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WILLOW AUTHENTICITY

The willow used in our hoops is harvested on private river property with permission from the landowner.
River Willow

Sandbar willow (Salix exigua)

is commonly found on the downstream end

and sides of islands in sandy-bottomed rivers.

This shade-intolerant species of willow

grows in dense thickets from spreading clones.

The full canopy produces a thick “jungle”,

forcing willows to grow straight and tall,

making good raw material for our hoops.

Canopy
Beaver Chew

Sandbar willow is also a food source

for beaver living and/or frequenting these islands.

Here’s a young willow that appears to have

tremendous shoot growth this summer.

Tree cutting is part of nature's cycle,

and beaver pruning stimulates willows to regrow

bushier than ever the next spring.

Look carefully at the base of this same plant

and you will see where beaver had chewed off

several stems in a prior season.

It is very possible ancestors of these very

sandbar willows were utilized by early trappers to

stretch their beaver pelts.

Beaver Chew2

Firearms, Traps and Tools of the Mountain Men

Here is an excellent encyclopedic guide to the equipment of the early trappers.  According to the text, 30 years of research went into the writing of this book.  The author tracked down the diaries and letters of the trappers themselves, and the business records of fur-trading companies.

In the chapter on Beaver Traps and Trapping, there is an illustration showing some of the personnel of a large American trapper party in camp. According to the text, “It was common practice for trappers attached to large parties to bring their freshly skinned beaver pelts to the clerk of the camp, who credited the trapper.

‘Camp-Keepers’ then stretched the pelts on willow hoops and hung them to dry.”

Explaining, Carl P. Russell wrote:

“The American Fur Company clerk Warren Angus Ferris provided an excellent eyewitness description of such a camp scene as shown above.  On May 15, 1832, ‘in a narrow bottom beneath the walls of Grays Creek [near the sources of the Black River, Idaho] we found a party of trappers, headed by Bridger, one of the partners in the R.M.F. [Rocky Mountain Fur] Company. Their encampment was decked with hundreds of beaver skins, now drying in the sun.  These valuable skins are always stretched in willow hoops, varying from eighteen inches to three feet in diameter, according to the size of the skins, and have a reddish appearance on the flesh side, which is exposed to the sun.  Our camps are always dotted with these red circles in the trapping season when the weather is fair.  There were several hundred skins folded and tied up in packs laying about their encampment.”  [Western Literary Messenger, June 28, 1843, p. 406.]  Mulcahy drawing, Jefferson National Expansion Memorial.

Trappers Hooping

Take a good look at these willow hoops in the illustration.  Note they are oval, and not round.  The beaver pelts that are stretched inside of them are adults or at least two-year olds.  The pelt of a beaver kit is round.  However, as a beaver grows and matures, the length of its pelt increases in size more rapidly than does the width.  Therefore, the hoops stretching adult beaver should also reflect the change in shape of the beaver’s body.

Our hoops have been scraped and peeled to promote rapid drying.
A linseed solution has been applied to preserve the wood and bring out its natural, beautiful colors.
The smaller end of the willow easily fits into a carved notch in the opposite end, which is then tied into place with artificial sinew.  To finish the hoop, the ends of the willow are carved to look as if a beaver had chewed them off. The continuous rawhide lacing is tanned steer hide of the same dimension throughout.

The beaver and other furs offered have been professionally tanned to produce a pelt that will not slip and is very supple.  There are leather reinforcements hide-glued to the backside through which the lacing passes so the possibility of a pelt tearing at a stress point is greatly reduced.  Each and every hooped pelt is unique and “one of a kind.”  There are no two hoops exactly the same, nor are there two pelts that are exactly the same. 

Therefore, the hooped fur you order is the one shown in the picture

That’s our guarantee!

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Mike and Susan
108 Mary Street
Boscobel, Wisconsin 53805
608-356-3621

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