12 Pioneer Skills We Can’t Afford to Lose

Julie Dees
By Julie Dees February 6, 2018 10:30

12 Pioneer Skills We Can’t Afford to Lose

The pioneers brought very little with them when they came to settle the wild frontier of North America. Most had basic knowledge or experience from the professions they had left behind. Others were forced to learn new everyday skills in order to survive the wilderness. Much of this valuable knowledge is in danger of being lost.

Here are 13 pioneer skills we can’t afford to lose:

#1. Bartering

The art of bartering is a skill that can be mastered by anyone. It is essentially trading what you have or what you can do for something from someone else. You might trade your skills as a seamstress with your neighbor who is adept at plumbing. Swap your excess eggs for a gallon of milk from your neighbor’s cow and everyone is happy.

Related: 10 of the Best Bartering Items if the Grid Goes Down

#2. Horseback Riding

While it may sound like a luxury item, learning to ride a horse or mule is actually a skill that can be valuable in a survival situation. Horses, mules, and oxen are all alternative means of transportation as well as beasts of burden. They can be used in pulling carts, plows, and wagons as well as carrying people for long distances.

#3. Blacksmithing

Contrary to most modern perceptions, blacksmiths do much more than just put shoes on horses. There are many specialties stemming from blacksmithing. A horseshoer (called a farrier) is just one. Working with the anvil, forge, and iron is a skill used in creating many different products. This includes wagon wheels, armor and weapons, blades, cookware, farm implements, fencing, and just about anything else requiring the manipulation of metal. Blacksmiths have always been an integral part of any community because of this wide range.

#4. Leatherwork

Knowing how to work with leather can be a sought-after skill. There are many levels to it from skinning and tanning the hides down to creating the final product. Being able to make straps, belts, harnesses, and reins can help around the homestead as well as produce income.

#5. Construction and Maintenance

The ability to build shelter and other structures is important, especially if you are being forced to start from scratch. On the same note, skills such as plumbing, carpentry, and masonry can help you improve and maintain your buildings and property. These are also ways to create an income or barter for things you need.

#6. Animal Husbandry


Keeping livestock to feed your family is one thing. Learning to breed and grow your flocks and herds with the future in mind is another. Educate yourself on animal health as well as the traits that are desirable for your animals and their offspring.

This might include large carcasses, heavy milk or egg production, and hardiness. Weaker or lower quality animals are not ones you would want to breed and keep in the gene pool.

Related: Mini-Farming on 1 Acre

#7. Butchering

Raising livestock and hunting or fishing for your dinner are always desirable skills. But if you don’t know how to butcher the animal or process and store the meat, it won’t do you much good. Find out which techniques and tools are needed to do it properly to maximize your yield and produce little waste.

#8. Gardening (for things other than food)

Growing as much of your own food is an obvious and necessary skill to have. But did you know that you can also grow your own medicine, fiber materials for clothing and building supplies, and ingredients for household goods such as dyes, soaps, and candles? Add some hops and grapes to your garden and you can also make your own alcohol and homebrews.

#9. Foraging and Wildcrafting

Wildcrafting is the act of foraging for food in its natural habitat or where it grows wild. The key to this skill is knowing what foods are edible and where to find them. Many people will also “cultivate” and protect areas where these foods are growing on their own. Herbs, berries, and mushrooms are examples of popular wild foods.

Related:15 Things That You Can Forage For In Winter

#10. Seed Harvesting and Saving

With any type of farming or gardening endeavor, there is one thing that is always needed in order to grow a plant – a seed. Pioneers brought many saved seeds with them when they made the trek across the plains, some even came from Europe. During harvest, certain amounts of seeds from each crop or type of garden plant are held back. These seeds are carefully dried and stored away to become the next year’s new crop. They may also be traded with other growers in order to add new varieties to the garden or farm.

#11. Navigation and Orientation

Knowing how to find your way around without the use of GPS, maps, and compasses is something everyone should become familiar with. Learn to pay attention to your surroundings, the position of the sun/moon/stars, and other geographical clues to find your way.

#12. Tracking & Trapping

The art of tracking is all about observation, similar to that of navigation and orientation. Being able to see and interpret the signs of animals – both two and four-legged, can help with providing food and ensuring safety. Following trails in all types of terrain and varying weather conditions is a skill that takes patience and practice.

