Indian bits & bridles

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Indian bits & bridles

Post by Pat Holscher » Sat Jan 08, 2005 11:51 am

Out of curiousity, does anyone know when, or if, such devices as the War Bridle retreated from Indian use in favor of metal bridles?

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Post by tmarsh » Tue Jan 11, 2005 7:06 am

Pat,I picked up Pony Man's book at a clinic where he talked and I believe it states that a white mans bit and bridle were a very coveted item and meant alot in prestiage to them. Tom

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Post by marlies » Sat Sep 27, 2008 6:13 pm

Hello Tom, Pat
that's exactly the item I'm interested in as well - even the 'dating' of their use - Indian war bridle, ghost cord, Oliga, who used them, when and for what purpose (steering a horse, obviously, but different bridles for different kinds of riding), and also were there different 'types' of war bridles that came under the same 'heading'?

Although the heroes and horses in Karl May's stories are fictional, May endeavoured to depict setting, culture, clothing, items of every day use, etc, as authentically as possible. When, in the past, artists and movie makers depicted Karl May's heroes, they used fancy costumes and saddles/bridles for the horses that were far too modern (the 'normal' Western tack, for example - decorating the 'ordinary' bridles with Indian beadwork, feathers and tassels etc).

I'm about to create 2 dust jackets for a couple of special edition Karl May hard covers. Although the horses are no Indian ponies (May gave his heroes horses that would probably be around 16 - 16.5 hands, quite powerful, yet with an Arabian-like grace) he always made a point of saying they wore Indian tack. The stories play between 1860-1874 and (with the marvellous flexibility of fiction) the Mescalero Apache were a very sophisticated Indian tribe. The most famous Mescalero Apache chief, Winnetou, was a master at everything and had developed his own magnificent horse breed. He rides a black stallion called Iltshi, and Karl May, in the guise of Old Shatterhand, the blood brother to Winnetou, rides an identical black stallion called Hatatitla. Iltshi means 'Wind', Hatatitla means 'Flash' (although I've gotten myself into some trouble for translating it to 'Flash' instead of 'Lightning' - but May also used the word 'hatatitla' in other stories to mean 'shoot', or 'firing a gun').
Anyway - that's the project for which I must make sure I use the correct bridle on Hataitla. Iltshi wears a one rein ghost cord - no questions asked - Winnetou, the master at everything, doesn't need anything else to ride his war horse.

I've thus far ended up with a decorative 'hackamore' for Hatatitla, no browband, just over the poll, under the cheeks, with the bosal ending in a decorative knot under the chin and a mecate (although not as 'fat' as I've seen it on photos). I can't see a white adventurer riding an Indian war horse with a ghost cord only, especially not if the saddle he sits on is something akin to a Mother Hubbard, although it's got an Indian saddle blanket under - it just wouldn't fit - having said that - if there is a bridle (like mentioned above, what kind of bridles were collecively called 'war bridles'?) that would be more authentic - I would prefer to depict that, rather than an obvious 'hackamore', as the hackamore is not Indian but 'vaquero'-derived. (Also, there are 4 horses in the project, and another horse, also ridden by a white 'frontiersman' already wears a traditional 'Western' type bit and bridle, and Hatatitla, being an Indian horse, so Karl May fans tell me, shouldn't wear a bit - hence my quest to find the most authentic Apache war horse bridle.)

That brings me to my next question ... but for that I'll open a new topic ...

cheerio
Marlies

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Post by Pat Holscher » Sun Sep 28, 2008 7:06 am

A war bridle is really nothing more than a cord run into the mouth and below the lower jaw of the horse. That's not much, but we have to keep in mind that original Native American tack was made with an economy of resources.

Hackamores are most commonly an early bridle used in the training of Western stock horses. As Jim Ott once explained to us here, in an excellent thread, they derive from tack originally used for camels. The Moors adapted it to horses, took that to Spain, and the Spanish in turn to North America.

There are horses that never progress beyond old style hackamores, and occasionally you'll see somebody use one on a horse that is otherwise fully finished. The hackamore operates by applying pressure to the nose, and it's used a training bridle in order to teach a Western stock horse some elemental aspects of reining. It was and is associated with a certain tradition of riding, but it's use did become fairly widespread. It's still used today in this region, and it's still strongly associated with "buckaroos", those hands evolved from the Californio tradition.

Still, in any era, it was common to finish a horse to some other bit, with the most traditional bit being a curb bit, in the West. Today a horse normally goes from hackamore, to snaffle, to curb. That's been the evolution in the stock horse for a long time, but I do not know if, way back, the snaffle was used in that fashion. Anyhow, while I've never read anything on it, I strongly suspect that even in the 19th Century in regions where there was a strong use of the hackamore the norm was to finish the horse to the curb.

