By Montana Grant

Posted: August 2, 2020

Water in the West can mean life or death. Mountain Men, or todays Outdoor Sports, are without water, dehydration and death can result. If you have animals, they need water too.

Every classic Western with wagons shows a wooden water barrel strapped to the sides. Usually they were 40-50 gallons. The other side would balance the load with a food storage box of similar weight. Cowboys would stop along a creek and fill a cloth or skin covered Canteen with water, bugs, dirt, and all.

When you are thirsty, any water tastes good. There may even be the temptation to drink urine, in a pinch. Back in my Football days, we drank water from buckets with ladles. The open buckets had grass, bugs, and dirt in them. We all shared 3-4 metal ladles and were sweating like crazy as we bent over the warm water buckets! It tasted wonderful after finishing wind sprints.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” Mountain Men and Native peoples had to be creative when finding and hauling water. Fresh, moist, animal poop could be squeezed, and the moisture collected. Animal blood may do to quench their thirst. Buffalo Scrotums, or bladders, made great expandable water bags. Add a pair of sinew handles and you had lightweight and a practical way to carry water.

Some Mountain Men used pots to haul and carry water, or made carcass bags from animal skins, to hold and carry water. These were like the wine sacks made in ancient times, from goatskins. Hollowed out tree trunks could be made to carry water and a wooden lid could be carved to fit it. Some Mountain Men carried a metal canteen with a cork or wooden plug for a lid. It was durable but also soldered with Mercury, or lead, solders that could make them sick. Usually, the metal canteens held whiskey anyway.

Fresh fruit would also add moisture to the body. Wild plums, cherries, apples, and other native plants were useful. Even damp grass or rocks would be chewed or sucked on. Eating snow would drop the body temperature but melting snow helped hydration in the winter.

We need to be careful, even today with our water. Plastic bottles are an environmental no no. Although they do come in handy to make an emergency still. Todays canteens ted to be Nalgene bottles or some other type of environmentally friendly plastic. Many prefer a lightweight, wide mouth, aluminum water bottle that can double as a cooking pot in an emergency.

Purification of water was important. Wild folks would make sure to gather water upstream from bathers, livestock, and disturbance. To help clean water from a stream or pond, Mountain Men would boil it for coffee or soup to kill any cooties. They also would pour the water through a charcoal, from the campfire, filled cheesecloth to purify and flavor their wild waters. Diseases like Beaver Fever, and many other illnesses could be acquired from drinking dirty water but life was about survival of he fittest!

Just don’t pee in the fire!

Montana Grant

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