A couple of years earlier, one neighbor had been shooting bears all summer and I asked him if he would let us have one for sausage. He said he would. One morning, he woke us up, he had a dead bear in the back of his pickup, and did we still want one? We said” Sure” and he dumped it by the cabin.
My daughter and I dressed and were just started skinning when the neighbor was back. Do you want another bear? We said “Why not?” When he was walking back down to his cabin, another bear ran around the corner and almost ran into him. He shot it.
We skinned out both bears, her first time skinning anything, and quartered them. We spread clean sheets on the backseat of my old crewcab and loaded the meat, salted the hides, rolled them and put them in the back of the truck and headed for town.
Charlie was working at Pump Station 7 at that time, setting up the power house. In camp, the men had a habit of starting rumors in the morning and see if they could recognize their own rumors that evening. That very morning, Charlie told the group at his table that I had woke up in the night to see a bear in the cabin by the stove and shot it from bed, then as I started to get up another one came through the back door and I jumped up on the bed and shot it as it ran by. No one questioned how he knew all of this, as there were no phones or radio between our areas. They just laughed and said “Sure, Charlie”, as they knew I did mine on out the road another 80 or so miles.
Before noon, I pulled up at the gate where the security guard was stationed to have him let Charlie know I would be at home that night. He looked down into my pickup from his perch and spotted the hides in back and the fresh meat in the backseat. His eyes got a little bugged out and he asked what I had. I told him, “A couple of bears”.
That man didn’t even wait to let someone take his seat in the guard shack, he took off running down the hill into camp, yelling, “It’s true, it’s true.”
By the time Charlie came home that evening, I had all the meat ground up and in three piles on the counter and was working different spices into each pile. I made summer sausage, pepperoni and salami. Charlie eyed the meat but didn’t say anything.
The next morning, I took him out to work and as I was coming home, the rest of the crew were honking and waving at me out their car windows as we passed. Very friendly bunch.
By that evening when I drove out to pick him up, even the large trucks were honking at me as they met me on the road. Hmmm, they are always friendly, but not quite this much.
By the time I was done making sausage and went back out to mine, almost every rig on the road was flashing lights and waving at me. I sent some of the sausage to work with Charlie to share at camp.
Just before Christmas, one of the men that had worked at the camp that summer stopped by our house in town. He asked if we had any of that sausage he could send to his elderly father for Christmas as his Dad had always wanted to try bear meat.
Charlie went down in the basement to check in the freezer for some and while he was gone, the man told me, “You know, when Charlie first told us that story, we all thought it was just another rumor getting started even though it was better than most.”
For once, I didn’t spoil Charlie’s stories and kept my mouth shut and just smiled. I didn’t have a clue.
After the man left, Charlie looked at me and said he probably should explain what the man meant? Then he told me what he had done. We laughed a little and I started getting dinner. He looked at me a minute or two, then, “Just where did you get those bears?”
The weather cooperated and Thanksgiving Day dawned midmorning a bit cloudy but above zero, barely. Not a bad day for a hike. We prepared the load on the sled and headed over to Kara’s.
The house was toasty warm when we walked in and eager hands accepted the containers of food we carried. The eggs were an instant hit and Kara started some boiling to make deviled eggs for dinner. We would each get one, but it would be a treat. She said she had some, but they were getting old enough to not do well boiled or any other way, although she was still using them but breaking each one into a cup first, to see if it was able to be used. I told her I would try to get some to her for Christmas dinner, also. Next summer, if all went well, we would try to have a small flock of chickens at each place for eggs and later, some meat. Will and Shari came with the twins, Dallas and Savannah.
The babies had grown quite a bit, but fit in their buntings very well. Since I did not put sleeves on them, they were more of a hooded bag to hold the baby’s body heat in. Later, they could be opened down the front and used as a hooded cape.
I met all of Kara’s grown children and “adopted” grown children. She always took in strays when they lived in town and the kids needed a place to stay. So all grew up calling her Mom. They still knew the rules and limits at her house and it was fun seeing them all interact. Her grandchildren were so polite and nice, even being the only small children in a sea of adults, they behaved very well. She said that was because when they were little and cute, she didn’t let them get away with anything she wouldn’t still think was cute when they were 16. It worked very well.