I've never read of any Indian use of the hackamore, which certainly doesn't preclude it. What appears to be the case, generally, is that Indians readily adapted to European tack when it was available. Use of their own tack reflected, at least to an extent, a lack of availability of any other. Indian tribes were highly adaptive, and generally did not shy away from using any item of European-American manufacture if it fit some use they could put it to, although they didn't always use things the same way, or for the same use, that the item was designed for.

I'm frankly not very familiar with the Apaches and what they used. The Apaches were a highly adaptive people, like their close cousins the Navajo, but they tended to have a raiding economy which emphasized acquisition by force, where useful, but also emphasized cultural exclusion. For that reason, they were not only a feared hardy opponent of both the Mexican and American governments, but they were also one of the very last tribes to have any members still acting in armed opposition anywhere, with the final resistant bands still carrying on, in Northern Mexico, as late as 1936. I don't' know anything about their tack, but they were excellent horsemen, and I suspect that they were not shy about adopting useful tack. I'd guess a hackamore to be unlikely, but I wouldn't guess a highly ornamented Mexican curb bit to be unlikely. Perhaps somebody else here will have better details, however.
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Post by Pat Holscher » Sun Sep 28, 2008 7:16 am

As an addition to this, I thought I'd note that there remains a fair amount of mistaken beliefs about bits. Perhaps in this modern era, that's more the case than ever, as most riders today use a snaffle bit.

A snaffle bit is undoubtedly the most useful of all bits. So they are the best understood. Given that, there's some myths that have built up a bit about other bits.

One myth is that curb bits are cruel. They aren't. Probably used, they're no more harsh than any other bit. But, like other buts, they can be misused. Certain bits related to curb bits were once fairly commonly used, like the spade bit, which can be cruel if misused. In their day, in the hands of the people using them, who knew how to use them, this would not necessarily be the case. Even now, I've seen spade bits used on rare occasions, on particular horses, by light handed people who knew how to use them. Suffice it to say, however, no amateur would be well equipped with a spade bit, and their use is fairly rare for a real reason, as they can be pretty darned harsh.

Likewise, in the 19th Century the ring bit was still around. The ring bit is not used at now at all, but even the Army issued some in the late 19th Century. The ring bit is basically designed to be harsh, and apparently was issued on the basis that some horses were going to be used, that were harsh. Somewhere here on the forum we have a thread on them, including something about a ring bit having been found associated with some Indian site. That would have been an American manufactured item, but apparently at least one Indian may have put one to use, although I'm not saying that was common. As noted, it's a pretty harsh item, and I certainly wouldn't encourage the depiction of one in use.
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Post by bisley45 » Sun Sep 28, 2008 5:33 pm

Thomas Mails' book The Mystic Warriors of the Plains has a fairly good section on horse use and equipment. Mails uses pen-and-ink drawings to illustrate the book, with the images coming from original art by Catlin, Bodmer, Miller and the like; a good many plates are taken from Curtis' photographs, and the drawings actually serve to "clean up" and clarify those images. There are plenty of saddles shown, most being pad saddles, and a few bridles. One Crow bridle in particular is shown with a medium-port curb bit that you could probably find in a Valley Vet catalog today.

I talked to an older Apache man who told me that the old-time Apaches were about as likely to eat their horses as ride them. He opined that one of the reasons that the Army had such a hard time catching "bronco" Apaches is that the cavalry was looking for pony tracks, but the Apaches abandoned and/or ate their horses once they had put some distance between them and their pursuers. Once the Army was good and lost, the Apache would just "requisition" some new steeds. Plausible, but maybe a little too general; if this was their usual MO, the Army's scouts would have eventually caught on.
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Post by marlies » Mon Sep 29, 2008 5:10 am

Many thanks for the elaborations. As it's fiction (although May tried to use 'non-ficton' paraphernalia), either a plain cowboy bit or an 'Indian-made' hackamore could be depicted on Hatatitla (Winnetou was ahead of his time). It's now a matter of making a choice and hoping for inspiration - I've got Shatterhand's 'Henry Rifle' down to detail, with the help of someone who knows what they look like (not making the mistake of painting a Winchester!) - I've got a few months before I can release the images of Hatatitla and Iltshi with their gear, plenty of time to (hopefully) get it right.
Cheerio
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Post by Pat Holscher » Tue Sep 30, 2008 7:08 am

