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Cache Pit
© 2006

Early Native American Traditions...Still Valid Today

As "Survivalists" go, the Europeans who ended up with most of the land had no idea how to really survive on it. The first Europeans lived with the Native American tribes and tried to learn everything they knew. Coupling the Native people's survival skills with the skills brought from Europe, is what built this country in the first few troubled years.

Nobody, however, ever surpassed the Native American tribes when it came to living off the land with almost nothing to use. Thankfully, some historians have tried to take down some of the oral history of these tribes, and have made some of it available to us students of outdoor living.

I call myself a student too. I hope I'll never be too old to learn something new every day.

The following article is part of a recorded oral history from a woman who actually lived as a young girl in a teepee in a tribal encampment. There are other examples to read on the cited website. I give it to you because it shows how to cleverly conceal a large cache of food (or supplies). Yes, the Native tribes had enemies who would raid their villages for food. If it was hidden, the attacking braves wouldn't get any food except that which was already on the table. Enjoy.

For future reference, a "bull boat" is a round boat constructed much like a round tent without any openings. The sides were bent branches stuck in the ground that interlaced into a circular shape. At the bottom, a band of flexible wood kept the whole framework from coming apart. It was then covered with waterproofed animal hides. Once covered, the stakes stuck into the ground were cut off and the boat rolled over. It must have been mostly used to haul stuff across waterways. With no pointy ends, it would never steer straight. Paddling would have been almost impossible. But you could pull it behind you while wading with no difficulty. Anyway, the boat was usually about 4 feet in diameter, and about 3 feet in depth. Made from branches, no measurements were ever used. If it looked OK, it was OK.
The Cache Pit
An Oral History...

We stored our corn, beans, sunflower seed and dried squash in cache pits for the winter, much as white people keep vegetables in their cellars.

A cache pit was shaped somewhat like a jug, with a narrow neck at the top. The width of the mouth, or entrance, was commonly about two feet; on the very largest cache pits the mouth was never, I think, more than two feet eight, or two feet nine inches. In diagram (figure 25), the width of pit's mouth at BB' should be a little more than two feet, narrowing to two feet a little higher up. In my father's family, we built our cache pits so that they were each of the size of a bull boat at the bottom. Other measurements were, as I here show with my hands, one foot eight inches from the top of the mouth where it is level with the ground, down to the puncheon cover that lay in the trench dug for the purpose; and two feet and a half from this plank cover to the lower part of the neck, marked BB' in the diagram. Descent into one of these big cache pits was made with a ladder; but in a small one, such as I have made you in vertical-section model, in a bank by the Missouri, and which you have photographed, the depth was not so great. In one of these smaller pits, when standing on the floor within, my eyes just cleared the level of the ground above, so that I could look around. When such a pit was half full of corn, I could descend and come out again, without the help of a ladder. At other times I had to be helped out; I would hold up my hands, and my mother, or some one else, would come and give me a lift. Usually, two women worked together thus in a cache pit, one helping the other out, or taking things from her hands. One of my mothers was usually my helper. The digging and storing of a cache pit was women's work. For digging the pit, a short handled hoe was used; of iron, in my day; of bone, I have heard, in olden times. I have dug more than one cache pit myself. I began by digging the round mouth, dragging the loosened earth away with my hoe. As the pit grew in depth, the excavated earth was carried off in a wooden bowl. I stood in the pit with the bowl at my feet and labored with my hoe, raking the earth into the bowl. When it was full, I handed the bowl to my mother, who bore it away and emptied it. It took me two days and a good part of a third to dig a cache pit, my mother helping me to carry off the dirt; such a cache pit, I mean, as we used in my father's family, and which, as I have said, was large enough for a bull boat cover to be fitted into the bottom. A trench for the puncheon cover of the mouth was the very last part of the cache pit to be dug; but I will describe the use of this trench a little farther on.

Grass for Lining

When the cache pit was all dug, it had next to be lined with grass. The grass used for this purpose, and for closing the mouth of the cache pit, was the long bluish kind that grows near springs and water courses on this reservation; it grows about three feet high. In the fall, this kind of grass becomes dry at the top, but is still green down near the roots; and we then cut it with hoes and packed it in bundles, to the village. This bluish grass was the only kind used for lining a cache pit. We knew by repeated trials that other kinds of grass would mold, and did not keep well

You can find more native american information at Native American Rhymes