Having the skills to create simple snares and set traps can be the difference between hunger and a full belly. It can also help ensure safety when you employ more elaborate set-ups such as nets, pits, and trip-lines.

As you can see, many of these forgotten skills go hand-in-hand. They build on each other to help you ensure the safety and survival of your own pioneering family. What would you add to our list of 13 skills of the pioneers we can’t afford to lose?

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Julie Dees
By Julie Dees February 6, 2018 10:30
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  1. Labienus February 6, 12:46

    Good article.

    Reply to this comment
  2. left coast chuck February 6, 16:32

    Good article.

    Not just riding, but learning how to drive a team is a skill that takes time to learn. Oxen need to be trained from a young age to pull items or be ridden. They also need a yoke in order to be able to work effectively. Yoke carving will be a skill that is in much demand if there are any cattle left . Harness making will also be a high demand item — if silly people don’t eat all the horses too.

    Reply to this comment
    • Angela k February 6, 20:40

      What makes us think the animals would survive radiation poisoning after a nuclear catastrophe? Pipe dreams.

      Reply to this comment
      • Kat February 6, 21:31

        As we would probably all be dead too in that event, your point becomes rather moot. However, if the event is something effecting humans primarily, i.e. emp destruction of the powergrid, then this info is definitely going to be useful.

        Reply to this comment
      • Jumping Mouse February 6, 22:49

        Have you learned about the wolves and other wildlife of Chernobyl? Recent article on dogs of Chernobyl.

        Reply to this comment
      • left coast chuck February 6, 22:55

        Even assuming multiple nuclear devices on each of our cities over 500,000 population and those affected by attacks on military bases and strategic cities such as those with large truck terminals or ocean going ports, large areas of the country would not be affected by either blast or fallout to fatal levels. Most of those areas would be rural areas where domestic livestock would be common.

        That presupposes an attack from a major country with a large stockpile of nuclear-capable missiles. That would be either China or Russia. Neither of those countries would survive the retaliatory response from the U.S., thus making such an attack unlikely.

        In my opinion, the biggest threat from nuclear attack is an EMP attack which would destroy our electronic infrastructure while leaving millions alive to use the limited resources that would be available. That opens the door to far more potential threats than the massive attack your post envisions. That leaves us vulnerable to a single rocket and a single nuclear warhead, certainly well within the budget and capabilities of a far larger number of potential suspects than a multi rocket attack. Other than indiscriminate slaughtering for food and starving due to breakdown of our intricate food supply chain, animals would be unaffected by an EMP blast. The same would be true as the result of a CME event.

        Reply to this comment
        • prayROSARYdaily,early;wovenSCAPULAR:beEnrolled,wear24/7 February 11, 05:26

          “First the BANKS will be destroyed, and [then] in the cities that SURVIVE¹, there the bombings² will BEGIN.” Comment#1: decimation of currency and/or solvency of banks suffice to wreak havok in towns where everything is ‘pegged’ to the dollar (no roots to the land w/o money in between). Comment #2: To demoralize or panic the few large towns which are populated with PREPARED and at-the-ready →families← (not FEMA, not National Guard, not Red Cross…), it’ll take bombings to instill fear or disrupt systems (¿Yes/No?). Note please that I don’t endorse bank failures or bombings; others’ agendas or strategies (to undermine and weaken the currently more-or-less STABLE countries of USA & Canada) ought to be made known, since we cannot afford to be blindsided by ruthless, determined lowlife’s (since it would take generations to recover from and rebuild intricate systems after the dual one-two punch of financial shambles AND physical sudden violence). FYI, I frown on existing compound interest & fiat scrip/currency, as well as government ‘health’ departments approvals of abortion ‘clinics’, and animal slaughterhouses as well. Lots to correct ASAP, yet the long-standing PLANS to dismantle stable societies are still underway, with zero warning or explanation (mapping out the plan-of-action) by governments (legislators, agencies, judges) or churches or NGOs to the general public. Read “Masters of Deceit”, written by John Edgar Hoover (used copies go for as little as 1¢ + shipping on Amaz); the atheists’ STRATEGY is still ongoing, and nowadays NOT A WORD: news outlets never connect the dots; we are fed a hodgepodge of ‘random’ incidents, while Captains of Industry remain MUTE. The website I cite is not mine; it keeps a running total on collective and individual DEBT assumed by Americans. Padre Pio: “…Prayer is the best weapon we have; it is the key to God’s HEART. You must speak to Jesus not only with your lips but with your HEART. In fact on certain occasons you should speak to Him only with your HEART…”

          Reply to this comment
      • Michael October 8, 09:26

        Seems like all the animals that were around when Chernobyl went off they are actually thriving better than humans maybe there is something they know that we don’t?

