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Who Is George W. Sears? What Is "Nessmuk"?

Updated: Jun 7, 2023

Woodcraft, by Nessmuk, Is A Treasured Glimpse of Outdoor History

George Washington Sears (December 2, 1821 – May 1, 1890) was a writer for Forest and Stream magazine in the 1880’s. He wrote under the pen name "Nessmuk", and also authored “Woodcraft”. This book was published in 1884 and popularized minimalist camping. To many outdoorsmen, “Nessmuk” is regarded as the father of what is today called ultralight camping, backpacking, and self-guided canoe camping.

Nessmuk learned woodcraft by experience and hard mistakes.

"Nessmuk" was born as George W. Sears in Massachusetts and was the oldest of 10 children. He ran away and worked as a fisherman, starting at age 12. At 16, he joined a whaling fleet. Before finding his calling as a writer, he also worked as a teacher, ox cart teamster, silver miner, cowboy, and shoemaker. He moved to Michigan in the 1850’s and was contracted to hunt wild game to supply meat for the expanding railroad, employing local Chippewa Indians to assist him. During the winter of 1853 he became very ill. He was later rescued by his Chippewa guide who brought him back to his home and nursed him back to health. It's safe to speculate that much of Nessmuk’s woodcraft was learned from his Indian companions.

Sears also served briefly as a sharpshooter in the Pennsylvania regiment during the Civil War in 1861. He was discharged due to a non-combat injury. He then began his outdoor adventures, reportedly traveling across the U.S. including Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Colorado, Texas, Oregon, and Florida. He also made two journeys up the Amazon River in Brazil.

Nessmuk wrote mainly about his outdoor experiences in the Adirondack lakes of upstate New York. By his estimates, he counted a total of 12 years of aggregated time camping. He formed strong opinions on every aspect of camping, including what we now term “bushcraft”. While dated after more than 130 years, Woodcraft remains a treasured book by those pursuing wilderness adventures. Based on the value of much timeless content, it has remained in print to the present!

Nessmuk George W Sears

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