I’d heard of George Michaud for years, a trapper who lived in the mountains and who drove a dog team to get to his traps. I finally met Michaud (pronounced “Mi-show”) at the Dirttime gathering in Wyoming , and had a chance to sit down with him in his tipi to chat about his life.
Michaud, who grew up in Ft. Collins, Colorado , tells me “I’ve always wanted to live in the mountains.” He explains that his mother sparked his interest in survival. “She taught me to how to find water by looking at the mountains to see if there are a lot of green trees at the base. She taught me that if was lost, I should follow the river downstream. And she taught me to stay on a ridge at night.”
Michaud’s mother came to Colorado in a covered wagon in the early 1900s she was living with her grandparents. His Great Grandfather was in the Oklahoma land rush and met his great grandmother on the reservation there. They eventually sold the land and moved to Colorado.
“In 1961, at age 13, I was living in Ft. Collins,” says Michaud. My uncle Felix and my great uncle Kit were trappers at the time. I met a kid in junior high who said let’s go trapping, and we went on bicycles to set traps, and then we went back at 4am to check on our traps. There on a beaver dam set was the first muskrat I had ever seen up close,” says Michaud. This fed his interest for a life in the mountains and trapping.
Michaud explains how he got hooked on trapping: “I got to go trapping in North Park with a friend and his dad one spring break and that was it for me. I wanted to move to North Park and trap beaver. The area is wild and rugged it was everything I wanted in a place to trap. After high school I started trapping in the wilderness a little at a time. At first it was scary being out there by myself but the more I did it, the more I wanted to do it. If I made a mistake, I would die because no one knew exactly where I was — not even the game warden who issued my beaver permits. The warden’s parting words were ‘I’ll see you in the spring’, which meant they wouldn’t even come looking for me until spring.”
As a full-time trapper, Michaud currently resides in Idaho, trapping mostly beaver and pine martin in the winter and driving his dog team to check his trap lines in the Tetons.
In the summer, he tans the hides of the animals that he trapped during the winter, such as deer and antelope hides he has skinned at the game processing plant where he skins the hides.
During the spring, he prepares for the classes he teaches.
One winter 1987, Michaud was doing dog sled tours out of Jackson , WY . While driving down the main road, Dave Wescott saw him and asked Michaud about doing some classes with BOSS (Boulder Outdoor Survival School). Wescott came to visit Michaud, when a game warden had just dropped off a road-killed moose. “It wasn’t moose season but yet there was a dead moose in the drive way,” explains Michaud. David came in and I showed him a video that Channel 9 news had shot while I lived in Colorado.We talked for a bit and later I went to work with David in Idaho , teaching trapping, winter survival, and dog sledding” says Michaud.
“Wescott told me to attend an annual event called Rabbit Stick,” explains Michaud. Rabbit Stick was originally started by Larry Dean Olsen, author of “Outdoor Survival Skills.” Michaud went to the event, loved it, and has never missed the event since. He teaches brain-tanning, leatherworking, winter survival skills, and dog sledding.
As a trapper, Michaud makes his living by selling the furs at auctions. When he shares the skills of trapping, he teaches how to kill the animal quickly and humanely by both modern and primitive methods. He will also teach how to set up traps and snares, where to find animals, and how to track an animal.
Michaud is also now recognized as the one who “redisovered” how to use a trigger device for deadfalls known as the “promontory peg.”
The promontory peg (so-named because it had been first found near Promontory, Utah ) had been found for about 100 years by archaeologists who could not figure out what they were and how to use them. They assumed it was some sort of trigger device, but no one knew precisely how to use it.
Finally, at one of the Rabbit Stick events, Larry Dean Olsen offered a $100 reward for anyone who could determine how the promontory peg was used.
Michaud experimented with this simple trigger device, which consisted of two pieces of wood cut from the same twig. “I tried to make the cut with a knife, but it didn’t work well,” explains Michaud.
“Jim Riggs said that every time you make a cut with a stone knife, it’s a 25 degree angle. Metal knife makes smooth cut, with no friction. So I experimented and found it worked best when cut with a stone. I tried it out, used a rock as a deadfall, and caught a squirrel with it. Larry gave me the $100.”
“One year at Rabbit Stick,” explains Michaud, “Jim Riggs, myself and other instructors were discussing what started our interest in primitive skills. 99% of us became interested as children in primitive skills after reading ‘Indian Crafts and Lore’ by Ben W. Hunt. His books showed us how to do projects using easily obtainable items that looked like the real thing, including tipis. In fact, I used the pattern in Hunt’s book for the first tipi I ever made.”
Michaud shared with me how his mother used to sing songs to him as a young child, one of his favorites being “I’m going to give you back to the Indians because you’re too mean for me.” This song led 4 year old Michaud boarding a bus full of Sioux Indians.
Michaud explains, “I was 4 years old when my mom took me to see the Indian dancers at the CSU field house, where a group of Sioux were performing. I was so excited I could hardly stand it. Then here were these real Indians, some had fought Custer at the Little Big Horn. There was a little Indian girl that I fell madly in love with at first sight, and her Grand Father had fought Custer. I think she liked me too, because she held my hand. When the dance was over, her grand father held her hand as they loaded onto their bus to go back to the Cheyenne Frontier Days. But she still had a hold of my hand. Needless to say, my mom freaked when she heard a woman say that she had seen a little white boy get on the bus with the Indians. My mother barely got to the bus before the door closed. I remember the old man just looking at me, and probably not knowing what in the world to do with this little white boy who was holding his grand daughters hand. My mom asked me what I thought I was doing getting on the bus with those Indians. I told her that I was going back to the Indians because I was too mean for her. You know, she never sang that song to me again.”