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Animal skins, brains and human spit
Archibald Bulloch DAR celebrates Georgia Day with men portraying 18th-century frontiersmen
Steven Earl Burke, of Garfield, center, and Ruskin Powell exhibit Kentucky rifles while showing how the pioneers in southeast Georgia lived during a presentation at the Archibald Bulloch Chapter of the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution Georgia Day luncheon at First Baptist Church Statesboro's Perry Fellowship Hall Thursday. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/file

This year's Georgia Day luncheon hosted by the Archibald Bulloch Chapter of the National Society, Daughters of the American Revolution had a decidedly rugged feel to it — rugged, as in a tricornered animal skin hat with a red fox tail hanging from the back and animal skin shirts, pants and boots.

That was what the guest speakers, Sons of American Revolution members Steven Earl Burke and Ruskin Powell, wore. Burke talked about how the clothing and other artifacts on display during the luncheon were made with assistance from Powell.

Georgia Day is a state holiday to commemorate the landing of Gen. James Edward Oglethorpe at Yamacraw Bluff in present-day Savannah on Feb. 12, 1773, with 114 colonists. The local DAR chapter marks the occasion each year with a luncheon and guest speaker to talk about Georgia and American history.

Burke explained that the animal skins he and Powell were wearing, as well as the other artifacts made from skins, were from roadkill.

"The animals that you see that I have here — almost all of these are roadkill," Burke said, drawing laughs from the audience in First Baptist Church Statesboro's Perry Fellowship Hall. "I just thought I'd let everybody know, we didn't go around murdering a bunch of animals."

Despite his levity, Burke quickly turned serious and noted how important it was for those living in Georgia in the late 1700s to learn to live off the land.

"Now our ancestors simply would not have made it had they not learned how to take dead animals and convert it into skin and clothing to be worn," he said. "They probably would've froze to death."

The frontiersmen would remove the skin from a dead animal. If they wanted to remove the hair, they would soak it in water. They could scrape a layer of skin off each side and cook it to turn it into glue. The skin that was left could be softened — often by using the animal's brain matter — and turned into buckskin or tanned rawhide.

As Burke learned all these uses for animals — he is a survivalist and outdoorsman when he's not working for Planters EMC in Millen — he found another use for the brains.

"Being the outdoorsman that I am, I always collect enough brains," he said. "And when I have all the skin softened, I cook and eat animal brains with eggs for breakfast.

"Many of you probably grew up eating brains and eggs for breakfast. You sure did," he added, bringing more laughs.

The hooves of animals such as pigs or hogs, if cooked long enough, produce glue. Rubber was made from boiling pine tar, removing the turpentine (the yellow bubbles) and replacing with animal fat. The rubber, a waterproof material, was used to cover the bottom of moccasins and other clothing.

One of the artifacts Burke showed was rawhide leather. It was made from a snake, soaked in water, and repeatedly tied and lashed. And when combined with human spit ... well, let's let him say it.

"Human spit comes in contact with rawhide, it provides its own glue," he said, drawing grimaces from some audience members while others showed fascination. "In the past, if a person had to be executed, particularly if the Indians caught him, and he needed to be killed, they would stretch this rawhide in water and tie it around his neck, around his hands, set him by the fire and watch this stuff choke him to death."

While showing the clothing and other implements that would have been used by Georgia frontiersmen during the Revolutionary War period, Burke also talked about the war itself.

Traditional warfare to that point, Burke said, was performed like a "gentleman's game." The two sides faced each other, fired at each other, reloaded and fired again. In fact, Burke related a story about a British soldier's opportunity to shoot Gen. George Washington during a battle.

"A British soldier had George Washington in his sights, like this here," Burke said, while aiming a rifle and looking through the scope. "And he could've shot George Washington while he was on his horse. And he said, ‘That'd be a fine waste of a good officer with such cheap warfare, shoot the man in the back from a distance and he'd never see a thing.'"

But Washington, even though he preferred the gentlemen's war, saw that the Americans' best chance to overcome the British steady stream of supplies from the motherland across the Atlantic was to fight by stealth in the swamps, forests and countryside. Much of that fighting was the brutal, savage, decidedly the opposite of gentlemanly warfare, and that is what ultimately proved to be victorious for the Americans, Burke said.

"Nowhere in the country was the Revolutionary War more brutal, more savage than right here in this tiny little portion of Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina," he said. "The war was won in the South 'cause we tore 'em up."

Jason Wermers may be reached at (912) 489-9431.


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