Author Topic: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"  (Read 720 times)

Offline Tsalagidave

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Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« on: October 02, 2019, 03:10:15 pm »
Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"

A glaring oversight is revealed in a period description of a frontier fur trapper.

Chances are, most of us heard the term "Possibles" first used as slang for "your stuff" in the movie Jeremiah Johnson. Before getting your hackles up, I'm not finger-wagging you as much as I am indicting myself. Among those of us in the mountain man / frontiersman hobbies, the term "Possibles Bag" has become the ubiquitous term for that leather bag hanging on your right hip. It is copiously mentioned throughout modern books and websites catering to our hobby.  I commonly used this term myself until a British friend of mine who loves the American West said, "I've never seen the bullet pouch a "possible bag" in any pre-20th century literature.?

This sent me off running though my own archives. After that, I went full OCD and plunged into university and library archives. Website after website and thousands of scanned pages of print and script, I came to a conclusion. That bag hanging around your shoulder already has a name; it's called the bullet pouch. The "possibles bag" is actually the "Possible Pack" or "possible sack" with "possibles" being western slang for the necessary stuff carried by trappers to support their operation. Using the term "possible bag" interchangeably with your bullet pouch appears to be a 20th century reenactorism innocently perpetuated by all of us when in fact, it already had its own name all along. (*Author?s note: if anyone can cite original sources that prove my hypothesis wrong, I am willing to accept that and I will own it. I strongly believe that our opinions don't matter here; only the facts matter.)

The best head-to-toe description of a frontier hunter/fur trapper that I have ever seen comes from The Great West, written by Henry Howe (first edition 1851) p. 334-335. The degree of detail he attends to implies his need to preserve the description for posterity. The overall outfit is as follows.

"On starting for a hunt, the trapper fits himself out with the accessary equipment, either from Indian trading forts, or from some of the petty traders - coureurs des bois - who frequent the western country. This equipment consists usually of two or three horses or mules - one for saddle and the others for packs - and six traps, which are carried in a bag of leather, called a trap-sack."

Howe then specifically points out the difference between the possible pack and the bullet pouch. He starts by describing the contents. The "wallet" he describes is a sort of bag that is sewn on both ends  but open in the center. It is easily closed by simply folding the ends together. A common rendezvous item similar to this is what we call "the market wallet". Here is also period use of the word "possible".

"Ammunition, a few pounds of tobacco, dressed deer-skins for moccasins, etc., are carried in a wallet of dressed buffalo-skin, called a possible pack.
His 'possibles' and 'trap sack,' are generally carried on the saddle mule while hunting, the others being packed with furs."


To remove all doubt, Howe specifically describes the clothing of trapper and while doing so, he also gives the full description of a bullet pouch should any doubt remain.
"The costume of the trappers is a hunting-shirt of dressed buck-skin, ornamented with long fringes; pantaloons of the same material and decorated with porcupine quills and long fringes down the outside of the leg. A flexible felt hat and moccasins clothe his extremities. Over his left-shoulder and under his right arm, hand his powder-horn, and bullet-pouch, in which he carries his balls, flint, steel, and odds and ends of all kinds."

Among the great individual details like the pipe holder so many modern trappers wear. I especially have an interest in Howe's description of the trapper's knife sheath.

"Round the waist is a belt, in which is stuck a large butcher knife in a sheath of buffalo hide, made fast to the belt by a chain or guard of steel, which also supports a little buck-skin case containing a whetstone.
A tomahawk is often also added; and of course, a long heavy rifle is part and parcel of his equipment.
Around his neck hangs his pipe holder, and is generally a 'gage d'amour,' and a triumph of squaw workmanship, in the shape of heart garnished with beads and porcupine quills."


