Smoothing wood with a card scraper

Card scraper and pocket knife

When working with wood that you intend to sit on or handle in any way it is useful to be able to smooth it. Smooth wood minimizes splinters and makes it feel softer to the touch. There are a variety of ways to do so. A good scraper can go a long way towards smooth and soft to the touch wood. A pocket knife can do similar work but it is hard on the blade. A scraper is preferable.

A scraper is really nothing more than a piece of steel wedged between two pieces of wood. I have seen some with two pieces of wood loosely riveted together. A simple wedge holds the steel in place. Others, like mine, are simply glued into place. The wedged variety works better as it allows one to remove or change the position of the blade.

Dry goods stores have begun to offer scrapers with larger handles that work well. I prefer a card scraper as they are smaller and more comfortable for me to use. Honestly, until recently I could not have told you what a scraper was used for. Often at a stop on campaign I would take a hatchet and brace or bow drill to make a three legged stool or three. When wearing good britches a man need not really worry about a sliver in the tail end. When trying to make a nicer replacement chair for the delicate backside of a lady a smooth sliver free seating arrangement is advisable.

After review that smooth seat was a requirement. So I tried to smooth it to the ladies approval with a plane. That did not pass muster and I proceeded on to use the scraper. In short order my Mrs. Mina was happy with the result.

I have since taken to using a scraper on most of my creations. It works well.

Tools of war

Many who frequent my business know I appreciate the fighting man. Occasionally, a tool of the fighting man will come my way. In this case a man coming back from the Dakota Territory handed me a small bundle in exchange for a couple nights of sleep in a real bed and a few tankards of beer.

The tools of war for the Lakota and their allies are quite useful despite their appearance of obsolescence. I have heard men call the smoothbore musket I was first trained with an obsolete weapon of their grandfathers not worth the weight of wood and steel. I tend to disagree. It is only obsolete if it fails to kill.

The Lakota and other warriors of the plains nations have used such weapons for generations. They are more than just weapons though, they are also effective tools. The kind of tools that can make the difference between life and death.


Mrs. Mina attends church at every opportunity and she will always take Little Miss Freedom with her.  Other children attend as well.  The local minister has no issue with Mrs.  Mina; she has been careful to find a church that has no issue with her.  That is something I fail to understand, I know that the Jesus was of Jerusalem and the only way he might have been a blond hair blue eyed child would be if his father had been a Roman soldier.

I have known a few Italians over the years, few of them were blond with blue eyes.  The men I have known from that part of the world have all been dark eyed and dark haired.  So I do not pretend to understand the prejudice of man in regards to religion.  I thought religion was to help the soul regardless of the color of skin a person wears.

I have known good men of white, red and black skin I have also known very bad men of each of those shades.  I say to judge a man by who he is not by his color.  Color doesn’t make or break a man.

Many of these ministers and men who claim to be men of God are not worthy to grace my table and I would not welcome them to my tavern.  I have known others who were good men that cared more for their flock than their pocket book.

Every local church I have known has raised coin to build a fancy church.  I have never pretended to understand that, why tear down the tree to build the church?  Would it not be simpler to just worship under the tree and use the coin to help people who might need it?  A good man of God travels to where he is needed instead of making people come to him.  But who am I to judge?  I do not give my coin to any church, the only person I trust with my money is Mina.  She wisely does not trust me with hers as she knows my fondness for cognac.

All of that said I will never begrudge a man or woman their religion.  It is a powerful thing that can keep a man warm when cold or stave off hunger or loneliness a bit. The ten commandments as I learned them as a child are not bad rules to live by.  There is wisdom in the bible but as I see it there is wisdom elsewhere as well.  God created this world, man has built the things that have corrupted it.

As a veteran of wars on three continents I can say that I have seen precious little of god in the actions of man but more than a little of the devil.  All I can hope is that every generation is a little better than the one before but I am cynical and learned long ago that trusting people over much is a mistake.

Beautiful wood and steel

I have always loved the feel of smooth wood or cold steel under my hand.  A finely crafted handle of a knife or the stock of a rifle has always had a calming effect upon me.  The knowledge that a skilled artisan dedicated real time working on something I hold in my hand has always made me content to be alive.

