Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton

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The Sacred Fire

“Ten strong poles and two long thin ones,” said Yan, reading off. These were soon cut and brought to the camp ground.

“Tie them together the same height as the teepee cover––”

“Tie them? With what?”

“’Rawhide rope,’ he said, but he also said ’Make the cover of skins.’ I’m afraid we shall have to use common rope for the present,” and Yan looked a little ashamed of the admission.

“I reckoned so,” drawled Sam, “and so I put a coil of quarter-inch in the cover, but I didn’t dare to tell you that up at the barn.”

The tripod was firmly lashed with the rope and set up. Nine poles were duly leaned around in a twelve-foot circle, for a teepee twelve feet high usually has a twelve-foot base. A final lashing of the ropes held these, and the last pole was then put up opposite to the door, with the teepee cover tied to it at the point between the flaps. The ends of the two smoke-poles carried the cover round. Then the lacing-pins were needed. Yan tried to make them of Hickory shoots, but the large, soft pith came just where the point was needed. So Sam said, “You can’t beat White Oak for pins.” He cut a block of White Oak, split it down the middle, then split half of it in the middle again, and so on till it was small enough to trim and finish with his knife. Meanwhile Yan took the axe to split another, but found that it ran off to one side instead of going straight down the grain.

“No good,” was Sam’s comment. “You must keep halving each time or it will run out toward the thin pieces. You want to split shingles all winter to larn that.”

Ten pins were made eight inches long and a quarter of an inch thick. They were used just like dressmakers’ stickpins, only the holes had to be made first, and, of course, they looked better for being regular. Thus the cover was laced on. The lack of ground-pegs was then seen.

“You make ten Oak pins a foot long and an inch square, Sam. I’ve a notion how to fix them.” Then Yan cut ten pieces of the rope, each two feet long, and made a hole about every three feet around the base of the cover above the rope in the outer seam. He passed one end of each short rope through this and knotted it to the other end. Thus he had ten peg-loops, and the teepee was fastened down and looked like a glorious success.

Now came the grand ceremony of all, the lighting of the first fire. The boys felt it to be a supreme and almost a religious moment. It is curious to note that they felt very much as savages do under the same circumstances–that the setting up of the new teepee and lighting its first fire is an act of deep significance, and to be done only with proper regard for its future good luck.

“Better go slow and sure about that fire. It’d be awfully unlucky to have it fizzle for the first time.”

“That’s so,” replied Yan, with the same sort of superstitious dread. “Say, Sam, if we could really light it with rubbing-sticks, wouldn’t it be great?”


The boys turned, and there was Caleb close to them. He came over and nodded. “Got yer teepee, I see? Not bad, but what did ye face her to the west fur?”

“Fronting the creek,” explained Yan.

“I forgot to tell ye,” said Caleb, “an Injun teepee always fronts the east; first, that gives the morning sun inside; next, the most wind is from the west, so the smoke is bound to draw.”

“And what if the wind is right due east?” asked Sam, “which it surely will be when it rains?”

“And when the wind’s east,” continued Caleb, addressing no one in particular, and not as though in answer to a question, “ye lap the flaps across each other tight in front, so,” and he crossed his hands over his chest. “That leaves the east side high and shuts out the rain; if it don’t draw then, ye raise the bottom of the cover under the door just a little–that always fetches her. An’ when you change her round don’t put her in under them trees. Trees is dangerous; in a storm they draw lightning, an’ branches fall from them, an’ after rain they keep on dripping for an hour. Ye need all the sun ye kin get on a teepee.

“Did you ever see Indians bring fire out of two sticks by rubbing, Mr. Clark?”

“Oh, yes. Most of the Injuns now carry matches, but in the early days I seen it done often enough.”

“Does it take long? Is it hard?”

“Not so long, and it’s easy enough, when ye know how.”

“My! I’d rather bring fire out of two sticks than have a ten dollar bill,” said Yan, with enthusiasm that meant much, for one dollar was his high-water mark of affluence, and this he had reached but once in his life.

“Oh, I dunno’; that depends,” was Sam’s more guarded response.

“Can you do it?” asked Yan.

“Wall, yes, if I kin get the right stuff. Ye see, it ain’t every wood that will do it. It’s got to be jest right. The Plains Injuns use Cottonwood root, an’ the Mountain Injuns use Sage-brush root. I’ve seen the Canadian Injuns use Basswood, Cedar and dry White Pine, but the Chippewas mostly use Balsam Fir. The easiest way is with a bow-drill. Have ye any buckskin?”


“Or a strip o’ soft leather?”

“I’ve got a leather shoe-lace,” said Yan.

“Rather slim; but we’ll double it an’ make it do. A cord will answer, but it frays out so soon.” Caleb took the lace and the axe, then said, “Find me a stone ’bout the size of an egg, with a little hole into it–like a socket hole–’bout a quarter inch deep.”

The boys went to the creek to seek a stone and Caleb went into the woods.

They heard him chopping, and presently he came back with a flat piece of very dry Balsam Fir, a fifteen-inch pin of the same, a stick about three feet long, slightly bent, some dry Pine punk and some dry Cedar.

