In Memoriam

Jim Riggs (friend, teacher, craftsman, writer, icon in our community and a man who has influenced so many of us through his work).

Jim was the “teacher of our teachers” and one of the original attendees at the first Rabbitstick gatherings in the ’70s. He was a constant presence at ancestral skills gathering for decades and his cattail mat lodge was always a central structure in camp. As author of the groundbreaking book “Blue Mountain Buckskin”, teacher of aboriginal living skills and writer/ contributor and founding member of the Society of Primitive Technology, his influence on the rest of us is still being felt today.

We have been missing Jim’s presence already for many years since his illness has kept him from being present at the gatherings, but now he is even further removed.

Jim wrote the Foreword for Steven Edholm and Tamara Wilder’s book “Buckskin: The Ancient Art of Braintanning” aka “Wetscrape Braintanned Buckskin”. This is an excerpt from it.

“A couple years and a few hundred buckskins later I published my own book Blue Mountain Buckskin, Dry-scrape, Brain-tan, a Working Manual in 1979 and the revised and expanded second edition in 1980.

It wasn’t until the original Rabbit Stick and succeeding Woodsmoke Rendezvous primitive skills gatherings in Utah from 1978-82, originated by Larry Dean Olsen and Richard and Linda Jamison, that I learned first hand there really were many others out there around the country, working from different influences, information and teachers, quietly unraveling the secrets and resurrecting the process of braintanning. When David Wescott of Boulder Outdoor Survival School reinstituted the ongoing new era of Rabbit Sticks in Idaho in 1988, and invited every experienced primitive skills practitioner he was aware of, networking began in earnest. Many additional primitively oriented programs, workshops and gatherings had been cropping up regionally during the 80’s and instructors began traveling the country to meet their peers of like minds and interests. Finally, those of us having come from our “isolated com-partments” of two or more decades of practicing and teaching, mostly via research, trial, error and experiment, could share ideas and pick each others’ brains. Likewise, newly interested people could now attend a primitive skills gathering or various regional workshops and in only a few days master a number of skills and technologies that had taken many of us years to figure out on our own.” Jim Riggs

Born Feb 17, 1944 – Died August 16, 2017.  He was 73 years old.


Richard L. Jamison was a noted outdoor photographer and writer. He has produced a series of ten outdoor educational films which are used in schools throughout the nation and by other instructors. Richard received national recognition for his skills when he worked as technical advisor and set designer on the film “Windwalker.” He is the director of Anasazi Expeditions and editor and publisher of Woodsmoke Journal.

He worked at several ‘careers’ during his lifetime, but his greatest talent and love was as an artist and as a primitive living craftsman, instructor and leader. He worked for 30 years in the motion picture industry, specializing in period films.

Born Aug. 1, 1940 – Died Sept. 17, 2017. He was 77 years old.


Steven M. Watts was a lifelong boy scout, teacher, artist, craftsman, interpreter, author, poet, philanthropist, musician, advocate, historian, and more.

An academic with an encyclopedic mind when it came to history, he was that rare person who also knew how “it” all fit together.

“The learning and practice of aboriginal skills can help us all get in touch with our own roots, no matter what our particular heritage may be. If we go back far enough into our own pasts, we discover that we are all aboriginal peoples at some time in some place. The stone age is the great common denominator of humanness. ‘Primitive’ (‘first’) skills are our shared heritage” — Steve Watts 1985

A prehistorian, since 1984 Steve directed Aboriginal Studies and Traditional Outdoor Skills Programs at the Schiele Museum of Natural History in Gastonia, North Carolina. There he influenced an untold number of school children through Native American and Early Human Culture programs as well as teaching Summer Camps. Steve also ran a series of primitive technology and classic camping workshops (Kamp Kephart) for museum professionals, teachers, archaeologists and other interested adults. His replicas of prehistoric tools and weapons are featured in museums throughout the U.S.

Steve was a research associate with the Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina and a founding board member and past president of the international Society of Primitive Technology (1996-2007). In the summers of 2005, 2006 and 2009 Steve received research grants to do research work at the Lejre Experimental Archaeology Centre in Denmark.

Between 1995 and 1999, he served as a consultant on the Twentieth Century Fox film Cast Away. He has also consulted for, and appeared in, several History Channel series — Extreme History (2003), Digging For The Truth (2005), Modern Marvels (2008), and 101 Fast Foods That Changed The World (2013).

On many occasions in conjunction with his best friend, David Wescott, he co-authored numerous published articles, presented workshops, aboriginal technology demonstrations and classic camping skills trainings throughout North America with the Acorn Patrol Classic Camping Demonstration Team.

Steve was also the author of many solo articles dealing with history, culture and technology. A collection of his writings, Practicing Primitive: A Handbook of Aboriginal Skillswas published by Gibbs Smith Publishers in 2005.

He completed his undergraduate education at Appalachian State University in 1969 and received his masters degree from Duke University in 1971. While many in the Woodcraft world know Steve as an academic, few know that early on he wanted to be a folk singer. As a young man he had even followed in the steps of Bob Dylan in New York and traveled with Jefferson Airplane in California before they were Jefferson Airplane.

To add to this most fascinating of men, he was also an ordained minister and had tremendous fun with his alter ego, Gypsy Jack (see link for a read).

“Without the context, it’s just arts and crafts,” was a frequent saying of Steve and as a “context” will be a significant focus of this symposium, his influence will be felt for years to come.

From Watts’ Practicing Primitive…

Sometimes… in the ashes… an ember is found.
Sometimes… from the ember… a fire is born.
Sometimes… by the fire… a story is told.
Sometimes… in the story… a lesson is learned.

Time is asymmetrical. We can know about the past, but cannot change it. We can influence the future, but cannot know it. We are all locked together in the split, split-second that is the present. The literal time machine of our dreams still waits for its own invention. 

Born July 25, 1947 – Died March 21, 2016. He was 68 years old.