Whatever that piece of quality might be;  A rifle, knife, tool or even the railing of a set of stairs.  A local blacksmith made a set of hand rail for the stairwells in the Inn by simply twisting a piece of bar stock.  A neighbor found a straight tree limb and simply removed the bark.  It was rough and unpleasant to look upon until he started working at smoothing that tree limb.  By the time he was finished it was soft and smooth to the touch.  When he added a few coats of oil it took on a sheen that was pleasing to the eye and to touch.  He had taken something from nature and put his mark upon it by finding the beauty within.

Wood has a grain, a feel to it that is lacking in steel.  Steel has an inherent strength.  Brass, bone, horn and even stone can be made almost as beautiful as a woman.  It has been said that a good rifle or good blade is like a good woman: strong, deadly and ready to speak with authority should the need arise.  That is true.  A good rifle or blade has all the curves in all the right places just like a beautiful woman.  But a beautiful woman will always be more pleasant to look upon.

I have never been overly skilled at much past killing and surviving.  I appreciate those who can make things pleasing to both the eye and touch.  That they use nothing more than the sweat of their brow and a bit of imagination always impresses me.  All across this country I see pride in things made by a poor mans hands.  Men who put their heart into anything make things that will last.  No one else might appreciate his work but the artisan does.  That pride is evident in the quality of his work for all to see.

Tools, why do I have so many?

I was recently asked why I own so many tools.  I sell them to those who need them and I generally like them.  I have spent the majority of my life dirt poor.  My coin went to purchase cognac and little else.  My Mrs. Mina earned and saved much coin during the war.  Enough that we were able to easily purchase the homestead my Inn stands upon.  A few months of hard labor built a barn and three story building used as a tavern, Inn and rooming house.  We are at the junction of two roads that service the area and my failure to grossly water down the drinks I serve and the superb food the lovely Mrs. Mina serves has made us a fairly popular stop.

My attitude towards those I view as worthy has also garnered us much repeat business.  I am an honest sort of scum and have been accused of being an honorable sort of thief.  I do not steal from those who cannot afford the loss.  I do not and have never harmed a woman or child.  The neighbors say I have a reputation of being kind to children and those in need.  Every once in while my good nature is rewarded with a simple thank you.

A year or so after we got the Inn going a young family moved onto a homestead just up the road.  A lovely wife and husband with two very fetching young girls.  Their first winter was a hard one and in the spring they decided they would not suffer such a winter again.  The two girls traded their cleaning skills for a pair of axes and a couple of good wood saws.  I will admit I took a shine to the two girls.  They were pretty and eager to help Mina and I in cleaning the place so that they might pay for the tools they traded for.

The younger of the two also had a real interest in learning to shoot with the idea that she might bring food to the table.  I sold her a nice squirrel rifle and she asked me to teach her how to use it.  She proved to be a rare fine shot taking many a squirrel in the eye at fifty paces with it.  She is in fact a far better shot than I.

Now a year ago the two girls chose to allow young men to court them.  As their father has been away at the lumber camps I took it upon myself to give the young men that chose to court them the “talk” usually reserved for that of a father to a perspective son in law.  I made it very clear to the young suitors that should any harm befall these young ladies that I would be quite put out.  I promised that any discomfort inflicted upon those girls would be returned to them ten fold.   After all a happy wife leads to a longer life.

At the dual wedding I gave a nice cash gift to help them get set and Mina provided a nicely set blanket for each.  I was surprised to receive a gift from them as well.  The youngest gave me an ivory folding rule and the oldest a small horned plane.  I have only rarely received gifts of thanks in my life and these are indeed precious ones.  They shall hold a place of honor in my tool chest.


An interesting bayonet

Any soldier will tell you that equipment gets damaged or broken in the field.  In some cases the soldier will be charged for the broken or lost piece of equipment.  In some cases the soldier, or someone else, will keep that piece of broken equipment.  On occasion the soldier will find a good use for that broken piece of Army property.

This rather vicious knife started life as a bayonet for an M1842 musket.  Through some trick of fate it was broken.  An industrious smith with access to a saw and a grinding wheel cut away the socket and ground down part of the blade to create the tang.  A little more work with a draw knife and some scrap wood created a usable handle and viola a knife was reborn from a damaged bayonet.