 After looking over this attire, I can only add the final test. Wear your kit into the shower. Anything ruined by it should be discarded. Woodsrunning is a full-contact, high impact exertion. Your clothing and accouterments should facilitate movement, weather, and the abrasion of hard work.  The little things like bullets, patches, tinder box, and compass make up the ideal load for your bullet pouch.  Anything that you should do in camp, should be carried in your blanket roll or possible pack. This includes bullet ladle, molds, huswife, spare tinder, spare clothing, mirror/razor/soap/towel. Ultimately, it's your call but anything that requires you to go into camp or bivouac in order to use should go into your possible pack. For all the little but essential things, there's the bullet pouch.
-DR
« Last Edit: October 02, 2019, 03:22:17 pm by Tsalagidave »
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Offline Tsalagidave

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2019, 03:19:22 pm »
Hello everyone, here is the rough draft of a short piece that will point to a larger article in the book I am working on. I am genuinely interested in your feedback. By the way, my offer stands. If there are period sources  that refute my claim, I will either completely change this article or even retract it but to date, I have come up empty for any documentation of calling the bullet pouch a possibles bag.
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Offline Professor Marvel

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2019, 04:04:00 pm »
Greetings my good Dave

I like your article and I agree wholeheartedly!

I believe the only proper names for these things are bullet pouches or bags; shooting pouches or bags; or rifle pouches or bags.

As you pointed out , a man might carry a haversack in addition for more stuff, but no trapper would burden himself with any more load than necessary. That is what the horse was for!

AND , if we want to get into the history of the prior periods Long Hunt back in the Eastern Country (which seemed to be all on foot) the Longhunter would wrap his necessities in nhis blanket bundle or again a knapsack (as you pointed out).

Personally , when at a rondy, I did carry a large bag in addition to my shooting bag. In fact I often carried two, AND my Pipe Bag.  This is because
A) I did not have a horse
2) I did not want to keep going back to the car
III) i wanted a seperate bag for my modern crap. Ie , my purse.

Actually there were times I carried a shooting pouch with horn, Pipe Bag (tucked in my belt) 2 shoulder bags, one large one for modern crap and lunch, almost a leather haversack, and my smaller Bear Paw Bag to carry Medicine.
...
. One time I had all those And a rolled blanket bundle And a rifle And my Plains Bow & quiver and shield. I swear I must have looked like a travelling foot peddlar. 
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Offline Kent Shootwell

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2019, 04:44:56 pm »
OK you?ve convinced me. I no longer have a possible bag.
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Offline Tsalagidave

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2019, 05:07:22 pm »
Steve Sells wrote this great article before I did.  Wish I'd known about it beforehand but he shared it with me after I posted my article on another site.

http://traditionalmuzzleloader.com/index.php/possible-bags-and-bullet-pouches?fbclid=IwAR12XXP6esHJMY9ZaHfz00jXdPMW1nwHQk0Xre0tERe9JtNCE6neZtFJwjA
« Last Edit: October 02, 2019, 05:19:02 pm by Tsalagidave »
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Offline Capt Quirk

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2019, 11:42:26 pm »
I am certainly not as well read, nor versed, as my esteemed colleagues, but please, allow me to interject.

To quote, "The "possibles bag" is actually the "Possible Pack" or "possible sack" with "possibles" being western slang for the necessary stuff carried by trappers to support their operation."

Bullets are kinda important. It's possibles, isn't it? ::)

Offline Tsalagidave

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2019, 11:51:33 pm »
Bullets are important.  That's probably why the pouch hung round your shoulder was named after them.  Spare ammunition went into the possibles pack as was mentioned by the period source: "Ammunition, a few pounds of tobacco, dressed deer-skins for moccasins, etc., are carried in a wallet of dressed buffalo-skin, called a possible pack.
His 'possibles' and 'trap sack,' are generally carried on the saddle mule while hunting, the others being packed with furs."


-Dave
« Last Edit: October 02, 2019, 11:53:53 pm by Tsalagidave »
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Offline absolom grimes

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #7 on: October 06, 2019, 10:46:26 am »
Bugger, I've always liked the term possibles bag.

Offline Tsalagidave

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #8 on: October 06, 2019, 11:19:17 am »
Me too. I was a bit crestfallen at the news myself.

-Dave
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Offline Tascosa Joe

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #9 on: October 06, 2019, 03:00:15 pm »
Madison Grant called it a hunting pouch.
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Offline Tsalagidave

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Re: Stop calling your Bullet Pouch a "Possibles Bag"
« Reply #10 on: October 06, 2019, 05:32:54 pm »
Madison Grant called it a hunting pouch.
I like using that term as well.

-Dave
Guns don't kill people; fathers with pretty daughters do.