Everything You Always Wanted to Know About TUMPLINES!

Charlie McCulloh asked the following via the GaRefugees mail list:  “Anyone have any practical instructions for Tumpline construction. Leather? Sewn Linen? Rope? What's the best construction material?”  and received the following advice from Mark L.--

“My tumpline is constructed of leather about the thickness of a Civil War cartridge box strap (this is oak tanned belly cowhide).  Be careful not to use leather that is too stiff as it doesn't conform to the shape of your chest.  Elk or deer hide is way too soft and stretches too much. I would avoid fabric as it will roll up and cut in. The same goes for rope. I assume you are talking about a tumpline like Mark Baker uses. The Native Americans and Voyagers used a tumpline that goes around the head and I haven't tried one of these. Most of them were finger woven and my friend has one that he spent 400 hours weaving.  My tumpline is about 36" X 2". I have attached loops on each end. The loops are made from pieces of oil tanned leather 12" X 3/4". These strips are folded in half and only about 1 1/2" sticks out past the end of the tumpline. I took a strip of oak tanned 22" long by  3/4" wide, cut a slit in one end and looped the leather thru the end of the tumpline loop and thru the slit and pulled it tight. I cut a similar slit in the other end and put a deer hide tug in it about 23 inches long so I can tie it to the other tumpline loop. This skinny piece fits thru the center of your bedroll the wide piece goes across your shoulders. You place the skinny piece in the bedroll before you roll it up. After it is rolled up, you tie the loose ends together to form a loop. I'm sure your completely confused now.  Attached are a couple of bad photos of my son and I on a trek on the Blackwater River using tumplines. We froze our butts off.  Canteens froze, cups froze. Brrrrrr!  My son's bedroll is riding just right. Mine looks like a slob and will drive you nuts hanging that low. As I am a very lazy person, I am just putting up with it rather than stop and adjust it. The way you tie the ends will allow you to adjust the length. If your bedroll is like mine it will be a different size every time you roll it up. You just have to play with the length.


Mark Lewis


Mark Hubbs also responded to Charlie’s question:  My tumpline is about 2.25 inches wide and made of heavy (about 10-12 oz) veg tanned undyed cowhide. It is a simple belt with a brass double D buckle. I roll the blankets and such around it, strap or tie the roll in place then the belt goes over one shoulder. Don't make it too long that it hangs too low. Sorry no cool pics.


Now, if you don’t quite know what’s going on, don’t feel bad:  Mark, Thanks for the description of the tumpline........Er...after....ah...reading it....uhh....I guess....err....well............I confess, I haven't a clue.  I'll need to see one to figure out how it's put together and how it works.  Charlie”


A bit later, Charlie did a little more looking and reports the following, along with asking a few followup questions:  “Having looked at some tumplines on trekker’s sites, I see what Mark L was trying to tell me about their construction and use. It was hard for me to visualize until I had seen one and how it was used.  So...here are some questions for you old hands. It appears to me that if a tumpline was supplied to the troops it would have not been a hand woven article like I see the trekkers have...this appears to have been a lovingly crafted homemade work. If the troops were in short supply it would seem (particularly in Georgia with all the available beef) that it might be made of leather.  I am considering a leather 2" strap that would have rope run through a hole at both ends. Then the rope would be knotted at the leather strap to form two equal lengths. That would allow me the option of taking the rope out for use or dismantling the tumpline. Of course hemp rope would be best instead of sisal.  Taking the rope at the ends, I then roll up my gear, tie off with the rope, and throw the leather strap over my shoulder. I think this is what Mark was trying to discribe to me....and I couldn't grasp.  My questions are:  Would the Militia bring their own tumpline from home; would a watchmaker or tanner from Augusta have one?  Would the construction of a tumpline like the one I described be a stop gap to supply the troops?  Not wanting to be one of the "if they'd a' hadum, they'd a' usedum" crowd and finding no historical reference or artifact I'm wondering what would be appropriate.”


Mark Lewis replied: I doubt they would be an issue item. There is one pictured in the Illustrated Encyclopedia of the American Revolution, I believe.  It is of sewn construction. I have to confess mine is copied from a Mark Baker article in an old Muzzleloader magazine. It is kind of a homespun attempt at copying period illustrations like the one in the before mentioned work.”  Our “other” Mark added this:  “I'm with Mark L., I think the trumplines would be only a brought from home item.   Also, I think they came in two flavors.  Some were to be carried with the burden on the front of the head. The woven or fabric version would be best for this.  Or, If you sling it from the shoulder, fabric or leather will work. I wrap my blanket and traps around the strap and wear it over the shoulder. I put smaller leather straps around the bundle to keep it together.  More elaborate, but more durable.”


Georgia boy Steve Brown added his viewpoint with the following:  “Leather seems okay Charlie, but hemp webbing with leather ends might be even better. Tramplines (I've seen both spellings) were very common to any
civilian traveler. A simple cloth knap sack would also be pretty common. I'd imagine the artifacts were like underwear, an item not commonly preserved.  There are plenty of illustrations of hunters, tradesmen & militia using tumplines, to make it a reasonable speculation that they were common to militia troops.”


SO, there you have it!


January 3, 2001

Reformatted July 12, 2001