Fuel and Fire

compiled by Stephenie Flora
copyright 2007


There are long distances on some of the routes to California where no other fuel is found but the dried dung of buffalo, called by the mountain men "chips" and by the French "bois de vache".  It burns well when perfectly dry, and some prefer it to wood.  As it will not burn when wet, a supply was often collected and carried in the wagons.  When dry, the chips were easily lighted.

A great saving in fuel may be made by digging a trench about two feet long by eight inches wide.  The fires are made in the bottom of the trench, and the cooking utensils placed upon the top, where they receive all the heat.  This plan was especially efficient when the weather was windy.  When using wood, it was cut short and split into small pieces.

There were several methods for lighting the fires.  Some used the lucifer matches; but, unless they were kept in a well corked bottle, they picked up moisture and would not light.  Wax matches were better than the wooden ones.

Some were able to start a fire using flint and steel.  Even in wet weather, the inner bark of some dry trees, cedar for instance, is excellent to kindle a fire.  The bark is rubbed in the hand until the fibers are made fine and loose; dry leaves or grass also worked.  After a sufficient quantity of dry material was collected, a moistened rag was rubbed with powder and a spark struck into it with a flint and steel would ignite the rag; this is then placed in the centre of the dry material.  Dry material is added until a fire prevails.  Should there be no other means of starting a fire it can always be made by saturating a rag with damp gun powder with a little dry powder and discharging a gun over it.  The most difficult of all the methods is by friction between two pieces of wood.  

Inexperienced travelers were apt to ignite the grass around them.  Great caution had to be taken to prevent this from happening as it could prove disastrous.  When the grass was dry it would ignite easily, and if thick and tall, with a brisk wind, the flames would sweep everything before it.  A lighted match, or the ashes from a cigar or pipe, thrown carelessly into dry grass could also obtain the same result.  Much care was taken to prevent this from happening.

My name is Stephenie Flora. Thanks for stopping by
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