A journey into the old ways
By: Dude McLean and Alan Halcon
“In 1990 I went down into Baja seeking out the southern most trout stream in the Americas. I came back down these rugged mountain trails, took a fork that I probably shouldn't have taken and led me down into some little Indian villages. In retrospect I believe they might have been Arroyo Leon. I saw all grass huts and I just couldn't believe it. I couldn't see anybody around at all and then as I went further down I saw a bunch of men all of them very tall, six feet tall long black hair. I wanted to stop and talk to them but I was scared to death.”
That experience led Paul Campbell on a path that he could never have imagined… an unquenchable thirst for knowledge into the old ways was born. His focus became the survival skills of Native Californians.
“I wanted to go out into the woods without taking so much modern gear, to really relate to the outdoors as the California Indian did. After all they were here for at least 13,000 years. You can go out and experiment on your own but you only have a short life time to learn all those skills, I figured I may as well go pick up where they left off.”
Paul's research could only take him so far. He realized there must be people who still knew and practiced primitive skills. little did he know that tracking these people down would lead him into some of the most remote and near forgotten villages where these skills were almost a lost art but were still practiced by a few of the elders.
“I went down to Baja after the rainy season and the roads were washed out. In fact I came up to a bridge and had to throw on my brakes because there wasn't anything there. at about that time there came an old jalopy full of Indian kids and they went right through the rushing water. And so I followed them and waved them over. I didn't know how to open the conversation. I just asked them if they knew anybody who still makes baskets. I followed them back to the village and when I got there, there was an old lady still pounding acorns in a dugout mortar and sifting the acorn meal in a basket that she had made out of juncus herself.”
For the next several years Paul's life was full of tracking down the old ways in the far corners of Baja and California, learning how to build a bow, rabbitsticks, arrows, traps, and so much more. He learned about plants, pigments and animal life.
Campbell didn't even know it yet but he was becoming a master at primitive skills that he longed to know. He also didn't realize that he was writing a book as well. “I have a lousy memory so I took extensive notes” Paul's notes grew as his travels widened and his knowledge came together.
Paul relates the many times that someone would not want to show him how to do something, like the way to make a rabbitstick. Paul sat down took out a cigarette and said “I'm not leaving until you show me how it's done.” So being stubborn paid off in the long run.
Slowly and looking back at it Paul learned relatively fast the secrets that were dying out. In some cases not long after the information and skill was passed onto Paul the elder died.
And as it is with primitive technology one skill led to another. And from what we have witnessed Paul Campbell has accomplished what he set out to do… and then some. His skill at making a rabbitstick, in the old traditional way, is unsurpassed. His replica bows and arrows seem like they have walked out of the past. His other skills are equally as impressive.
We mentioned a book and extensive notes. Paul decided to actually write a book so the information would not be lost to time. “Survival Skills of Native California” hit the marketplace and soon was the hot topic of conversation amongst primitive skills circles. Not since “Naked into the Wilderness” by the McPhersons, has a book dealt so deeply and exclusively about all the primitive skills… unusual for a primitive skills book since it is going into its second edition.
Paul set out to learn and know the skills like the Indians in California so he could go into the woods without modern gear. He has gone far beyond his goal He owns his skills. He is a master.