There was definite tension between the 2 girlfriends her oldest son brought out when he came. I only hoped that would work itself out well. Both were very nice young women that got in and helped and made themselves useful. One started helping Shari with the babies. She was actually pretty good with them and by the end of the day, they made a deal for her to move over and help Shari. Sounded like a good idea to me.
Jeremy came with Will and Shari and was very quiet and subdued in the background, but everyone kept including him in the conversations and asking his opinion until finally he relaxed and enjoyed the day, also.
Rose brought up some bottles of soda that they usually made punch out of for holidays. Everyone was so surprised to find that dinner was a totally traditional Thanksgiving meal that these folks usually did every year. Rose confided that if they had turkey in the future, it would be some she had canned over the years. Not the same, but it would be welcome. She had saved the large bear ham and would bake it for Christmas dinner. We were invited if the weather was okay for travel.
As we were preparing to eat, we heard a snow machine pulling up and everyone went on alert. More guns materialized in hands than I realized were in the room. It was Al, and he had almost a whole moose on his sled behind the snow machine. He wondered if we could use part of it and if he came back and helped, would we show him some more sausage recipes and canning recipes so he could vary his diet a bit more.
Rose and I both said he was welcome to come learn any time and he should come in right now and have dinner with us. He accepted and his eyes bulged at the variety of foods spread out on the serving nook and counters.
As we ate, he told us how he got the moose on the sled. It had somehow managed to get it’s head through one of his wolf snares and strangled itself just before he got there. It was still warm, so he hurried and butchered it up. Then on his way by his cabin, he unloaded a couple of chunks to use fresh and brought the rest over to share. He dropped the hide off at my place, since he seen me working on the caribou hides he left last time.
After dinner, he took a shoulder down for Rose to butcher out for fresh meat for the group there and we all headed back to my place to store the rest and he would come by tomorrow so we could start on the meat. This had truly been a Thanksgiving that had much to be thankful for.
I showed him how to cut the leg skins next time to make himself a pair of boots from the hind legs with very little sewing. He was surprised and said he would do that on any more he got.
I trimmed a bit off the meat, sliced very thin, and marinaded it a while in some spices, then drained and set to dry on the rack I had over my heater stove. Before I went to bed, I turned the strips and they were getting firm. By morning, they were still chewy but could be considered jerky.
Noah and I started immediately on cutting up the meat. Al showed up a bit later and we asked how much he wanted as sausage. Then he tried a strip of the jerky. “Okay, you made this just overnight? I would really like some of the meat fixed this way, for trail food.” he said.
So we set some of the muscle pieces out on the porch to partially freeze and then brought it in and sliced very thin. I started more marinading in some stainless steel bowls I have, and we continued cutting meat and deciding what to do with it.
I made some chicken fried steaks from some loin and we ate them on warm rolls from the oven. We stopped work on the meat in late afternoon. Al went home and we took care of the animals again.
The goats enjoyed a bit of being out and running around in the pens. The chickens, not so much. I only let them out a little bit at a time so they didn’t freeze their combs or feet. That gave me a chance to clean their coop and keep it from smelling too bad in there.
When Al came back the next day, he came by dog power on cross country skis. He said it wasn’t as fast, but almost and saved gas. Besides, if he kept eating here, he was going to be fat soon and didn’t want that to happen. As I looked at his lean rangy body, I didn’t think there was ever any danger of him getting fat. The work done here indoors and out, does not support getting very overweight. The batch of jerky I dried overnight was moved from over the stove and a new batch put on the racks.
Al figured he should build himself some racks and he could take a bunch of the meat home and dry it himself. Since he had a lot of the caribou sausage left and it was too cold to smoke any more, he decided he would go ahead and take what he wanted of the meat home, and make jerky, now that he knew how. So we loaded up his backpack with the boned out meat and he and his dog headed for home.
