http://www.codylundin.com/wordpress/interview-rabbitstick-main-man-dave-westcott/ An Interview with Rabbitstick Main Man Dave Wescott March 6, 2012 by Cody Lundin Many thanks to Dave Wescott for his time and generosity in me asking so many questions of him. If you don’t know Dave is one of the orginal founders of the Primitive Living Skills movement who has spent that last thrity years gaining knowledge of skills that have long been lost to know be able to share them at gatherings at Winter Count and Rabbitstick. What started you on the Primitive Technology path? I started with an intense love of Tarzan and Robin Hood movies, the comic book Turok Son of Stone, and anything to do with Africa, Native Americans and Cowboys. Quite a mix, but all very tribal. The mystery and magic of the outdoors was ground into me through hours of wandering around our country property in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Artifacts of previous eras from local Maidu culture to the Gold Rush explosion were everywhere you turned. It wasn’t until 1961, when Theodora Kroeber published Ishi In Two Worlds, that I became familiar with the story of Ishi- the last stone age Indian - who emerged from the wild in 1911. I devoured that book and still have my original dog-eared copy. I did my best to recreate everything I saw in the photos, since his last stronghold was only about 50 miles from my home. The environments were exactly the same. In 1968, Larry Dean Olsen published Outdoor Survival Skills. If you compare the photos in his book and Ishi, you’ll see some striking comparisons that I recognized right off. I met Larry by total accident in 1970 and it was love at first sight. I have been doing ever since, what he told me I would be doing the rest of my life, and that’s teaching these skills. 2. How long has the Rabbitstick gathering been going and what has changed since the first gathering? Larry Olsen started the original Rabbit Stick Rendezvous in 1978. He ran it for about three years when his then business partners, Dick and Linda Jamison took it over and changed the name to Woodsmoke Primitive Skllls Conference. They ran it for a couple of years and then discontinued it along with the short-lived Woodsmoke magazine. Over the years, Larry held on to the Rabbit Stick moniker through several youth program incarnations, and Jamison’s still use the Woodsmoke title for their book and video productions. In 1988 I went to Larry and asked permission to revive Rabbit Stick through my company, Boulder Outdoor Survival School. I wrote to every primitive skills teacher of note that I could track down and asked them if I hosted an event, would they show up. The first year we had 48 instructors and 2 paying students. It was an amazing week I’ll never forget. We modified the name to Rabbitstick, and have been hosting it for 25 years. We sold BOSS in 1997, and formed Backtracks, LLC to house the Rabbitick offices. Rabbitstick now averages about 400 attendees, about 90 of these are instructional staff. In 1995, we had moved to Arizona, so we started Winter Count as a winter gathering alternative for the primitive skills set. It took off and has grown to be bigger than Rabbitstick as of this writing. We moved back to Idaho in 1997, and have run both events from our Idaho offices. The programs comprise over 60 classes each day on topics ranging from primitive technology, to wilderness living skills, and our latest addition Homespun – skills for self-reliance. This year we will be reviving the old Woodsmoke gathering. Jamison’s have given us their blessing to use the title and have said they will be at the inaugural event to support us. This event will be at a new Idaho location near Tetonia, Idaho and focuses on my latest love, classic camping. With the recent explosion of interest in what are now being called Bushcraft skills, we saw a natural fit for these two topics to be merged into this new event. A note – Probably the most amazing thing about these gatherings is that over 300 practitioners have come together to form a community of people who all share an interest in primitive skills through lifestyle, hobby or profession. This community has helped foster these events to the point that they have assumed a kind of ownership of these gatherings that is unusual in our time. They volunteer their time and talents, and share skills for which they have a passion. I respect these people as colleagues and love them as friends. They are the best. 3. Who are your mentors and why? Once I found a real path through all of these interest areas – of course as a native westerner, cowboys will always be in my blood – I first gravitated to Native American ethnography and the re-creation of the many skills and crafts related to it. In high school I traveled in the summers with 1 or 2 other guys and danced on the powwow circuit of southern Canada and the northern states. This was in the mid 1960s when relations between whites and Indians was not so good. But, we were mostly treated well, and had a hell of a good time – I started traveling when I was 16. My mentors at this time came from loads of books. Remember, what’s available now – access to teachers through the internet and the sheer number of sources related to topics of interest to me – just didn’t exist. You had to become an ethnographer yourself, and literally root out information from sources that trusted you enough to share it. I was 21 when I met Larry, and finally started to get a handle on how I fit into all of this stuff. I was 35 before I gave up the notion that I was ever going to become an Indian. That’s when I met two of my best friends, Steve Watts and David Holladay, and started Rabbitstick. Both of them came into my life in the same year, and they cranked my head around. They were both fostering ideas concerning our stone age connection and how the stone age is the great common denominator. I no longer had to “play-Indian.” I finally figured out that I had a legitimate birthright to primitive skills, and it was way older than I had ever imagined it to be. Larry has always been a significant player in how I got started, but it wasn’t until I started Rabbitsick and started meeting the “master of the craft” who were hiding all over the country, that it really broke lose into what we now call “Primitive Technology” – the term was not in general use until we started the Society of Primitive Technology in 1989; now it’s everywhere. Larry called them survival skills, and that was always confusing to me. Now that I have figured things out and gotten them into context, I can make sense of it all. Back then, the mastery of most skills was still in its infancy, or relegated to just a few specialists – hand-drill fires were the holy grail, deer skins to buckskins in 3 days was like climbing Everest, and pottery that came out of the fire unexploded was like discovering a cure for cancer. It was an amazing time. One note, Errett Callahan and Steve Watts are to blame for my recent passion – classic camping. Errett, as a kid, attended the same camp where Ernest Thompson Seton was a leader years before. He had collected all of the Straight Arrow Nabisco cards, and was a treasure trove of information – this is besides his knowledge of primitive skills – on our shared camping heritage. Steve was a disciple of Errett’s, and came to many of the same conclusions that I have about how important the preservation of our camping heritage really is. So blame them for my current evolution. Another note – I went to the dark side for a brief time while I worked for Outward Bound as a wilderness guide and for a few universities as an assistant professor of Outdoor Recreation. During those years I held certifications and a guides license in mountaineering, dog-sledding, rock climbing, horse packing, back-country skiing, wilderness medicine and more. It was a formative time that has affected everything I do in the primitive skills world.