Pioneer Campfires

trail campfireThe pioneers of the 1840s didn’t use matches to light their campfires. Yes, these were available in the Eastern States, but considered untrustworthy and sometimes dangerous.  Instead the pioneers carried pieces of sharp flint, a striker made of steel, and charred cloth to “catch” the spark. Charred cloth was made by putting strips of cloth inside a small, tightly lidded tin box with vent holes punched in the top and bottom, then placing the box on top of roasting coals until smoke flowed from the vent holes.  Removing the box from the coals with sticks, the holes were then plugged with twigs, and the tin allowed to cool. The cloth inside, deprived of oxygen by the plugs, “cooked” uniformly black, though not brittle. To start a fire, a person held a thumb sized piece of charred cloth on top of the flint and vigorously struck the flint with high-carbon steel, producing a spark that created a tiny red spot in the cloth. Next, the glowing char was nested in pre-prepared, soft kindling such as separated strands of rope.  When the “nest” began to flame, it was laid on small pieces of wooden kindling inside the fire pit.  A fire was blazing in a few minutes.