        Reply to this comment
      • Graywolf12 November 29, 18:14

        Research what is going on in the animal world around Chernobyl.

        Reply to this comment
      • bleach February 10, 04:57

        Angela k,
        Well Chernobyl provides some hint. Wildlife around the site appears to be booming and quite healthy.

        Reply to this comment
  3. Vern February 6, 17:11

    Great article! Although most younger people wont read it or take heed… Too bad… I was raised on a farm in Kansas and I’m 73 and barely remember some of the “Old Ways”, those that kept us alive after WW2.
    I’m just hoping for the Rapture! Don’t think I could ever stand the strain of going through it again. BUT, I’m ready…hope you are too!

    Reply to this comment
    • Cindy February 6, 22:44

      I’m from KS too. I learned a lot about being self sufficient from watching things my grandparents did. I taught myself to garden and can, make soap, raise chickens & rabbits. Some of the most important skills is having faith, confidence in yourself and not be willing to give up.

      Reply to this comment
    • young prepper April 12, 18:19

      i actually want to make a career out of blacksmithing,i’m fifteen as of writing this,but i see where you’re coming from in saying most young people wont be reading this

      Reply to this comment
      • Graywolf12 April 13, 17:44

        Young prepper, you ae one of the smart youth of today. A good smithy cam make a junk yard into a gold mine of useful and necessary every day items. Good luck and God bless.

        Reply to this comment
  4. Ski February 6, 18:30

    One hint for navigating without maps. When you find the top of High Ground or the bottom of a slope, take the time to turn around and see what your back trail looks like for use when it becomes the trail home. It comes in handy even in normal everyday life in shopping mall parking lots or hiking the backcountry.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Ben February 6, 20:38

    Great article. Very informative. These skills will be in high-demand when all the convenience items won’t no longer operate.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Kat February 6, 21:25

    Learning self-defense, especially unarmed tactics, while not necessarily old-timey would definitely be useful, as would basic and advanced first aid.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck February 6, 23:18

      Kat: I studied judo for six years. Prior to the Judo World Championships in 1964, there were no weight categories in judo. You could be in a match with a 80 pound high school freshman while you might weight 160 pounds.

      In 1964, Anton Geesink, a huge Dutchman, whose body dimensions are buried too deeply in my memory banks to recall, dominated the world judo championships. It was a shock to the judo world. It was the first time a foreigner had won any event at the world judo championships. The purists insisted that the Japanese judoka didn’t have pure technique. That if their minds had been pure in the traditional zen mode, they would have prevailed. The realists said, “If you had been on the floor with that huge beast, you wouldn’t be saying that.”

      The realists won. Ever since then, judo has been divided by weight categories the same as other full contact sports such as boxing and wrestling.

      In hand to hand combat, size does matter. When I was studying on Okinawa we had a very large marine in our dojo. He was well over six feet tall and well over 200 pounds. He had terrible technique. He was big and awkward and clumsy — oh, did I mention he also was incredibly strong? The only person in the dojo who could throw the incredible hulk was the sensei who just happened to be an eight degree black belt, the highest rating that you can attain in competitive judo. The ninth and tenth degrees are reserved for sensei who have contributed extra learning to the sport.

      So what should one draw from this long discourse on ancient judo history? The lesson is this, Cricket: Learning martial arts is fine. It teaches coordination and skills that are useful in some situations. There are other situations where your martial arts skills will be absolutely useless. In my estimation, these four hour classes that are held to enable women to resist rapists are false advertising. Yes, you might run up against the loser who can be handled by a woman who has had several hours of defensive moves. But you probably could have scared him off by just shouting at him.

