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Cowboy Survival: Using Old-fashioned Practices to Understand Survival Basics

Not too long ago, I re-read one of my favorite books - "The Adventures of Bigfoot Wallace". This book, published in 1871, tells the life stories of William "Bigfoot" Wallace. An occasional Texas Ranger and surveyor, Bigfoot Wallace famously survived captivity in Mexico City before returning to Texas. He spent the remainder of his life hunting, scouting, and living off the land until he died at the age of 77. The book itself is full of in-depth stories of a frontier hero adjusting to life following a devastating war. Each tale offers insight and knowledge into frontier survival while learning the perseverance of an honorable man.

Of the adventures found in this book, I found myself struck by the simplicity of everything. It amazed me to realize his entire life depended on such few items. Most days he simply carried a musket, bullets, lead, bullet mold, and powder horn. Aside from a fighting knife, skinning knife, and flint with steel striker, he carried little else. Aside from luxuries, such as tobacco or blanket, Bigfoot counted on the land to provide for all of his needs. Considering the luxuries available now, the minimalism of his survival kit is almost shocking.

Although there are many basic survival kits out there, this particular point may cause some to re-evaluate their own kits.  I found myself evaluating everything from my survival equipment to my own ability to live without comforts. As I peruse the many survival items we distribute, I meditate on the simplicity of what our fore-fathers took into the wilderness.  Our forefathers had the knowledge and confidence to not only survive, but actually thrive!



It is important to realize that the folks of yesteryear had an intimate knowledge of what the wilderness had to offer. Knowledge then was often passed down through the generations and shared between residents in each area. Modern survivalists have endless options for self-education, including the Internet, local library, or local bookstore. Consider learning more about the climate, terrain, animal life, and edible plant life in your region. You can also contact local hunting or fishing guides for more information.

Regardless of the era, basic survival has the same essentials – fire, water, shelter, signaling, and food. Impressively, people on the frontier often met all these needs with knife, hatchet, gun, and fire-starter. The vast majority of what they needed was found on the trail, knowledge and experience being their only guide. They frequently built lean-to shelters on the go while the flint and steel provided the heat needed. Knives, snares, and firearms helped gather the meat needed to keep going while water was found in streams. When you consider modern personal survival kits, this makes it seem like we are all over-packers!



Despite how impressive this may seem, I honestly believe that Bigfoot Wallace would've appreciated modern survival equipment. Paracord, fresnel lenses, compasses, and prepared tinder are just a few examples of compact items that would've made frontier life significantly easier. We've gotten used to having “everything” at our fingertips but, honestly, it’s better to have what you need rather than need something and not have it.

The tales of Bigfoot Wallace teach us that it's not always what you have with you, but what you're willing to do to ensure your survival. An understanding of the absolute basics of survival can be had by anyone willing to put themselves to the test. Go into the wilderness and learn how to use native materials to construct a shelter. Use wire to set snares and study how to prepare the catch for consumption. Practicing how to identify edible plants and animals in your area is a perfect example of practicing frontier survival.


There is an indescribable satisfaction that comes from sitting by a handmade campfire near a shelter you built, enjoying water you purified and while your catch cooks over the fire. It's the knowledge that, you have what you need to survive. If you can do it today – you can do it whenever you need it.


"Fortuna favet præparaverat  -  Fortune Favors the Prepared!"

This entry was posted on March 4, 2013 by Patrick Carey.

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