Who made it or when I do not know.  It came to my tavern one night tucked into the boot of a would be tough who felt one of my customers had wronged him somehow.  The young fool was determined to start a fight.  As the young tough had no intention of paying for a drink before he picked the fight I persuaded him that carrying such a tool in his boot might be dangerous.  After all, someone might get hurt.  As I was the man holding a rifle at the moment it was most likely to be him.  While I have no problem with an occasional fist thrown about in my tavern when a young fool brings a knife intending to start a fight he is taking it too far.  The man he was hoping to pick a fight with is a good hard working man but most importantly he is a paying customer.  When I am given the choice between a loyal paying customer and a foolish child who thinks himself a tough man there is no choice.  The paying customer is always right.

I kept the knife and the young mans boots as well as his trousers and jacket.  I am no savage, I allowed him to keep his hat and his drawers as it is several miles back to town from my place.  Contrary to the accusations he leveled afterwards I did not rob him.

When the sheriff arrived to speak to me of the incident I handed him the boys jacket and trousers.  I then showed him the knife and gave him a list of the men who had been in the tavern that night if he might wish to question men that might back my side of the story.  The sheriff knew me as an old soldier and trusted my word enough that I suffered no problems from the law.

I saw the fool the next time I went to town with my mule cart for supplies.  He hefted a hammer as to strike me and called me some rather rude names.  I said nothing and merely inserted my rifle into his stomach and brought it to full cock.  I rather suspect the muzzle of my M1841 jammed into his belly felt rather uncomfortable.

I walked him to the Sheriff’s office and let him have his say with the Sheriff.  I was some impressed that the Sheriff advised him that there was good work on the railroad off to the west.  In thanks to the Sheriff’s eloquence I gave the fool his jacket and trousers back.  Though I will admit that I kept his shoes and the hammer.  The hammer needed a better sort of home and the shoes were new.  Good footwear is not inexpensive.

Letters and packages from home

During the majority of the war I was functionally illiterate. I knew how to figure the maths rather well and knew how to identify my name on a roster. I even learned how to record inventory in my own way though I doubt greatly anyone else could have deciphered my scratches. Several of my men and my wife spent the best part of 1863-64 teaching me my letters. By the summer of 1864 I could read rather well. Though I was careful to have my Mrs. Mina check any of my writing. Through the entire war I received but one letter and that had to be read to me.

But others received letters regularly and cherished what they received. Mail call was a popular formation and rarely would a man shirk from that formation. Though letters of tragedy and sadness happened frequently any news from home was welcome. I will admit I rarely attended the mail call as I expected no letters or packages but I was a rarity.

Those letters and packages from home were welcome all out of proportion to their size. News from home was priceless and packages that might contain food or new socks and shirts along with other sundry luxuries were greatly prized. It was not uncommon for a box to have been pilfered by dishonest hands along the way. But the mail was actually rather good in that those who worked it were rather honest in their dealings.

Recently, while thumbing through a well used copy of Kant lent me by my young friend Seth I found a letter tucked within the pages. I believe that I recall Seth reading this letter out loud to us during the Siege of Vicksburg, he did not need to share his tidings from home but he did and it was appreciated by the men around him. After the war Seth returned home and made a name for himself in the raising of horses but has never married. His lovely sister has also done well raising a fine family. I almost felt guilty reading the letter, almost. But it brought old memories to the front of my mind and I daresay I thought of young men and women I had not thought of for quite some time. I carefully refolded the letter as I had found it and placed it back book where Seth had left it.

Brother Seth,

I am pleased to have received your letter; you are well and only injured in a minor way. Of that I am heart fully glad. The papers say the most terrible things of our fortunes in the war as of yet; your letters revealing the truth of matters are most welcome and I make a point to show them to the men who are too old and too young to serve their country. The waste abouts who are too cowardly or have decided that they are too important to serve the Union I shun. Cousin Celia snubbed the bankers son, I’m certain you remember him as he was the first to call for the crushing of the Rebellion but was noticeably absent when it came time to join the call to arms.

You must tell us more stories of Sergeant Steele and his antics as they amuse us immensely. Is it true that all of the families of the South own slaves? I doubt it can be so, but Aunt Rosemary insists it is so.

