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The Indian Method of Making Fire

The Illustrated London News, vol. 43, no. 1227, p. 427.

October 24, 1863

The Indian Method Of Making Fire is described in the Franklin Institute Journal by Mr. George Davidson, who has in his possession a pair of sticks used by the Indians on the north-west coast of the United States, which he has himself successfully employed. Each stick is 16 in. long, the thicker being 3 in. in circumference, and so cut that a section would give a rough ellipse with the largest diameter 1 1/8 of an inch. The smaller stick is 1 ¾ in. in circumference. Both are crooked and whittled, so that a section shall give an irregular polygon. The smaller stick is of the same wood, but more compact in grain, and apparently of a slower growth. Both have been thoroughly roasted, and were carried carefully wrapped in skin, to prevent the absorption of moisture; accompanying them was carried a bunch of the inner back of the cedar, picked very fine, and dried. "To use them," says Mr. Davidson, "the larger has a shallow, circular hollow, less than one-eighth of an inch in depth, made on its broad side, near one end, and a narrow groove or channel cut from this to the side; the smaller stick has one end made very slightly rounding. The Indian squats, holds the larger stick upon the ground with his bare feet, and places under the groove a small bunch of the bark-fibre. The smaller stick is then held upright, the rounded end placed in the hollow of the larger stick, and, with both hands at top and the stick between them, he commences to rapidly revolve it by rubbing the hands upon each other backward and forward, at the same time exerting pressure downward, by which his hands gradually slip down; he dexterously--and this is the point of success--runs his hands to the top and repeats the previous operation. A fine brown powder is soon produced by the attrition, and is carried along the side groove among the bark-fibre. This powder is finally ignited, and the burning transmitted along the groove to the bunch of bark-fibre, which is quickly seized by the operator and blown into a flame. With the sticks in my possession I have seen them produce a flame in about a minute, and have frequently done so myself in three minutes." The Indians now use Lucifer-matches, and the sticks are only used by Indians unacquainted with white men.

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