I knew Kara only liked game meat as jerky and hot spicy jerky at that, so made a large batch of extremely spicy jerky to give her for Christmas. I made some teriyaki jerky and some brown sugar jerky with only a hint of spice on it.
The next several days was spent making jerky and the usual chores around the place. The hay cut during the summer was holding up very well. We had not fed out as much as I thought we would by now, so may even have some left over in the spring.
The Trapper hats I was making were coming along very well, also. I still had the wolf hides that I was working soft. I used the face pieces as mitt backs from the 2 we got around the old gut pile. The palms were made out of some leather I had on hand and I lined them with a fleece mitt and an Arctic hare inner liner. Both liners could be removed to replace or dry. I braided some leather thongs together and made a mitt harness to wear over the head so the mitts would hang handy if a person had to pull their hands out to work or do something the mitts were too clumsy for.
The big old wolf Noah shot between here and Rose’s, I softened and cut in wide bands for parka hood ruffs. I didn’t have enough materials to make whole parkas, but I did have enough to make hoods with the ruffs around them and a short cape to place over upper back and chest. Then a coat put on over would make it complete and give extra warmth where it is usually needed. Each one was a different color fabric on the outside, so they would be easy to tell apart. From the scraps, I made some small hoods for the twins. From a couple of strips, I made toy ice worms. I sewed some eyes at one end of each strip and these would be for the babies later and for the youngest child over at Kara’s.
I decided to give the older boy one of my knives in a holster I made for it. Every boy needed his own knife and although he may already have one, another is fine, also. Noah wanted to make something special for his Dad and brother, so we made boots out of the hind feet of the 2 bears we got in the autumn. These boots would leave very odd tracks and we decided the grizzly would be for Roman, the black bear for Thad.
Noah did the heavy sewing and I made some liners and inner soles to wear in them. Noah used some of the leather thongs to make wrap ties around the ankles and up the calves to hold the boots on.
We went out and found a small scraggly cartoon tree and brought it in and decorated it for our presents to go under. The ones we were to take over to Kara and Rose, we wrapped in old newspaper and labeled. We had a pretty good stack going there and the cats thought it was fun to run up and down the pile, knocking packages every direction. I was smart enough not to add the packages of jerky, yet.
Early on Christmas morning, we loaded up the sled and hooked up Pal and his 2 minions. I dumped extra feed in for the goats and the chickens and we were off. The dogs were in fine spirits and it was not a cold day, with no wind. We arrived in time to hand out presents. At Roman and Thad’s, they were so surprised with their gifts and had to put them on, immediately which set the pups into a frenzie, first trying to get to them, then trying to get away from them. Hmmm, maybe we didn’t get all the smell of bear out of them.
They handed us packages as we stepped out to continue on down the hill. Next stop was Kara’s and she was fixing breakfast for the bunch she fed every day. We had breakfast and handed out packages there and then on down to Rose’s. She was pleased with her hood and jerky and handed us a couple of packages to take home with us. We would open ours after we returned home.
Next we went on down to Will and Shari’s. They were very surprised to see us here. Shari loved the things I made for the babies and the hood for her. Ashley liked hers, also. Will and Jeremy were very pleased with the Trapper hats. The jerky we gave as being from us and from Al. They handed us a couple of packages to add to our growing pile and we headed back toward our place.
As we got to the driveway, we met Al, just coming from his place, so we all went on in to the house. The dogs were happy with the large bones I had saved from the butchering earlier, of the caribou then marinaded and smoked a bit for them, so they had flavor. They performed very well today and deserved a treat. I gave Al’s dog one also so he wouldn’t feel left out.
We hauled our packages in and placed them under the tree with ours to each other. Al brought in a package and added it, too. We gave him the packages we had for him and he was surprised to find a new Trapper hat and mitts. The wolf head mitts I gave to Noah. The marten Trapper hat was for him, also. Al asked about learning to fur sew sometime in the future and I said okay, any time. Noah told him about the bear feet boots he made for his Dad and brother.
Al thought he had some bear skins around and would look them over, so I told him to cut any he got in future with boots in mind and it would save a lot more sewing the same as with moose and caribou. Just cutting in different places. These won’t be good boots for anything but winter. Al doesn’t stay and we finally open the rest of our presents. Everything is something we can use or eat. Almost everything is homemade.