      There is a saying, “God created man. Samuel Colt made him equal.”

      I am not saying don’t take martial arts classes. They are excellent exercise and if you follow the zen philosophy on which they were founded, it will help you develop self-confidence in your daily activities. But on the other hand, spend an equal amount of time learning how to use a firearm. Apply the mind techniques that you learn if you truly study a martial art. You will be a far better shot for it and there is nothing like a firearm to dissuade the most hardcore rapist.

      Anton Geesink never again competed in the world judo championships. I don’t know if he ever competed again in the Netherlands either. As far as I know, he dropped out of sight.

      Reply to this comment
  7. Gpsny61 February 6, 22:43

    Great article a lot to think about. And use .

    Reply to this comment
  8. Ivy Mike February 7, 00:24

    My big brother was an old time Texas street fighter from the age of 13 who loved and studied the martial arts but his real life fighting tactics were built around mastering 3 power moves meant to immediately cause disabling injury to his opponents. He faced up to the heavy bag every day for an hour or two and practiced those strikes, backfist to the nose, leaping front snap kick high or low as opportunity offered, and collapsing the opponents knee with a kick. Judo and Tai Chi were for fun, real fighting meant drawing blood. Seriously. He died of drink and anger many years ago…
    On a happier note, two good books about 19th century life in Texas are Journey Through Texas by Olmsted and Rip Ford’s Texas by Salmon P. Ford. Those southern boys who don’t like Frederick Law Olmsted will love and adore Ol’ Rip.

    Reply to this comment
  9. Stubby February 7, 02:28

    Good article, as you said, these are skills that in today’s hustle and bustle and disposable items, many people don’t even think about these let alone try to learn them. A few additional items I would include are, making a fire, canning or making jams and jellies, sharpening. Making a fire, I’m talking about being able to make a fire with little or nothing in the way of tools or supplies. Our forefathers needed to know how to do this and surviving on a trek from the East coast through the Midwest and Great Plains would not have been a very comfortable place. I would care to bet not many people these days know how to can the fruit and vegetables they grow or know how to make jams or jellies when it’s so easy to go to the corner market or grocery store and buy something preprepared but our forefathers needed to know how to do this too. Finally sharpening, the best knife money can buy is no good if it’s not sharp and you don’t know how to sharpen it. The same goes for axes, building tools, a scythe or some other harvesting tool.

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck February 7, 03:08

      Every time I drive from Las Vegas to LA I look at the landscape alongside the freeway and I think about the Mormon pioneers who came from Utah to San Bernardino across that desert. There was no freeway. There was no paved road. There wasn’t even a good wagon trail in the dirt. They averaged about ten miles on a good day. When you look at the rocks and the rough terrain you wonder how those wagons even got ten miles a day. From the foot of Baker summit to Barstow is a long, monotonous drive at 70 or 75 miles an hour. Think of plodding along at 2 mph behind a team of oxen. The adults and older children walked alongside the wagons. Only young ones too young to walk got to ride, contrary to popular Hollywood depiction. If you died along the way you got buried where you fell and your grave was marked with a stone cairn, no headstone. I am always impressed with how tough and determined those settlers had to be in order to make that trip. Even today with the freeway in place and no traffic on it I wouldn’t want to have to walk from Baker to Barstow.

      Reply to this comment
      • Dave of Ky September 24, 14:35

        LCC – I appreciate your comments. You should check out “Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey”, by Lillian Schlissel. A very interesting read. Dave

        Reply to this comment
      • Meledie April 2, 23:26

        My great-grandparents trekked from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake. They were among the first to arrive in the Salt Lake valley in 1847. The trials they endured just to get there, much less carving out a life in the high desert should humble everyone living today. The extreme heat and cold temperatures had to be overcome to get things to grow, and shelters built that would keep the bitter cold outside as much as possible. We haven’t a clue what they went through. Sure, we can read about it, but until you experience it firsthand, there’s simply no way to compare their ordeals. Had it not been for those brave pioneers, everyone would still be living either on the east coast or somewhere in Europe!

        Reply to this comment
  10. Auntie M February 7, 20:52

    How can I get a copy of The Lost Ways?? I can’t find an order form.