The pin was three-quarters of an inch thick and was roughly eight-sided, “so the lace would grip.” It was pointed at both ends. He fastened the lace to the bent stick like a bow-string, but loosely, so that when it had one turn around the pin it was quite tight. The flat piece of Balsam he trimmed down to about half an inch thick. In the edge of this he now cut a notch one-quarter inch wide and half an inch deep, then on the top of this fire-board or block, just beyond the notch, he made with the point of his knife a little pit.

He next scraped and shredded a lot of dry Cedar wood like lint. Then making a hole half an inch deep in the ground, he laid in that a flat piece of Pine punk, and across this he set the fire-board. The point of the pin or drill was put in the pit of the fire-board, which he held down with one foot; the lace was given one turn on the pin, and its top went into the hole of the stone the boys brought. The stone was held firmly in Caleb’s left hand.

“Sometimes,” he remarked, “when ye can’t find a stone, a Pine knot will do–ye kin make the socket-hole with a knife-point.”

Now holding the bow in his right hand, he began to draw it back and forth with long, steady strokes, causing the pin to whirl round in the socket. Within a few seconds a brown powder began to run out of the notch of the fire-board onto the punk. The pit increased in size and blackened, the powder darkened, and a slight smoke arose from the pit. Caleb increased the pressure of his left hand a little, and sawed faster with the right. The smoke steadily increased and the black powder began to fill the notch. The smoke was rolling in little clouds from under the pin, and it even seemed to come from the heap of powder. As soon as he saw that, Caleb dropped the bow and gently fanned the powder heap. It still smoked. He removed the fire-board, and lifting the punk, showed the interior of the powder to be one glowing coal. On this he laid the Cedar tinder and over that a second piece of punk. Then raising it, he waved it in the air and blew gently for awhile. It smouldered and then burst into a flame. The other material was handy, and in a very short time they had a blazing fire in the middle of the new teepee.


All three were pictures of childish delight. The old man’s face fairly beamed with triumph. Had he failed in his experiment he would have gone off hating those boys, but having made a brilliant success he was ready to love every one concerned, though they had been nothing more than interested spectators of his exploit.

[Illustration: RUBBING-STICKS–FOR FIRE-MAKING (See Description Below)]

Two tools and two sticks are needed. The tools are bow and drill-socket; the sticks are drill and fire-board.

1. The simplest kind of bow–a bent stick with a stout leather thong fastened at each end. The stick must not spring. It is about 27 inches long and 5/8 inch thick.

2. A more elaborate bow with a hole at each end for the thong. At the handle end it goes through a disc of wood. This is to tighten the thong by pressure of the hand against the disc while using.

3. Simplest kind of drill-socket–a pine or hemlock knot with a shallow hole or pit in it. 3a is under view of same. It is about 4-1/2 inches long.

4. A more elaborate drill-socket–a pebble cemented with gum in a wooden holder. 4a is under view of same.

5. A very elaborate drill-socket; it is made of tulip wood, carved to represent the Thunderbird. It has eyes of green felspar cemented in with resin. On the under side (_5a_) is seen, in the middle, a soapstone socket let into the wood and fastened with pine gum, and on the head a hole kept filled with grease, to grease the top of the drill before use.

6. The drill, 12 to 18 inches long and about 3/4 of an inch thick; it is roughly 8-sided so the thong will not slip, pointed at each end. The best wood for the drill is old, dry, brash, but not punky balsam fir or cotton-wood roots; but basswood, white cedar, red cedar, tamarack, and sometimes even white pine, will do.

7. Fire-board or block, about 3/4 of an inch thick and any length handy; a is notch with pit just below shows the pit after once using and in good trim for a second time; c shows the pit bored through and useless; the notch is 1/2 inch wide and 3/4 inch deep.

8. Shows the way of using the sticks. The block (_a_) is held down with one foot, the end of the drill in the pit, the drill-socket (_c_) is held on top in left hand, one end of the bow (_d_) is held in the right hand the bow is drawn back and forth.

9. Is a little wooden fire-pan, not essential but convenient; its thin edge is put under the notch to catch the powder that falls.


Part I  •  II  •  III  •  IV  •  V  •  VI  •  VII  •  VIII  •  IX  •  X  •  XI  •  XII  •  XIII  •  XIV  •  Part II  •  II  •  III  •  IV  •  V  •  VI  •  VII  •  VIII  •  IX  •  X  •  XI  •  XII  •  XIII  •  XIV  •  XV  •  Part III  •  II  •  III  •  IV  •  V  •  VI  •  VII  •  VIII  •  IX  •  X  •  XI  •  XII  •  XIII  •  XIV  •  XV  •  XVI  •  XVII  •  XVIII  •  XIX  •  XX  •  XXI  •  XXII  •  XXIII  •  XXIV  •  XXV  •  XXVI  •  XXVII  •  XXVIII  •  XXIX  •  XXX  •  XXXI  •  XXXII

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Two Little Savages
By Ernest Thompson Seton
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