As you know we are hard set at home to make all of the bills since father died of the palsy. The monies that we receive from you are a gift as if from god. Your cousins have all left for the War in the last month and their wives and daughters have come from the city to our home in the country. They have helped much with the work about the farm. One of the oxen stepped into a gopher hole and broke a leg, we had no choice but to butcher it. I think I can say without boasting that cousin Celia and I did a good job butchering it ourselves. The butcher has joined the cavalry and his wife is a poor substitute so we did the work ourselves. Alicia and Sarah are quite helpful about the farm. Young Alicia has more enthusiasm around the stock, but she makes every effort to earn her keep. Sarah has been sewing and knitting nearly the day long, she insists that we sell her labor to the drygoods store so that she may earn her keep. It is a pity that her husband died of the fever at Island Number Ten, she mourns constantly. But she is making do for her children; I have told her she can stay with her boys as long as she wishes, the children take great joy in feeding the cattle and helping about the farm. They are to young to understand that they will not again see their father.

However, Aunt Rosemary is another matter entirely. She is not suitably attired for the farm and all but refuses to do anything but act ladylike, she insists on wearing hoops around the house and believes the latest New York fashion must be worn in the country; the mud and manure have done a splendid job of conspiring against her. She refuses to help in the kitchen as she believes such work is beneath her. Mother and her have twice had terrible rows, I believe she will drive mother mad before the month ends.

On Saturday we sit about the stove rolling bandages and knitting socks. We do what we can for the cause and the men in the field who are suffering so; but I fear that working the farm and attempting to keep the farm from the debtors has prevented us from doing all that we might like.

Your sister and mother depend upon the monies you send to us. Despite this we unanimously entreat you to do your duty, do not shirk danger on our account. I know some of the local Copperheads have been writing poisoned letters to the men who are braver than they, trust that letters you receive from me are true and question the honesty of any that bring sad tidings. Your family is healthy and loves you for your sacrifice.

I shall close this short letter with hope and a prayer.

God bless you and keep you safe.

Your sister Carlie.

The Falls

A few years ago a land speculator stopped into my tavern and asked me if I would accompany him on a trip to Ft Dakota in the Dakota territory. He wished to study the land between here and there and see if it was suitable to propose a railroad. He felt it was wise to hire a fighting man as an escort and I was his first choice.

I admit I thought him a bit mad as it would be a better than 500 mile round trip. I was surprised at how knowledgeable he was of the route and discovered he had served in the 1st Minnesota Cavalry during the Dakota War. He was not really worried about conflict with the Dakota or Lakota but wished to be prepared in case he had poor luck or met with some dishonest whites. When he showed me his coin and said he would pay half now and half upon our return I was sold on the idea. I will admit my Mina was less than enthusiastic at the proposition of being without me for up to a couple months. The inn was only recently opened and business was going well enough I could pay a man to stand in at the tavern and the winter was far enough away that I believed the trip would be a profitable one.

Mr Wendall was well prepared for the trip with two horse and two pack mules. We did not want for coffee or rations on the trek and while we had a small tent we never felt the need to set it. He carried a brace of Remington pistols and a new Winchester rifle. I brought along my Sharps rifle and a good fighting knife. That was enough for me and there were no complaints about it when I added an antelope to our rations with that Sharps.

It was a long windy trip but I thought it well worth it. We saw no Indians at all though there were plenty of shifty white men along the way as well as more than a few honest farmers trying to make a home for themselves on the plains. Farming is a hard life and combined with the struggle of living on the plains it would be a life I would want no part of.

I admit an admiration for the plains, a place where the horizon touches the sky in a way the like I have only seen in the desert of North Africa and the Crimea. The wind never stops whispering to you in a constant fashion. The tall grass never sits still always dancing in the breeze.

When we arrived at Ft Dakota we found a decent sized settlement called Sioux Falls taking shape. The city was named for the falls near it. Those falls were something to see. Water had cut channels through the rocks and it moved as only water can cutting through rock and earth and making quite a noise as it did so. We camped near the falls for three days. We returned via a slightly different route and I left Mr. Wendall at Ft Abercrombie. I don’t know that his railroad proposal ever garnered enough investors to make a go at it but it was a pleasant trip that garnered me enough coin to purchase a few things for the Inn and my Mrs. Mina so it was time well spent.

