Press wings forward strongly to loosen joint muscles, and detach them at shoulder joints. Peel skin off the head. Then gently stretch and push the skin over the swell of skull, inverting it entirely to the beak, pulling out ear linings and working with knife to free eyelids without marring them or puncturing the eyeball. Cut off neck at base of skull, including enough of skull to leave a hole through which brain may be scooped out. If the bird's head is too large to skin in this way, slit the skin from middle of back of head down nearly half the length of neck, and, through this incision, turn and clean the head.
Now remove eyes, brain, tongue, and jaw muscles, scrape off whatever fat is on the skin, and return skull to its natural position inside the skin. Cut away all meat from leg and wing bones, and from base of tail, but without loosening tail feathers. Turn the skin right side out, smooth the plumage, and fill the cavity loosely with cotton.
To make good buckskin takes considerable manual labor; otherwise it is not difficult, and one can turn out a good article if he follows closely the directions here given—the regular Indian way, which I myself have used. Whether you make your own or not, it is well to know how real buckskin is made, so you may not be humbugged into buying base imitations.*
Genuine Indian-tanned buckskin is, properly speaking, not tanned at all. Tanned leather has undergone a chemical change, from the tannin or other chemicals used in converting it from the raw hide to leather. Buckskin, on the contrary, is still a raw skin that has been made supple and soft by breaking up the fibers mechanically and has then merely been treated with brains and smoke to preserve its softness. In color and pliability it is somewhat like what is called chamois skin, but it is far stronger and has the singular property that although it shrinks some after wetting and gets stiff in drying, it can easily be made soft as ever by merely rubbing it in the hands.
For some purposes buckskin is superior to any leather. It was used by our frontiersmen, as well as by the Indians, for moccasins, leggings, hunting shirts, gun covers and numerous other purposes. It is warmer than cloth, pliable as kid, noiseless against bushes, proof against thorns, collects no burs, wears like iron and its soft neutral color renders the wearer inconspicuous amid any surroundings. When of good quality it can be washed like a piece of cloth.
*"Much 'buckskin' nowadays comes from a sheep's back. I will give an infallible rule by which to tell genuine buckskin that comes from a deer's back. After the skin is tanned by 'any old process,' you will observe on the flesh side little veins, or channels where they once were. They are spread like the veins on the back of one's hands, only smaller. Where these are found on a hide or skin, you may rest assured it is buckskin ofT a deer's back."—(Farnham. Home Manufacture of Furs and Skins).
Its only fault is that it is very unpleasant to wear in wet weather; but against this is the consideration that buckskin can be prepared in the wilderness, with no materials save those furnished on the spot by the forest, the stream, and the animal itself. Not even salt is used in its manufacture. Neither tannin, nor any substitute for it, has touched a piece of buckskin; its fibers have been loosened and rendered permanently soft and flexible, its pores have been closed up, but there has been little or no chemical change from the raw state of the skin and consequently it has no tendency to rot.
Different Indian tribes have different methods of making buckskin, but the essential processes are the same, namely: (i) soaking, (2) depilating and fleshing, (3) stietching and treating with brains, with repeated soaking and drying, (4) smoking. The skin of a deer, for example, is first soaked in water for three to five days, depending upon temperature. Elk or buffalo hides are immersed in a lye of wood ashes and water or rolled up in ashes moistened with warm water. After soaking, the hide is taken to a graining log, which is simply a piece of sapling or small tree about 8 feet long and 6 or 8 inches thick at the butt. The bark is removed from the thick end and the other end is stuck under a root or otherwise fastened in the ground at an angle, leaving the smooth end about waist high, like a tanner's beam. Or, a short log may be used—one that will reach to a man's chin when stood on end; in which case a notch is cut in the butt by which the stick is braced against the limb of a small tree, with smooth surface facing the operator, and the small end sticking in the ground about two feet from the tree.
A graining knife is now required. It was formerly made of hardwood, of flint, of the sharpened rib or scapula of an animal, or of the attached bones of a deer's foreleg with the front end of the ulna scraped sharp, the latter instrument being used like a spoke-shave. Sometimes a large, strong mussel shell was used. A favorite instrument was an adze or hoe-shaped tool made from the fork of an elk antler. After they could get iron, the squaws made skin-scrapers shaped like a little hoe, the handle being about a foot long. A similar tool for scraping small skins can be bought from dealers in taxidermists' materials. In the backwoods, however, one must commonly use an extemporized instrument. The back of a thin butcher knife does well enough, if filed square across so as to give a scraping edge, and the point of the blade driven into a stick for a handle at that end. Or, one can take a large half-round file or a rasp, grind it to a square edge on .each side, draw out the point into a tang, fit a short oval handle crosswise on this end and a common file handle on the regular tang at the other end. A skate blade does very well. In fact, almost anything with a scraping rather than a cutting edge will answer the purpose.