Rose made us each a vest with lots of pockets to carry gear when we are out working. Mine has items in some of the pockets to help out on different jobs. Kara gave us both homemade candy and cookies and a crocheted beanie type hat each. The guys gave us some different types of dried canned foods to add variety to our diet. We fix dinner together and talk over what a pleasant day it has been. We have been truly blessed.
As we relax that evening, Noah reaches in his pocket and hands me a very small package. It is a ring. He made it himself and says, “I don’t want you to think I am pushing a bit here, but I would like you to know I love you and plan on us having a future together. I am not asking right now, I am just wanting you to be thinking about it.”
As if I would be thinking of much of anything else. The thought of not having him here is painful. I look forward to seeing him each morning and feel like part
of me has left when he leaves in the evening. I think he may be the best thing to happen to me in a long time. I turn to him and say, “I love you too.” He sits there stunned for half a moment then grabs me in a bear hug and just holds me close.
“I don’t know how or when, but I want to marry you.,” he whispers in my ear. Then he goes over to his cabin for the night. Wow, okay, I was expecting him to say something, but that was way off in the future. It’s too soon to be the future.
I want to talk to someone else about it, and the next morning, suggest we go back over and visit at Rose’s. He can spend some time with his Dad and I will go talk to Rose. The weather is holding steady and we may not get another chance for quite a while. He agrees, so we harness up the little team and head out.
When we get to the main road, we go north to check the snares at the old gut pile and are surprised to find 2 wolves. We take them out of the snares and reset. Then we drop the wolves off in our driveway and go on south to Rose’s.
Noah stays up at his Dad’s and I go on down the hill to see Rose. She is surprised to see me and invites me in. I get right to the point and tell her there is a good possibility we will be getting married if we can figure out how to do it now. She tells me she is able to perform weddings legally and so can Kara, Paul and Samantha. I don’t understand until she tells me they are registered as ministers. She does not know how legal it would be since right now, there is no legal system anywhere, as much as we can tell. She says we can always start a registry and write in all the data. Keep it just to record births, deaths and marriages. Maybe property transactions also, in future.
We design a page to use for a license and print several out on her laptop. She says she should do a lot of the assorted papers they may need in future because she don’t know how long her battery system or ink cartridges are going to hold out. So while we are at it, we try to figure out what may be needed in the next several years an make several copies of each form. I take one with me when I leave to go home.
I stop and say Hi to Kara on my way by, then on up to Roman’s. The guys are out working with the puppies and Pal looks very disgruntled. He is training puppies to be good little sled dogs. Our 2 are actually a big help. With Pal in front and our 2 pups behind, the ones in the middle almost have to go where they are supposed to. They get nipped from the rear if they pull back and growled at from the front if they don’t stay in place.
They end the lesson and we head for home. We pick up the wolves as we go through the driveway. We will have to thaw to skin them.
The fire is very low when we get in the house, so I fill it up and let it burn a bit to make sure it is going well. The house isn’t cold, but it isn’t really too warm, either. I think the temperature has dropped since we left this morning. When I check the thermometer, I see that it is now -15 degrees F. When I check an hour later, it is -20. Yes, we may be starting another cold spell. Noah brings in firewood while I start dinner.
Over dinner, I tell him what Rose has told me. His face lights up and he comes around the table and kisses me. “You have been thnking about it too? Can we really do this? I would love to spend the rest of my life with you.” He tells me he wanted to propose the first day he met me. Wow, that would have sent me running. Probably for a gun.
We decide the old gut pile and now the new one is too much to leave laying in the edge of the yard for more bears to come around for. They don’t hibernate until later in the winter and are always looking for more food to keep their weight up. We break the old pile loose from the snow onto a tarp and pull the new pile on, with it. The two of us drag the tarp out along the roadway as far as we can make it, on past the graves of the men. At least it won’t be so close to the house and my animals.