    Reply to this comment
  11. Tom February 9, 17:03

    Woodworking should be added, from making lumber (2 X 4s, etc) to stakes, furniture, etc

    Reply to this comment
  12. Tom February 9, 17:10

    Another one to add (although it was mentioned in a comment earlier) is Basic First Aid

    Reply to this comment
  13. eric the red February 10, 18:58

    I just started learning the art of the blacksmith a few months ago. I was amazed at how easy and cheap it was to start doing. You build almost all of your own equipment. Forge your own tongs and hammers, build the forge and the anvil can be something as simple as a sledge hammer head.
    Not only am i learning a skill that could very well be quite needed, it is quite rewarding.

    Reply to this comment
    • Meledie April 2, 23:34

      Do you have a dedicated building for your blacksmithing? I’d never thought to look into it because I assumed it would be a costly adventure. What you’ve said about it has given me the desire to REALLY look into it. Yes, it’s typically a male-dominated career, but in the 21st century, we’ve moved beyond that! Thanks for the information!

      Reply to this comment
      • eric the red April 4, 00:03

        I have a building now, but that is only becuase the property i recently purchased has a 32′ x 32′ barn. But i started in a corner of my back yard. I had no shade and was exposed to the elements. And it really is easy to get started. All you need is fire, anvil, hammer. Oh and something to hold the piece with. Believe it or not one ancient method was to use green sticks. The forge can be as complex as todays induction or just a hole in the ground. I watched a guy once with nothing but a camp fire, a rock for an anvil and another rock as a hammer.

        If you would really like to do this look for a website called : iforgeiron.
        Some really helpful folks there and one smith whom i have heard said: I wish my good hammer strokes looked like her bad hammer stokes. Take note i said “her”.

        Also as far as prepping, you can start a fire with nothing more than a hammer and a piece of steel. Ancient Japanese swordsmiths would start their fire by beating a piece of steel until the friction made it hot enough to lite the tender bundle.

        The rewarding part comes from beating a piece of metal into submission with a hammer rather than your spouse. It is also nice when people come to your home and notice all the hand smithed coat hooks, towel bars, drawer pulls, shelf brackets, pokers, etc.

        Good luck on your journey if you chose to take it.

        Reply to this comment
  14. Wannabe February 10, 19:58

    Throw in casting your own bullets.

    Reply to this comment
  15. Debi February 13, 00:21

    I would love to go to a camp to learn all of these for they are timeless, knowledge takes away fear!

    Reply to this comment
  16. Outdoors-Survival Joe February 14, 08:05

    14th pioneer skill would be “How to become A Doctor or a Dentist” when there is no Doctor or Dentist; & the 15th pioneer skill would be the importance of “Self-Defense Skills & Forced Protection” to protect oneself from would-be attackers who’ll try to endanger your life outdoors or in your log cabin.

    Reply to this comment
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  18. bj September 25, 13:39

    after there are no more stores, etc to glean from, where do i find salt,especially salt, sugar, etc to preserve foods ?

    Reply to this comment
    • left coast chuck December 1, 04:07

      If you don’t have a local natural source, you will learn to trade for salt. If you live near the ocean, you can make your own salt by evaporating the ocean water. Salt making was a major industry in the San Francisco area in the late 19th and early 20th century.

      Unless you live in an area that is conducive to growing sugar beets, you might forget about sugar. You will learn to use honey, tree sap and the plants that have a natural sweetness to them. Or, you might be able to trade of it once the country has recovered somewhat.

      Reply to this comment
    • BubbaGene January 4, 18:22

      Wars have been fought over salt. Its cheap in 50# bags at the feed store. Non iodized, just right for canning or burying in a 55 gal drum. Very important when no electricity and you like meat.

      Reply to this comment
  19. EddieeW November 29, 22:32

    I bought a grinder about 25 years ago because it was so cheap…When I got it home, I discovered it has 6 different heads! you can use. I’m glad I kept it!!

    Reply to this comment
  20. DocB May 17, 03:18

    One of the MOST important kills has been over looked…

    Reply to this comment
  21. DocB May 17, 03:22

    Sorry, new keyboard is on the way. That should read SKILLS not kills. Also a note, rope making was the 2nd largest and most important profession in this country for over 200 years. Without rope, the US of A would simply NOT exist.

    Reply to this comment
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