Mirror, mirror on the wall…

I recently received a strange and interesting package. Within a crate addressed to me was this mirror purchased from a firm in New York. It is splendidly etched and beautiful to look upon. Such a thing seems out of place in my simple tavern but beauty is always welcome. When I received the mirror I had some question as to how and where it should be displayed. I had some thought of placing it upon the wall in our common room for my Mrs. Mina and her friends to admire but she insisted it had been a gift to me and my tavern and that was where it belonged.

A carpenter who was staying with us created the frame in exchange for a month of room and board. I am quite happy with the work he did as I believe it complements the mirror in a splendid fashion. The craftsmanship is of the kind I can fully appreciate and admire.

In with the crate was a well written thank you from a young man, Timothy Walker. I only vaguely remember him and likely would not recognize him in a crowd of one. I do remember the incident he spoke of. He was a freshly captured Rebel cavalryman and I was in charge of a detail escorting this young man and some of his fellow prisoners to the rear where he and others would be placed on a train bound for Rock Island. Upon arrival in Chattanooga members of the quartermasters department heaped abuse upon the prisoners. I have no doubt the verbal abuse would have rapidly escalated to physical had I not put a stop to it. I have never had time for those who avoid the sharp end mistreating those who have looked upon the work of the Angel of Death. This group of prisoners were the enemy but they were men who had the courage to face the enemy across the field of battle. The mirror was his thanks for my doing the honorable thing of protecting prisoner.

Young Timothy did not long suffer the POW camp at Rock Island. He gladly took the opportunity to join the US Army and became a “Galvanized Yankee.” He was shipped west to form part of the garrisons in the west where he faced Lakota and Cheyenne warriors instead of US rifles and artillery.

After the war and his discharge he went home and took up life as a salesman. After a few years he made good and built a family that he could be proud of. He also felt that he owed me a debt and spent some time seeking me out. It took him some time to discover if I survived the war and where I had gone after. When he learned that I had opened a tavern he decided to thank me in a very material way. I can say that I believe I merely did my duty as what any good soldier is supposed to do. But this young man thought otherwise and believed I deserved a thank you for doing my duty.

I admit that I sometimes stand in front of the mirror and study my reflection wondering if I truly deserve such. The mirror is a thing of grace and beauty and it will hold a cherished place upon the wall in my tavern so long as I live.

Death, she walks among us.

I have been a soldier for more than half of my life campaigning across four continents with three different armies in two major wars and innumerable smaller ones. I have seen death visited upon men in all of its horrid forms. Whether a quick merciful death from a bullet to the head or a slow lingering death from disease. Death is not something to be mocked or ridiculed. We all will face it one day, the luckiest of us will be able to choose the circumstances of that death.

Some time in the distant past I picked up the belief that the Angel of Death was a beautiful woman who escorted you to judgement. I have no idea if such is true or not but it has been a comforting belief to me over the years. It is a comforting belief that the last thing I see before I am taken to judgement will be a beautiful woman. Twice now I have been with men who made me believe in such as they passed beyond. One was a fellow Legionnaire who had been horribly wounded in the Crimea. The other was a young Confederate soldier who took hours to go and spoke of seeing a beautiful woman as he went. Both were better men than I who were too young to die. I would like to think their view of a beautiful woman as the Angel of Death was a comfort to them. They deserved that at the very least.

I have killed often; some have accused me of murder which may well be true. I admit there is death in my past were the wrong people to discover the details I might face some difficult questions. I do not regret those deaths, those that I regret were of brave fighting men who had the courage to stand in the line of battle.

Down the road from my home is a farm where a family is losing the dowager of the household is passing. She has had a fairly soft life free of pain and worry. In the last year her health has failed and she has begun to fade, her death will be a mercy upon both the family and her. She lives every day in pain but refuses to pass, she stubbornly holds onto life. I can respect that, life is something worth holding on to. That said when my time comes I hope to go quickly with dignity. Perhaps some cold winter night I see the end is near I shall simply walk into the woods and let the cold take me. No, I think that I might prefer to be allowed a death in battle where I have the opportunity to sell myself dearly. Failing that I believe drowning myself in a bottle of Cognac would be an acceptable end.