I came across the term Jack Pine Savage in an old copy of The Professional Guide’s Manual (which is an excellent book) and just thought it sounded manly. However, when I began searching for more references to the term I couldn’t find much of anything. There isn’t even a Wikipedia article on this! What?! So then, what is (or was) a Jack Pine Savage?
Jack Pine Savages
The term Jack Pine Savages according to The Professional Guide’s Manual:
“The old term for men who lived in the bush was jack pine savage, it later changed to the more normal name of bushman.”
That’s about all of the information I could dig up regarding the origin of the term. However, with some knowledge of the history of wood in America and small bits of information I did find, I was able to piece a bit more together.
The Jack Pine Tree
Starting in the Northeastern U.S., spanning to the Northwest, and broadening its territory in Canada, this tree was found to be great for the sawmills and pulpwood. It is lighter than other pine trees and has a much straighter grain which makes it easier to process. The tree is still preferred today as it absorbs chemicals of treated lumber very well and has a much faster drying time than other pine woods.
Pine of all types are abundant throughout the U.S. so it took a special kind of man to work in the freezing north and harvest the Jack Pine.
Who were the Jack Pine Savages?
Before the days of modern, mechanized deforesting equipment, men felled the trees. Logging in winter has always been preferable. Before the days of motorized vehicles, and even for some time afterwards, horses and sleds were used to drag logs to the nearest river where they would be dropped in and floated to the mill. This was done while there was snow and ice on the ground, otherwise pulling a large haul of logs would be been nearly impossible. Furthermore, trees have less sap during the winter so they would be lighter and dry more quickly. Often times the rivers would freeze keeping the logs in place and much of the mill work had to be done in the spring.
These logging men would put in a full day’s work, meaning they would work as long as daylight allowed. They were paid by volume of logs felled so it made sense to use their time to the fullest. As they ventured deeper into the forest the trip back and forth home began to cut into valuable work time. Being that these men were skilled survivalist in every sense, they would make small shacks for themselves, or larger buildings to house multiple men, and live near the work site. This was called a logging camp. As the work progressed farther in, the shacks or buildings would be abandoned and new ones built nearer the site.
As you can imagine, a herd of men, living in the woods for months at a time, things were bound to get a little uncivilized. As the men came into town to get supplies, they stood in contrast with the shaved and bathed of a civilized society. In some respects, they were for the North what the 49’ers were for the west coast.
Being a Jack Pine Savage Today
I think a lot of men feel the draw of that tough kind of work; at least I know I do. It’s a roughness that we feel as a void in us, a longing to venture into the woods and take it on. While the days of being a true Jack Pine Savage are likely behind us I think we can still carry on in the spirit and some of the practical strength.
There is no doubt these guys were tough, both physically and mentally. Loneliness, remoteness, sickness, life-threatening work, injuries, little pay, freezing weather, low food supplies…this is the stuff these guys dealt with on a daily basis.
Being tough starts with your mental attitude first. Do you let the small things in life get you down or steal your attention, or do you push through?
Resilience is the ability to bounce back or make a speedy recovery after an impactful event. Logging injuries were common: scrapes, scratches, cuts, bruises, etc. Getting knocked down and getting back up (metaphorically and physically) was something you were expected to do. Imagine being out in the wild, getting a letter from home saying your mother, father, wife, or friend is sick, possibly dying, and you can’t do anything about it. How would you handle it?
Make the Most out of the Situation
Contrary to what people may think about cowboys, frontiersmen, and other free men of the wild, they did one thing really well: cook! When you have to eat the same basic things over and over you learn how to do it well and do it with variety. History can recount the many legions of soldiers who defected due to the quality of food. Not so for the Jack Pine Savages. I’ll post some of their venison recipes in articles to come.
It is said “ Necessity is the mother of invention“. Do you get inventive in a challenging situation or just become a complainer?
Learn to Use an Axe!
There is something about that stick and steel that grounds us back to nature. It satisfies a primitive need we men have. Heck, it feels good just to hold a chunk of wood and an axe. It’s best if you have a reason, but even if you don’t, find some wood and start choppin’. You are guaranteed to thicken your beard with each chip you let fly.