American black bear, Gustav Mützel (1839–1893)

This is the third installment in the tracking series taken from “Mountain Scouting – A Hand-Book for Officers and Soldiers on the Frontiers” by Edward S. Farrow, 1881. If you missed the first or second, please follow along in the links listed below. In this segment, Farrow recounts how he discovered who was encroaching upon his camp at night and stealing the camp’s supplies.

The Difficult Art of Tracking – Part 1

The Difficult Art of Tracking – Part 2


From “Mountain Scouting – A Hand-Book for Officers and Soldiers on the Frontiers” by Edward S. Farrow, 1881.

When the ‘trail’ becomes lost in an unfavorable locality, it is best not to consume time in hunting it, but to proceed in the probable direction until a favorable ground is found, and then hunt it.

In a grassy locality, or on plains of coarse sand or shingle, the ‘trail’ is seldom visible at short distance, but may be noticed by looking well out ahead.

In a rocky country, or where the ground is very hard, when it is desirable to ascertain the track of a prowling enemy or animal, the Indians usually sprinkle sand (if obtainable) over the trails in suitable places. This is an old trick, for it is said in the Apocrypha that the prophet Daniel did this when he wished to ascertain who it was that nightly consumed the meat which was placed before the idol of Bel.

While encamped near the Payette river, in a point of rocks, it was observed that night-prowling animals visited my camp, much to the annoyance of the men, and at the expense of unguarded supplies. One of the Indians secured a quantity of sand from the river bottom, dried it, and judiciously placed it around the camp. The unmistakable tracks of a bear, two coyotes, a weasel and several skunks were observed the next morning.

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Frequently, when the ground is very hard or rocky, a close examination will reveal ‘sign,’ in the shape of stones or pebbles turned so as to lie with that side up, which has formerly rested on the ground. In such places, flakes of foam, fragments dropped from the animal’s mouth, or minute blood specks (when trailing the wounded) are great helps. A bare-footed person, when passing over hard rocks, will leave a ‘sign,’ in the shape of fine dust caked by perspiration.

If there be marks of lodge poles upon an Indian trail, they may be regarded as a peaceful indication, and showing that the Indians passed with their families, lodge material and effects: if there be no such traces on the trail, it is an equally good sign that a war or hunting party passed, as they always leave such impedimenta in a place of safety.

It might be desirable to ascertain whether or not some members of an escaping party of Indians are women: this may be frequently determined by following the trail until a place is found where they have stopped to rest and smoke. The men sit cross-legged, and when sitting down cross their feet (locked closely together) and slowly lower their bodies to the sitting posture. The women sit with both feet and lower legs turned under, either to the right or left.

(Note from Lost Wit and Wisdom: The next segment in the series will document the ways of tracking horses.)