Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

Starting a Fire

There is one thing these Indians can do which Jethro and I fail in every time, and certain it is we have tried very hard to accomplish what seems exceedingly simple.

You know how difficult it is, when you are in a hurry, or your hands are numb with cold, to get a spark from flint and steel. Again, you may have succeeded in striking fire at the first blow, only to find that your tinder was damp, and refused to be fanned into a blaze.

Well, these Indians do not use a flint and steel when they want to start a fire; but contrive to do it by whirling a pointed stick in a bit of wood. I have taken particular notice that they always have a piece of very dry pine, sufficiently large to be held on the ground by their knees, and that a tiny hollow has been scraped in it, with the fine particles of wood, or dust, allowed to remain in the hole.

Then a long, well-sharpened stick, something after the fashion of an arrow, is held with the point resting amid the wood dust, and, holding the top between his hands, which are held with the palms together, the Indian twirls that around until you can see a tiny thread of smoke arise, when a blaze speedily follows.


It seems like a very simple matter to twirl that stick until the wood becomes heated to the point of burning; but Jethro and I have tried it an hundred times without being able to come any nearer a fire than heating the dust fairly warm, and yet there isn't an Indian boy in either of the villages who can't do the trick without seeming to work very hard.

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