the winter."
"Some of the women used long, narrow wood needles such as net-needles to carry the strands when weaving, but the majority simply worked up the strips by hand, giving as I have said a slight twist to the strand as each loop or mesh is made. This gives it a ropey appearance, which makes the hair stand out all round. Each time the edge is arrived at, the strip is passed over twice. This gives strength, and makes with the twine a strong border to the rug."
"After the blanket is completed, allow it to remain in the frame for a day or two to dry, then unlace the small twine you had to keep it in place and the blanket falls out, ready to use."
"Notwithstanding you can shove your thumb or two or three fingers through the loops or meshes, it alone is warmer than several woollen blankets. The three objections to a rabbit-skin blanket are: it is bulky, heavy, and the hairs come out continually - but when one is in the bush they generally wear old greasy clothes, and don't worry about their being covered with hairs so long as they sleep warm."
"It is hardly to be credited the degree of cold one can withstand when using one of these blankets or sleeping bags... Where one travels with dog teams, the weight and bulk of the blanket is not of so much consequence, but when one has to back-pack their requirements, a bush man prefers to freeze a little nights rather than to be over-loaded."
"Sleeping bags are made of rabbit - skins for the company's employees who travel long distances by dog-team in the far North. From the feet up to the chest it is sewed all the way. The man slips his legs into this, resumes a recumbent position and laces it up to his chin. Attached to the back is a hood. This he adjusts on his head before lacing up, and there he is with only a very small portion of the face exposed."
"My first enlightenment as to the warmth of a rabbit-skin bag was on Lake Nepigon. I was travelling in February with two Indians from the shore of Lake Superior. It was bitterly cold one of the days we were on Nepigon. Night coming on apace we had to reluctantly camp in the lea of Gros Cap, a wind-swept point in the body of the Lake. Amongst the debris of rocks which had fallen down from the side we managed to find a space sufficiently large to make our fire and spread a few branches for our bed."
"Charles de La Ronde, one of my men, said he was not going to sleep in a hole like that but would take his bag, after supper, and sleep on the ice. I looked at him in amazement and said he would certainly freeze. It was a clear moonlight and I saw him walk out fifty yards from the shore, get into his bag, drop onto the ice, whistle his dogs about him, and that was the last of Charlie until next morning when he arose, walked ashore, came into the fire circle and smiled quite serenely."
"Though I had a pair of heavy H.B. blankets and a fire was kept up all night, sleep for me was only by short intervals at a time. At daylight I took a reading of my thermometer and found it registered 38 below zero, which was a pretty severe test to the rabbit-skin bag. Although Charles had passed ten hours out on the ice he assured me he never felt cold. On reaching Nepigon post I secured a rabbit-skin bag for myself and on the balance of the trip north found its value."
"Some of the post people use rabbit-skin blankets in the houses as quilts or bed-spreads, but they cover them with some fancy print to prevent the hairs spreading about."