I go back and bring out a few small traps and a few large snares. It is not trapping season yet and pelts won’t be prime, but we may not have the chance for getting furs later in the winter or as easily. I set the small traps on obvious small game trails close but not too close to the bait. I do not want to catch the ravens and jays that will come feed. I go farther out and make some snare sets even farther out on possible trails toward the bait. Then I place sticks to make open areas less desirable for predators to walk on to get to the bait, leaving my snared trails as the best routes. I don’t think we will have a game warden showing up to cite me for trapping out of season.
Noah wants to learn about skinning and preparing hides, so we work on the grizzly and the black bear hides all evening. Since the grizzly has been salted a while, it is easier to work on, fleshing it nicely down. We comment on how human the hands and feet look, skinned out and decide to help the antisocial signs around the place by tacking the skinned parts to the signs. It will give the jays something to pick at during lean times ahead.
Early the next morning, we go check my traps. We have a marten and a fox close to the pile, the snares are still empty. We take them home after I reset the traps. The fur looks better than I thought it would, so I am careful on the skinning and stretching them to tan and use for clothing, later. They dry very fast, so I cut the skulls open and smear the brains over the flesh side of the hides and work it in to help soften the hides.
Late afternoon, we check the traps and snares again, but nothing during the day. The following morning, we find 2 wolves in the snares and those will add a good fur supply for garments, later. I carefully remove any sign they were caught and reset the snares, also. It looks as though they were alone, so no other wolves saw them caught.
We take them home and skin them out, that evening. I save the skulls to open later for the brains as these hides will take longer to dry. Once they are dry, I lightly sand the surface before adding the brains. This removes the membrane that makes it hard to tan a hide at home.
We continue checking the traps twice a day and manage to catch a couple more marten and another fox, then I pull the traps and only leave the snares. I don’t want to kill all the animals in the area. I will trap farther out and in other directions later in the winter when fur is more prime. These are all in very good shape though, so they are getting prime very early this year from the weather.
The hams and bacon are done and we sample to see how it is. I like this one a bit better for bacon, the hams are about the same. Maybe I am just getting more practice and better at making it.
The fellow with the snow machine comes over to check on us and brings 2 caribou on his sled. He said he was out setting up his trap line when he came across the small herd from the White Mountains near here. He shot 3 young bulls as that would not harm the small herd any. He kept one and was bringing one for us and the others to share.
I gave him a large ham and a side of bacon since he did not get any of the last one. He was surprised that I cured and smoked meats. I told him I would make sausage from some of the caribou if he wanted to come back in a few days for some. It would take about 2 weeks. He offered to go back for part of his caribou to use also, for a larger share. I told him if he had brown sugar and black pepper I would make all he wanted as I had plenty of salt and could share the salt.
We started skinning and by the time we were done skinning, he was back with most of his caribou. He helped finish cutting them up and then we cleaned out some of the intestine to make sausage casings out of. We squeezed then clean then poured water down them. We soaked them in salt water and then rinsed yet again, turning them inside out. The next soak was even
stronger salt water to leave then in until ready to use. We cut out the backstraps for steaks, and made some nice roasts from parts of the hams. The rest was mostly cut to grind up for sausage and burger.
I have a large, heavy duty meat grinder and with 2 guys helping, we deboned and ground a lot of meat that afternoon. The man’s name was Al and he was delighted to learn how to make sausage. I let him look through my notes and cookbook and he picked out a couple of sausages he really liked.
The Swedish Sausage sounded good to us all, and we had plenty of potatoes and onions to try it with, so we decided on that one. Then a basic recipe with only black pepper as seasonings besides some brown sugar and salt. It is nice in a lot of recipes. Then we decide to make some pepperoni, also. Pizza sounds very good.
We divide up the meat and weigh it out into piles required for the recipes. We tripled most of the recipes to make sure everyone had some of the finished product. The rest we packaged as plain burger to divvy up for each household.
