Posts Tagged ‘emergency shelter’

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 This is the well-known Adirondack camp of former days, now generally superseded by structures of similar form built of logs, but unless logs are used a much neater, more durable and a better protection from the rain and weather can be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.

One of the drawbacks a preparedness plan can encounter is the necessity for bugging out against your wishes. You may have to leave your survival homestead and head for the hills with little more than your bug out bag to support you. You’ll need shelter beyond a lightweight nylon tent if you plan on staying anyplace for more than a couple of weeks, but what kind of shelter do you build? The obvious answer in a woodland situation is a log or bark shanty. The log shanty can be enclosed on four sides if needed and used year round as a permanent camp. And these shanty type huts really aren’t hard to build for a couple of people, or even just one if need be.

I pulled this piece from W.H. Gibson’s Camp Life in the Woods, first printed in 1881. It’s too bad that so many people have lost the simple ways and tend to make big projects out of simple ones, wasting time and energy that could be better spent in more productive pursuits. Camps like this were commonly erected throughout the vast stretches of woods that once graced our countryside. A couple of days work would build a luxurious woodland home, and shanties like this could be built in just a day by those who knew how to hone their skills and tools. Keep these instructions in your preparedness binder, you just may find them useful someday.


The life of the professional trapper is a life of hardship and severe exposure, and a man not only requires considerable courage, but also great bodily vigor, in order to combat successfully the dangers of such a wild, adventuresome existence.

The cold and the storm not only imperil his life, but he is often exposed to the attacks of wild beasts. A shelter, therefore, in one form or another, becomes a necessity while it is always a decided comfort, in comparison to a campaign without it.

The reader will find below descriptions of the various shelters alluded to in other parts of this work, and used by trappers throughout the land.

The most substantial of these is the log shanty, commonly known among trappers as the “home shanty,” on account of its being constructed as the only permanent shelter on the trapping line.

It is used as a “home,” a place of rendezvous, and a storehouse for provisions, furs, and other necessities and valuables. Other temporary shelters, known as bark shanties, are also constructed along the trapping lines at intervals of five or ten miles, as resting places. These we describe under the proper title.

Although, to the amateur trapper, the log shanty is not likely to become a necessity, we will nevertheless describe its mode of construction, in order to satisfy our more earnest and adventurous readers, who aspire to a full taste of wild life.

Our illustration gives a very clear idea of such a shanty.

It may be constructed of any size, but one of about twelve by ten feet will be found large enough for ordinary purposes. Select straight logs, about eight inches in diameter. The whole number required will be thirty-six. Of these one-half should be twelve feet in length and the other ten. These should now be built up in the square form, on a level piece of ground, laying the ends of the logs over each other, and securing them by notches at the corners, so deep as to allow the edges of the logs to meet.

Lay two short logs first, and continue building until all the thirty-six logs are used, and we will now have four symmetrical sides about six feet in height. The place for the door should now be selected. The uppermost log should form its upper outline, and the two sides should be cleanly and straightly cut with a crosscut saw. The window openings, one or more, may next be cut, commencing beneath the second log from the top, and taking in three beneath it. Replace the logs above, and on the ends of those thus cut, both in windows and doors, proceed to spike a heavy plank, driving two nails into each log, about five inches apart, one above the other. This will hold them firmly in place, and offer a close-fitting jam for the door, and neat receptacle for the window sashes, which latter may now be put in after the ordinary manner.

The gable ends should next be built upon the smaller sides of the hut. Commence by laying a long log (notched as before) across the top of the frame work, and about two feet inside the edge. This should of course be done on both sides of the hut, after which they should be overlapped at the corners with logs eight feet in length. Next lay two more long logs, parallel with the first two, and about a foot inside them, notching as before. The ends of these should be spanned with beams eight feet in length.

Two more long logs are next in order—let them be one foot inside the last two. Overlap these with beams five feet and a half in length, and in the exact centre of these last pieces chop notches for a heavy log for a ridge pole. The gable outline, direct from the ridge pole to the eaves, should now be cut off by the aid of a sharp axe. This may be done either while the pieces are in position, or the line may be marked with a piece of chalk, and the logs taken down in order to accomplish it.

