Beaver Mat Shelters by DAN BEARD
The Outing magazine, 1904
Ever since our aboreal ancestors with prehensile toes scampered among the branches of the pre-glacial forests men have built brush shelters for camps or temporary refuge, and I make no claim to inventing this time-honored style of forest home. The truth is that no contrivance of any description is ever invented at once in its entirety, but everything is evolved from something else, everything grows. Not only is this true of plants, animals and men, but it also holds good with men’s clothes, tools and houses, all are products of evolution.
Our birds never invented their wonderful nests, they have but modified and improved the cruder nests of their more undeveloped ancestors.
So the brush huts here given are evolved from the shacks and camps familiar to everyone who visits our north woods, but the application of the beaver-mat and the mat itself is new.
These camps are shingled with birch bark, spruce bark or covered with brush. Even a novice can cut birch bark, but might fail to get the same results from the spruce tree. Let the beginner hunt through the wood for a comparatively smooth spruce tree, and when a suitable one is found, cut a ring around the bottom and another about five feet above the first; then cut a perpendicular slit connecting the two rings; it is now a simple matter to peel off the section of bark by the careful use of the hatchet and the help of a comrade to hold on to the edge of the bark.
In this way enough pieces can soon be secured to roof the shack, but it is to be supposed that you know all this and also how to lay the bark, beginning at the bottom and working up, so that each layer overlaps the lower one and breaks joints with the ones below it; also, it is to be supposed that you know how to weight down the bark with poles laid from the ground at intervals so that their top ends protrude over the open front of the camp. Loose brush is used in the old-time camp to set up against and inclose the two ends of the shack, leaving the broad front open. This is the well-known Adirondack camp of former days, now generally superseded by structures of similar form built of logs, but unless logs are used a much neater, more durable and a better protection from the rain and weather can be obtained by building
A camp of beaver mats similar in form to the one shown by Figrs. 1, 2 and 3. The roof, by the way, should be much steeper than Fig. 1 and more like that shown in the profile view of Fig. 3. After you have erected the framework or skeleton of the camp, shown in the above diagrams, make four triangles to correspond with ABC (Fig. 3); do this by fastening the ends of three poles together, Fig. 5.
Next nail some branches from side to side of the triangle, as shown by Fig. 6, then, with the triangle flat on the ground, cover the frame with selected brush, being careful that it is placed in an orderly manner, with the tips pointing down and, overhanging the stick, AC, as is shown at D, Fig. 7. Over this lay another layer of brush in the same manner (E, Fig. 7), and, over the second layer put a third (F, Fig. 7), as one would shingle a house. Continue in this manner until you have a triangular mat a foot or more thick.
Next make a duplicate frame (Fig. 6), but with the cross sticks placed up and down in place of horizontal, as in Fig. 6. Fit the second triangle over the first, Fig. 8, and lash the corners together, using sufficient pressure to make the mattings between the two frames hard and compact. One side of your camp is now ready to set in place, but another beaver mat must be made for the opposite side, and then both can be set up against the ends of the camp, where they were intended to fit. The roof may be made of a beaver mat of rectangular form constructed with diagonal braces, like those shown by G H F E L M K J, or D C B A of Fig. 10.
After the mats are in place the whole thing should be thatched by inserting the end of a layer of small flat brush near the bottom of the mat, then one above overlapping the first and so on until the top is reached. A carefully built beaver mat lean-to, with thatch of palm leaves, if in the South, or pine, spruce, hemlock, or sweet-smelling balsam thatch, if in the North, can shield you from a hard shower of rain, and in cold weather offer a wind shield which will be appreciated by the tired hunter.
It does not take long to make beaver mats, but it does require care to make good ones; however, one who loves woodcraft will love to work with the twigs of evergreen, and one who loves his task may be trusted to do good work. If the reader is indolent he had better keep out of the woods altogether, or travel with a valet and a bunch of guides, being careful to sleep only in the well-built houses paradoxically called camps. But this sort of man will probably not read this sort of an article, and I can assume that the reader loves the woods for their own sake, loves the hardships and exertion of travel and making camp, loves the glow of the campfire and the nights under a birch-bark roof, or even with no shelter but the trees overhead, where he can watch through the interlacing branches the twinkling of the distant campfires of heaven.
But even the true-hearted woodsman and seasoned camper may wish to make a more artistic abode than that offered by a brush lean-to. He may expect to receive ladies at camp, his mother and sisters, for instance,
possibly accompanied by some other fellow’s sister, in which case he can exercise his artistic ability by constructing a beaver mat cottage for the ladies, which will be certain to find favor and win the feminine approval of the woods for a vacation. Fig. 4 shows a very plain and simple beaver mat hut, but one which can be embellished with quaint little hooded windows, a comfortable veranda, and as many other improvements as the time and inclination of the builder will allow.
The Wicks Frame shown by Fig. 9 is suitable for a detached open dining-room, a general camp assembly-room, or it may be made of smaller dimensions and used as a camp cottage.
The rafters (F) may be cut off just below the eaves (G), and the frame covered with beaver mats, or the sides may be used for the front and rear ends of a hut, in which case the two uprights on one side may be made tall, for the front, and the two rear ones cut short for the rear, which will give the colonial type of roof (Fig. 4), such as the old Dutchmen of New York used on their quaint dwellings, and such as may still be found on ancient houses both in New England and on Long Island.
To make the beaver mats very large is not a very practicable idea. Rather make them smaller and build your house as a child does a house of blocks. Fig. 10 shows a wall of four mats with a window opening. Fig. 11 shows a bow stick, pointed at both ends, to be used for a window hood. Fig. 12 shows the frame work of the hood, and Fig. 13 the hooded window when finished.
The window hood sticks are held in place simply by forcing their ends into the compact mass of the beaver mats, the hood is then thatched by forcing the ends of branches in above the window, so that the twigs rest on the hoops as the plain sticks do in Fig. 12. Over these first row of branches a shorter lot is laid with their ends thrust into the beaver mats like the first, and over these a still shorter lot until the hood is covered with a thick, green thatch.