While I package, the guys peel potatoes and onions for the Swedish Sausage. We have the counters and table divided up for each flavor sausage and we each start making. Then we rinse the casings yet again and turn them right side out. We stuff the mildest sausage first. The end of the casing is tied twice, very firmly into 2 knots. If one gives way, the other should hold. Ever so many inches we twist the sausage roll to make links. Only so much casing will push onto the tube from the grinder at one time, so we make several loops of each flavor sausage. We try to make each flavor
into different length sausages. They do have slightly and not so slight difference in colors, but better safe than sorry.
I build up a bigger fire in the smokehouse and we hang the finished sausage loops from racks I have hanging in there. The double knots at the ends have to be carefully handled so nothing comes undone. Once they start drying, they will stay tied much better.
It is getting a bit late, so I fix us some dinner and Al joins us. Chicken fried caribou steaks with cream gravy and mashed potatoes, fresh salad and rolls. Al pats his tummy after dinner and laughs, saying he has ate better and talked more today, than he has in years. I offer him the little cabin for the night, if he don’t have to get home and he can take some of the meat over to Rose, Kara, Will and Shari, tomorrow, if he likes. Noah is still using his camper so the cabin is empty. He decides that would be nice, so goes on over and starts a fire in the heater in the cabin. He comes back and we all visit a while. Then I check the smokehouse one last time for the night and add wood. The weather is a little warmer, so I am trying to speed the smoking up by running it night and day. The black bear is done so I will send some over with Al tomorrow for the rest.
I fix breakfast the next morning and Al offers to take us over to visit, with his snow machine. We will have to scrunch up tight to fit, but following the roadway, it should be okay. Then I go dig out an old sled I have had for a while, and we get to travel in style, instead. We pack the meat and I stand on the sled runners, Noah rides behind Al and the meat is packed
in the sled.
It has been so long since I rode on the runners I figure they will lose me somewhere along the way. But somehow, we make it over in one piece. Everyone was not expecting anyone to drop in, and some that didn’t know us, were not sure they should be welcoming us. The sight of all that meat helped tip the scales in our favor. When we got down to Kara’s house, she was very happy to see us.
Shari had been having some pains and was down at Rose’s place. They were keeping an eye on her to make sure she was okay. We unloaded the share we brought for Kara and she was happy to have meat to feed the group she was cooking for. She sent some homemade candy she had made home with us. We then went on down to see the rest.
Rose let us in and Shari was feeling better. These were the Braxton Hicks pains she had read about, but still had scared her. Will put their share of meat in the covered back on their little 6 wheeler ATV to keep the ravens and jays out. Rose put hers on her entry porch to freeze up. She gave us some jars of canned diced chicken to vary our diets with and a couple of jars of it for Al, also. She also loaned me some books on goats.
She says she has never raised goats either, although they had goats, just not tame ones. The ones they had were not milk goats, just roamed the hills around their place keeping the brush down. They did raise any that were orphaned and had a hard time keeping them in any pen or fence. Al is looking fidgety, maybe overload of people around so we say our goodbyes and head for home.
This has been so nice, getting to visit and sharing what we have. Rose has a frozen turkey in her old freezer on the porch, that she will prepare at Thanksgiving as a surprise for everyone and probably the last one ever available in our area and we are invited. She thinks maybe it would be good for us all to try to be together once in a while and celebrate the fact that we are alive. The snow keeps up, not a lot at any one time, just steady off and on. It is accumulating but slowly. So we keep shoveling and clearing larger areas of the yard.
Before the ground freezes too much, I dig out some gravel to keep in the chicken house for them. I know they need it for digestion in their gizzards. I guess I will be keeping all of them over the winter and I think I have enough feed for that. I will let all the hens set that want to, in the spring and raise as many as possible to share with everyone wanting to have some chickens. Eventually I will manage to have enough we can have a chicken dinner. But at present, I think fresh eggs will be the best part.
My pullets are starting to lay now and I am getting a few eggs every day. I am saving them back and will share when we go to Rose’s for Thanksgiving. Most Bush households are used to buying the 5 dozen egg packs when they grocery shop and most households keep a can or 2 of the powdered eggs on the pantry shelves for the in between shopping trip times. However, powdered eggs just are not a good choice for deviled eggs. By Thanksgiving time, most folks will be dipping into powdered eggs for any eggs used.