Roadkill can become a beautiful, valued pelt. Yes, it can.
And here’s how one incident played out: After hitting a small beaver on the road with his car, my dad had it tanned as a “made beaver.”
FYI: From the mid-1600s for a couple hundred years, a “made beaver” was the currency across Canada. Pelts — particularly beaver pelts — were what Ojibwe exchanged for the trade goods they wanted.
The process of becoming a “made beaver” included:
- scraping it (a very laborious process using a stone knife).
- punching holes and threading a leather thong through the holes.
- “hooping” it, to stretch it as it dried.
- And, signing the made beaver when the work was finished. Harold Jewett, the tanner/artist, penned his name on the leather, near the edge.
This pelt is quite small.
Once it might have been swapped for a few knives, an ax head or even a little tin kettle.
I don’t know how old this pelt is — my dad died in late 2003 and I’ve owned it since 2013. I’ve enjoyed displaying it at many of my presentations on voyageurs and the fur trade, talking and writing about the value of pelts, then and now.
Lately, however, I worry a bit about its fragility when I pack it in my car. The leather thongs have hardened and broken and have needed replacement (old lacings are one color, and the replacements are different). It’s losing hair and becoming flat, turning pale. (Is that because it’s so old, or because of the way it was tanned?)
At various rendezvous encampments and museums and over time, I’ve acquired a few other pelts — mink, rabbit, wolf … They are soft, fluffy, warm, sexy and comforting.
My hooped beaver pelt, unfortunately, no longer has those traits.
Then this autumn I acquired a new beaver pelt. Gene R. Stark, a friend and author and trapper, told me beaver was not endangered but available. I jumped at the chance and purchased one from the Minnesota Trapline Products, Inc.
It’s lustrous and rich — I can see why a beaver coat was all the rage in the 1920s and ‘30s.
Lookit that top picture, with dark beaver and light mink — the colors, the length of hair, the sheen. Photos hardly do furs justice. They beg to be touched.
Interestingly, those wonderful long, dark, glossy guard hairs on beaver pelts had to be removed in the hat-making process. Imagine it — plucked out individually! (In the future, I’ll post on the onerous hat-making process.)
I”m done, and it’s your turn. What could you do?
- Appreciate live fur — pet your cat or dog.
- Design a beaver emoji. Send me your version on Facebook.
- Book me as a speaker — and ask your questions at a presentation.
- Read great novels on the fur trade. Both Waters Like the Sky and Treacherous Waters are available as paperbacks and ebooks.
Gene Stark, flyovercountryscribe.com
Minnesota Trapline Products, Inc.
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