Instead of moquitoes and flies, Buckskin is visited regularly by bighorn sheep, elk, bear and deer. "These animals are the same as most people, or better," says Sylvan undefensively. "Go down Seventh Avenue in New York and you can see people, but you can't talk to them. You'd be better off seeing animals. Except you could talk to the animals without 'bothering' them."
Hart has time to enjoy these creatures because his is a life stripped of all non-purposeful work. "I work three, four hours before it gets hot, then maybe two more after the sun goes down," says Sylvan. "Or I might just stop and watch an otter play. If you lived in a place like this and had to work hard eight hours a day, you'd be a pitiful incompetent."
A number of Hart's working hours go into his home-shot and home-sewn—but not homespun—wardrobe. "Textiles are no good," he said. "A woman could spin and knit all day without keeping her family in socks. But bearskin clothing wouldn't be wearing out just ever' little while. It takes a couple weeks' time to cut and sew a suit of buckskin, but you see this? This is my first buckskin jacket. Thirty years old and it's good as new.
"Now, what is there about buckskin you could get better on Park Avenue or Bond Street?" Sylvan continued, rhetorically, laying out a newer jacket for inspection, bullet holes in the leather neatly mended. "Just this: a cold wind is what kills you in the mountains, but it can't cut through a big stag hide. And buckskin protects you from thorns. Know what those fringes are for? Not for decoration. They let water run off faster, and they make you a poorer target by breaking up the outline.
"One thing about buckskin, though," Hart added. "If you've got a legal skin, you're in trouble. An illegal skin is homogeneous and thick all over. One killed during the hunting season has prominent veins—necessary to support all that hair—and veins are the first place the leather will crack."
Bill turned to the trousers. "The great mistake in making pants," he said, "is putting the seam on the inside of the leg. If it gets wet when you have to walk somewhere, it can take the skin right off." Next came mukluks and moccasins and shoemaking tools. "If you need a moccasin real quick," he advised, "get yourself a fresh elk or moose, cut off its heel and tie the toe."
What Hart actually does when he has a fresh elk or whatever is to scrape off fascia from the inside of the hide with fleshing knives and then marinate the hide in salt and sulfuric acid. "This mixture gets rid of the gelatin in the leather," he explains. When Hart wants to produce colored leather, he uses older methods of tanning. Chopped fine and boiled, sumac makes red leather, alder bark black, mahogany brown. Coffee grounds provide another color, and ashes give white.
Besides the old buckskin jacket, Hart owns an equally magnificent coat. The back is bear and beaver, the front wolf and badger, with calfskin over the shoulders to turn water. One sleeve is skunk, the other bear, and two pheasant hides adorn the whole. When Buckskin volunteered for World War II, the coat went with him.
The military couldn't have been any more surprised by Sylvan than the Idaho state income-tax office, which made the colossal mistake of sending Hart a whole series of letters saying he hadn't paid his taxes. Buckskin finally got dressed in his best stag skins and coonskin cap, took along a rifle and ample supply of provisions and presented himself at the tax office. "I surrender," he told the slack-jawed bureaucrats. They sent him home and promised fervently never to bother him again.
"Now, bedding," Bill announced. "Here's an elk hide I tanned. That's as good for sleeping as anything. It's warm, the hair is hollow so you can stand to have it against you, and it doesn't absorb moisture."