marlies wrote:Many thanks for the elaborations. As it's fiction (although May tried to use 'non-ficton' paraphernalia), either a plain cowboy bit or an 'Indian-made' hackamore could be depicted on Hatatitla (Winnetou was ahead of his time). It's now a matter of making a choice and hoping for inspiration - I've got Shatterhand's 'Henry Rifle' down to detail, with the help of someone who knows what they look like (not making the mistake of painting a Winchester!) - I've got a few months before I can release the images of Hatatitla and Iltshi with their gear, plenty of time to (hopefully) get it right.
Cheerio
Marlies
I would think it unlikely that there'd have been an Indian made hackamore, or at least an Indian made bosal and mecate. However, with the Apaches being in close contact with Mexicans and others of the Southwest, if an Apache were to use a hackamore, it wouldn't be impossible for that hackamore to be a Mexican or Mexican-American one. Hackamore themselves, because they're an example of leather work, are sometimes quite ornately patterned.

On the Henry, it's interesting to note that Henrys have been popularly depicted in Western literature and film for a long time. They continue to be. That says a lot about how revolutionary they were at the time they were introduced in 1862. Their chief attribute, of course, was magazine capacity and volume of fire. But the rifles themselves were only made until 1866, at which time Winchester bought the patent and improved it in to a much better arm. Henrys shot a .44 rimfire cartridge backed up by only about 28 grs of powder, which puts them down at the true popgun status. The competing Spencer was a much stouter arm in terms of cartridge.
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Post by Pat Holscher » Tue Sep 30, 2008 7:14 am

bisley45 wrote: I talked to an older Apache man who told me that the old-time Apaches were about as likely to eat their horses as ride them. He opined that one of the reasons that the Army had such a hard time catching "bronco" Apaches is that the cavalry was looking for pony tracks, but the Apaches abandoned and/or ate their horses once they had put some distance between them and their pursuers. Once the Army was good and lost, the Apache would just "requisition" some new steeds. Plausible, but maybe a little too general; if this was their usual MO, the Army's scouts would have eventually caught on.
I don't know that, in some ways, that what he related isn't pretty close to the mark. Being highly attuned to their environment, they would ride horses to death if necessary. That is something that a pursuing Army unit could not afford to intentionally do, although the Horse Meat March gives us an example where that did occur in a much different context.

A marked aspect of Apache culture at this time is not only that it was highly adaptive, but that it had a raiding culture, like many West of the MIss Indian tribes. They raided on both sides of the border, and they raided any culture that had useful material, including American, Mexican and Indian groups. They're view of what they took is interesting, in that something they frequently carried off was people. Apaches took humans in raids, and generally expected that, once that was done, the captured individuals would be Apaches too. This was often a dismal, and baffling, failure in the case of at least European Americans, which they never could understand. Having said that, in later years, some Apache bands had a fair representation of individuals captured at a young age, who did adopt the Apache view. The author on the text They Never Surrendered speculated that in the very concluding years, the remaining Bronco Apache bands depended on raiding to stay viable, as they were otherwise below the replacement level.
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Post by marlies » Tue Sep 30, 2008 8:15 am

Pat Holscher wrote:I don't know that, in some ways, that what he related isn't pretty close to the mark. Being highly attuned to their environment, they would ride horses to death if necessary. That is something that a pursuing Army unit could not afford to intentionally do, although the Horse Meat March gives us an example where that did occur in a much different context.

A marked aspect of Apache culture at this time is not only that it was highly adaptive, but that it had a raiding culture, like many West of the MIss Indian tribes. They raided on both sides of the border, and they raided any culture that had useful material, including American, Mexican and Indian groups. They're view of what they took is interesting, in that something they frequently carried off was people. Apaches took humans in raids, and generally expected that, once that was done, the captured individuals would be Apaches too. This was often a dismal, and baffling, failure in the case of at least European Americans, which they never could understand. Having said that, in later years, some Apache bands had a fair representation of individuals captured at a young age, who did adopt the Apache view. The author on the text They Never Surrendered speculated that in the very concluding years, the remaining Bronco Apache bands depended on raiding to stay viable, as they were otherwise below the replacement level.
Quite a sobering thing to read, in many aspects, but not the topic to go into it - I live in Australia, a continent with its own native peoples ................ may I leave it at that.

The thing with Old Shatterhand's Henry ... it takes 25 cartridges ... the 'real' Henry only took (I forget 16 or 18 or thereabouts). It seems (conjecture on my part) he took the 25 from the preceding firearm - something called a Volcanic.