The roof is now required. This should consist either of strips of bark or the rounded sides of logs split off and hollowed into troughs. The latter method is preferable, on account of its greater strength and durability, but the bark will answer the purpose very well, and is much more easily obtained. The manner of adjusting the roof pieces is clearly shown in our illustration. The first row is laid on with the hollow side up securing them at top and bottom by nails driven through each into the ridge pole and eaves-log, care being taken that one of these pieces projects well over the gable, on both ends of the hut.

These pieces are now overlapped by the second row, and with the addition of the large piece which covers them all at the ridge pole, the roof is complete, and will stand a heavy rain with little or no leaking. The crevices should now be stopped with moss, dried grass or clay, after which the log cabin is complete. When the bark roof is made, additional poles may be inserted beneath as props. They should be three or four inches in diameter, and run parallel with the ridge pole, at intervals on the slope, notches being cut to secure them.

Our engraving represents a chimney, which may be constructed if desired, but the necessity of this may be done away with by using a small camp stove, and making a small opening in the gable end of the hut for the passage of the pipe. If a stove should not be at hand, and our amateur should decide to “rough it” to the full extent, he may build his fire-place and chimney as follows: It will be necessary to cut away an opening in the logs at the gable end, as was done for the door and windows. This should be about three feet square, and the fire place should be built of stone and clay, or cement, to fill the opening, and project inside the hut.

The chimney may then be built up outside in the same manner, sufficiently high to overtop the gables.

Inside the hut overhead will be found abundant room for the hanging of the skins, and any number of cross-poles may be rested across the beams. There are facilities for the swinging of a hammock, if desired, and, in fact, a hut constructed like the foregoing is a perfect one in its way. There are other methods of building a log cabin, but we will content ourselves with what we consider the best way of all, and pass on to the-


This is made by first driving into the ground two forked poles seven or eight feet in height and stout enough to sustain a ridge pole of moderate size. Against this ridge pole other poles should be rested at intervals of two feet, and sloping to the angle of forty-five degrees. The frame-work thus formed should now be covered with bark, commencing at the ground and allowing the edge of each piece to overlap the one beneath after the manner of shingles, in order to shed the rain in case of storm. Spruce or birch bark are excellent for this purpose and the pieces may be secured with nails, and kept flat by the weight of another series of poles rested against them. The sides of the shelter should be treated similarly, the front being usually left open to face the fire, which the trapper generally builds a few feet distant. In constructing a bark shanty, it is well to select some spot protected from the wind, close to the foot of a mountain or in the midst of trees, always letting the open side face the direction most sheltered.

If desired, the front can be enclosed after the manner of the sides and top, but this is not required where the fire is used.

This style of shelter is represented here, and certainly looks very comfortable.

I excerpted this piece from the July, 1911 issue of Hunter-Trapper-Trader magazine. In light of the potential need to build a protective structure or home when forced to relocate, building from local materials seems to be the most expedient option. What better material is there than sod? Sod houses and dugout homes needn’t limited to the prairies, they can be built anywhere that sod can be found. And they can be built quickly and cheaply, as well. be It’s an interesting piece, and the knowledge you learn may come in handy, so enjoy this piece from a century ago and use it to survive the coming times…

Few people know or realize the comfort of a good dugout, or a sod house, if you are on the prairies where there is no timber. They are warm in the coldest weather, dry, if made right, in the wettest weather, and cool in the hottest weather. Why they are not used more, I do not understand. The books all tell how to make a log house that is more or less draughty, the chinking always coming out, but none tell how to build a good dugout or sod shack.

I got wise with them in the old days on the prairies of Iowa and Minnesota, by seeing the first settlers of land make them. The first one I ever saw was made by a trapper on the upper Sioux River when I was freighting in that country in the late seventies.

In the first place you must select the place which should be a dry sandy knoll and the south side of it. The tools required will be just a common old pick and shovel, also ax. You can make it larger or smaller according to the number of people, but for two men one 12×13 feet will do, If you do not have too much duffle and stuff. Having selected your place, drift into the bank 12 feet by IS feet wide and cut the bank or sides a little sloping instead of straight up and down, and throw the dirt out in front on the downhill side. Now build up in front log house fashion, or with sod and leaves, two openings for windows and one for a door. In the sod or logs, you can line the walls with rosin paper If you can get it, if not, with poles and grass, or they will do very well if not lined at all.

