Betsy Leon: My First Skinning

betsy_cabin_web.jpgMy dad was Benoit Prince; Mom was Sarah Prince. And we were twelve of us, the children. And Dad mostly he had a trap line where he bring us back and forth. Our trap line was on Nation Lake.

They (the government) start gathering children. Then Bob was the first one to go to LeJac School. I was still at home and pretty soon my time was up. They take me to LeJac, maybe two years after Bob. I studied in LeJac for six years.

When we were 16 years old, they discharge us from LeJac. Then pretty soon Mom, Dad say, “What am I gonna do with you?” So Dad started teaching us trapping. He said, “I gotta teach you something. Can’t stay home and do nothing.”

So we went up trapping that fall. In those days there was hardly any cars or anything like that but Dad bought a team of horses that we used trapping up and down and everything—hunting,—everything.

When we got up there trapping, we had to get ready again. Everything. Brought up the food and done some hunting, fishing for the winter to use. Oh, we were so busy—Mom, Bob, David, Dad. We had canoe for trapping. Dad he had to fix any leaking and all the rest we had to do the same. Get all the nets ready to be set, see if they are OK. And then traps—all different sizes—the big ones are number four, then smaller ones are two-and-a-half. We have to sort it where we gonna set it along the creek, along the road—all different sizes.

November, pretty soon snow comes and not deep just starting then we fix all the traps pretty well. Shoreline, we fix the snares for the fox. Oh, we’ve been so busy all the time. Busy every day. Then whatever we catch we have to skin, then dry them and sorting. Each individual like fox, lynx, marten and mink.

Me and David–at that time there were so many squirrels–we try to beat each other who would make a hundred first. So many squirrels. And then we had to skin it, every one ourselves. “You got to learn everything,” Daddy say.

And pretty soon he went down where the beaver are living. So he brought up traps. He told me, “You catch a muskrat in there, too. He said, “Betsy, it’s a good place over there, I think you will set your muskrat trap.” So he told me to be careful not to catch my hand. He said that is one of the things you got to watch. If you are alone, who is going to get you out of the trap, he said.

And so I step on it and fix it and he got a big stick and he pat it down, put it down there, put a stick through it like that. Then we went the next—another muskrat trap. He said, “You do the same.” But I kept tripping that one. “Be careful, he said.” I step on it and fix it. I put dirt on it. “No, a stick will do,” he says. So I did it.

The next one, there again nice trail. Full of muskrats. A house like that, all over in the bay. Then we go to another one. “Well, Betsy. That’s your third one. This one you try yourself. See what you can do.” OK, I fix it, then I pat it down good. A day after, he said, “I guess enough for today. See what you catch. Maybe tomorrow we check.”

We use beaver castor for bait. The next day, I run way ahead of Dad. I want to see what I catch. Here, it was a small, little beaver instead of a muskrat. So, he got it out. He says, “Step on the handle and then take it out. Then fix it again the way you did.” “Oh, you did pretty good,” he says. “You’ll catch something again.”view-from-cabin_web.jpg

I said, “What I’m gonna do with beaver?” He said, “Betsy, you got a sack there. You got to pack it home and skin it, too.” Then we went to the shoreline, all the muskrat caught were alive yet.

“Whatcha gonna do, he’s alive yet?” I look around, I don’t know. “Get that stick,” he said. So I got it. “No, he said. Just hit it once,” he said, “Kill it right away. Don’t suffer it.” He said not to suffer animals. So he hit it, just like that. “Now take it out.” I take it out and set it again.

“Daddy, what I gonna do with this muskrat?” “If you can, you could pack it.” I think, “Daddy, already too heavy.” “Well, throw it in my sack, I’ll pack it for you.” I did. We start the next. There was another muskrat. Oh, boy. Real happy to see all that. That one was alive, too.

Then I got the stick again. The way he taught me, just hit it once, if you can. And then I did. The next one it was nothing in it. Something crawled out of it. So I caught something, but crawled out of it. Was stretched right out in the water, that trap.

So I step on it and fix it up. “Yeah, you did very good. Throw that muskrat in my sack.” We went home. Mama got something to eat already—our meal. “Whatcha gonna do, Betsy?” he said. “I gonna play on that swing,” I said. “No, you got lots of things to do,” he tell me. “You got to skin that beaver.”

Then Mom she sharpen that knife for me and cut it down the stomach and the arms and the legs. All that she cut it for me. “This is how you gonna do it,” she said. And she pull it and make it clean. You know, gotta be no fat on that skin. Gotta be clean skinning. “Pull it that way,” she tell me. And then I see my younger sister, brother playing. I guess I see them, I run there playing.

Daddy pretty soon call, “Betsy, you gotta finish your skinnin’. Whatcha doin down there swingin’?” You know, I went back. Oh, pretty soon that little beaver—I must have gotten it in the dirt. It got dirty, too, and everything skinning. That was my first skinning.

beaver_webThen he made me a little stretcher just for that small beaver and my mother gave me a needle—not the kind we use, it’s a different kind of needle for beaver—and the twine to use. She showed me how far apart you got to [lash the skin to the frame]. And then I went right around. “Now Betsy, you almost right around. Now you got to tighten it.” So I tighten it and tighten it all around. Nice big stretch. Now I’m finished. I want to run and play.

“No, no. You halfway.” Mom come over. She give me basin, warm water with soap. I thought I was gonna wash my hands. “Now you gotta wash it, that hide.” I wash it. Make it nice. She say, “That way you get more money, if you make it nice.” Now where I’m gonna put it? She hung it up in the air. Three days, maybe more. She kept checking it—it drying up. That was my first one.

Listen to Betsy’s Interview:

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