Thanks for the additional info re the possibility of a Mexican hackamore. I have a picture of a very simple tan coloured one from a book (single plat, looks like bast, with a knot on the poll). If someone knows of an image online (obviously books in America are a little out of my reach, unless they lend to Australian libraries?), please let me know here. Thanks
cheers
Marlies

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Post by Pat Holscher » Tue Sep 30, 2008 8:51 am

marlies wrote:
Pat Holscher wrote:I don't know that, in some ways, that what he related isn't pretty close to the mark. Being highly attuned to their environment, they would ride horses to death if necessary. That is something that a pursuing Army unit could not afford to intentionally do, although the Horse Meat March gives us an example where that did occur in a much different context.

A marked aspect of Apache culture at this time is not only that it was highly adaptive, but that it had a raiding culture, like many West of the MIss Indian tribes. They raided on both sides of the border, and they raided any culture that had useful material, including American, Mexican and Indian groups. They're view of what they took is interesting, in that something they frequently carried off was people. Apaches took humans in raids, and generally expected that, once that was done, the captured individuals would be Apaches too. This was often a dismal, and baffling, failure in the case of at least European Americans, which they never could understand. Having said that, in later years, some Apache bands had a fair representation of individuals captured at a young age, who did adopt the Apache view. The author on the text They Never Surrendered speculated that in the very concluding years, the remaining Bronco Apache bands depended on raiding to stay viable, as they were otherwise below the replacement level.
Quite a sobering thing to read, in many aspects, but not the topic to go into it - I live in Australia, a continent with its own native peoples ................ may I leave it at that.

The thing with Old Shatterhand's Henry ... it takes 25 cartridges ... the 'real' Henry only took (I forget 16 or 18 or thereabouts). It seems (conjecture on my part) he took the 25 from the preceding firearm - something called a Volcanic.

Thanks for the additional info re the possibility of a Mexican hackamore. I have a picture of a very simple tan coloured one from a book (single plat, looks like bast, with a knot on the poll). If someone knows of an image online (obviously books in America are a little out of my reach, unless they lend to Australian libraries?), please let me know here. Thanks
cheers
Marlies
Some basic hackamores are depicted in the Hitching Post Supply Cataglo, which caters towards modern day buckaroos. An example is here:

http://www.hitchingpostsupply.com/produ ... c=jojqhpn4

Some examples of modern decrative bosals:

http://www.smithbrothers.com/product.as ... 1222785608

http://www.avilaproshop.com/index.php?p ... &parent=49

Keep in mind, however, that this is cowboy gear, and modern cowboy gear at that.

On the Apaches, keep in mind that I'm not criticizing them in any way. However, there's a marked tendency in certain literature and film to romanticize Indian tribes in a highly Euro-centric way. It's an odd thought process, in that there are those who naturally, and very admirably, admire Indian Tribes of the 19th Century and justifiably lament what occurred to them. However, at the same time, they tend to attribute to them views that can be Euro or Euro American romantic views. La Mort d'Arthur on the Plains, so to speak. This certainly isn't always the case, but it can be the case.

In the case of the Apache and the Navajo, both groups are very closely related Denian people who are closely related to the Indians of Canada's far North. Nobody knows why, but at some point both groups started a steady trek, no doubt taking generations, towards the south, leaving behind the Great Slave Lake region from which they came. Both groups are extremely adaptive, and adopted bit and pieces of useful information and items from everyone they came through.

The Apaches ended up being much more warlike than the Navajo, although, as earlier pointed out on this site, the Navajo do not have a completely pacific history. I've heard it theorized at least once that the Apaches, being the latter group to come through, had to fight their way through areas the Navajo did not. At any rate, by the late 19th Century the Apaches were strattling the border with Mexico, and had been already engaging the Mexicans in a very long standing series of fierce wars. The Apaches always had more difficulties with Mexico than they did with the US, but the fact that the war was ongoing when the US entered the picture meant that the US inherited a generations old dispute when it acquired the Southwest from Mexico.

Apache bands were always small, but the Apaches proved to be a very difficult band for the US to deal with. They were very warlike, and had a very deep seated raiding culture. Raiding Mexican villages not only worked into that, but this was part of the long running war with the Mexicans, and the Mexicans for their part had violently retaliated. As part of the Apache culture, the Apaches accepted that things they took in raids were theirs, including people. This means that they were remarkably accepting of other cultures, but on their own terms. They didn't discriminate, but they expected everyone to know what the rules were, to including the raiding rules.
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Post by marlies » Tue Sep 30, 2008 4:51 pm

Hello Pat
yes, I understand a little (too little) about Indian history and culture, although the plight of all native peoples on this planet disturbs me greatly, I was referring to this bit: >>>The author on the text They Never Surrendered speculated that in the very concluding years, the remaining Bronco Apache bands depended on raiding to stay viable, as they were otherwise below the replacement level.<<<
The matter-of-fact 'otherwise below replacement level' comment by the author of 'They Never Surrendered', could equally be used for any other species of life on this planet that is threatened with extinction.
Who was it that once said that 'human beings are the top preditor on this planet'?