Now for the roof; and this is very Important. Cut long straight poles and lay them across lengthways, having a piece four inches in diameter lying across the center of the roof to strengthen the roof in the center. You need not bother about pitch of the roof, although a little would not hurt. Now lay on your poles straight and close, then lay on your prairie or slough grass eight inches deep. Now a layer of sod and another layer of grass and last another layer of sod well fitted together, then a layer of dirt.

Some of the old timers used to lay an eight-inch log through the center on top of the first layer of poles and grass, and then lay poles and sod, leaving the center log serve as a pitch for the roof. If such a roof leaks I have never seen it, and I have seen them stand some very hard rains. Now dig a trench V-shaped on the uphill side to turn any water that would run down the hill onto your roof, and you have got a very good home.

Now for the fireplace: In the back part dig out a square hole back 24 inches deep and 30 inches wide by 24 high, more or less, to suit circumstances. Now dig out a hole in the back end, say one foot back, and dig one from the outside to meet it. This is the chimney and you can line It with clay and grass mixed, and build’ a chimney high enough for a draft outside of sticks and clay mixed with grass.

Now for the roof of your fireplace: For this you must have (or the dirt will keep falling down) a large flat stone, if you can get it, if not, you will have to arch it with clay and sand, and this is quite a job. You will have to make your arch of wood first, then plaster on your clay six Inches deep. Now fill the fireplace with dry wood good and full and touch her off and let the whole thing burn out, arch and all. You will find this will burn your clay arch hard enough to stand fire and hold the roof up, or you can pack In a piece of heavy sheet Iron for the roof of the fireplace. You do not need a large fireplace, for a dugout is easily warmed with a little wood. By sloping the sides and back of the fireplace and not making them straight they will usually stand; if not, line with clay and burn as above. You can find either the stone or clay on most any stream or lake; the stone in the woods stream and clay in the prairie river. Look along the banks and you will find where a seam of clay creeps out on most all of our rivers. The Red River of the North has splendid blue clay.

If you want a sod house on the prairie cut the sod with a sharp spade or ax. Lay the walls two feet thick at the bottom tapering to one foot at the top. Make them six feet six inches high and leave openings for windows on the southeast side, also for door and build the roof as for the dugout. If you want to be high toned and are building a permanent home, build a frame of drop siding, then build your sod house on the outside of it and paper the inside with newspapers. It is the best house ever, and will stand fire from the outside, and in olden times it would stand bullets as well. You can pound down the earth for a floor and make it as hard as you want so you can sweep it or you can lay a board floor.

I knew a family that settled on some land in Minnesota, who got well off and high toned with the natural rise of price of land. They built a frame dwelling, lathed and plastered, etc., with all the trimmings. The second year saw them back in the old sod house after it was repaired. They said the frame was unbearable, cold in the winter, hot in the summer—the sod house for them

I knew a stage station which in the time of the stage express across the plains stood an Indian siege of two days and nights and came out winner (it was a sod stable). The Indians could not set it on fire or get a bullet through it. When the soldiers got there they found the boys all O. K., three of them, only a little short of water. Nowadays they want all modern improvements, hot and cold baths, steam heat plumbing, etc. Bah! Do you see as healthy and hardy people now? Spindling, weak kids and sickly looking men and women. These kinds of people were not raised in the old sod shacks. We had no “white plague” in the old log or sod shacks. I have often wondered why the dugouts and sod houses were not used more by the H. B. Company trappers. From what I can learn it was always the log house for the whites and the bark tepee for the reds. It seems to me that they overlooked a bit in this matter, or perhaps the country was so barren that there was no sod on it. I would like to hear from Martin Hunter on this subject. There is only one secret in building a dugout. Select a dry spot . I lived in one that old “Happy Jack” built, the last part of the winter of 1893, and five years after I was in this locality again, I could not resist the temptation to take a look into my former home, and, believe me, two hours’ work and a few nails would have put her in first class shape for another winter. They are not quite so light as a log house, but they are many times warmer in winter, do not chill so quickly after the fire has died out, and very little fuel keeps them warm.

A. F. Wallace.