Thanks (also to 'selewis')for the many links - there is even one of the pictures depicting an older Indian on a bedraggled horse that has something like a loop around its nose and the top of its neck - not very functional, but the indication of 'loop around nose' is there.

As Karl May wrote fiction, Hatatitla will wear a fictional hackamore.

Thanks so much guys ... that was a great exercise - again - I hope to have many more reasons to visit - it's a joy to come to this forum!
cheerio from downunder
Marlies

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Post by selewis » Tue Sep 30, 2008 5:10 pm

Here is a new but simple and low profile hackamore:

https://www.thestoeckleincollection.com ... otw/Ernest

And a style I'm not familiar with but which they have defined as an 'indian hackamore':

http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl= ... n%26sa%3DN

or if the above link doesn't work try:

http://www.holistichorsekeeping.com/ima ... amore2.jpg

Sandy

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Post by bisley45 » Tue Sep 30, 2008 6:01 pm


Sandy....noooooo........not you, too! Tell us there are NO Rhythm Beads in your tack room,. please! :D
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Post by selewis » Tue Sep 30, 2008 7:21 pm

bisley45 wrote:

Sandy....noooooo........not you, too! Tell us there are NO Rhythm Beads in your tack room,. please! :D
Bis; I can honestly say that I don't even know what rhythm beads are! Whew, I would be grieved to disappoint.

S

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Post by Pat Holscher » Tue Sep 30, 2008 9:53 pm

selewis wrote: And a style I'm not familiar with but which they have defined as an 'indian hackamore':
I'd be curious if that was an Indian design or not..

All hackamores operate off of applying pressure in certain ways. There are the traditional hackamores, of course, and then there are mechanical hackamores. This is the first I've seen these, but then I'm hardly an expert on the topic.
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Post by selewis » Tue Sep 30, 2008 10:09 pm

Pat Holscher wrote:
selewis wrote: And a style I'm not familiar with but which they have defined as an 'indian hackamore':
I'd be curious if that was an Indian design or not..

All hackamores operate off of applying pressure in certain ways. There are the traditional hackamores, of course, and then there are mechanical hackamores. This is the first I've seen these, but then I'm hardly an expert on the topic.
It's a new fangled gadget to me too. And I don't like the looks of it. I didn't read the accompanying text but I get the impression that they're trying to market it as some kind of kinder device. Actually it is a mechanical hack in disguise. The mechanical advantage being supplied by pulleys rather than levers. Same thing though with the same drawbacks in my snap judgement.

Sandy

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Post by Pat Holscher » Wed Oct 01, 2008 7:42 am

selewis wrote:
Pat Holscher wrote:
selewis wrote: And a style I'm not familiar with but which they have defined as an 'indian hackamore':
I'd be curious if that was an Indian design or not..

All hackamores operate off of applying pressure in certain ways. There are the traditional hackamores, of course, and then there are mechanical hackamores. This is the first I've seen these, but then I'm hardly an expert on the topic.
It's a new fangled gadget to me too. And I don't like the looks of it. I didn't read the accompanying text but I get the impression that they're trying to market it as some kind of kinder device. Actually it is a mechanical hack in disguise. The mechanical advantage being supplied by pulleys rather than levers. Same thing though with the same drawbacks in my snap judgement.

Sandy

Taking a second look at it, I'd agree with your synopsis. It still applies pressure in the same points, just in a different manner.

The problem with mechanical hackamores is that they can be exceedingly harsh. This can be made worse when they're used by inexperienced or heavy handed riders. They're not a kinder gentler bit at all, but rather a harsher one. They show up in some uses fairly commonly, although they're not a widely used system otherwise.

I've occasionally seen them used in the same manner as the traditional bosal and mechate as a transitional bit, and on rare occasion you'll find a ranch horse that's been finished to one for some reason. I actually have a horse that uses a mechanical hackamore, even though I would not choose that system intentionally. In that case, the horse is used to it, I have fairly light hands, and the horse simply will not take a bit in his mouth.

A thing I'd worry about with a bit like this is that it might prove to be fairly harsh itself. I don't know that, but you are using a lot of force, potentially, right over the bridge of the horses nose. This type of system is unlikely to be popular with experienced riders, and therefore might be most likely to be used by those who have the illusion that their being kind to their horse, when they may very well be the exact opposite.

Also, hackamores are a neck reining system, and they have no other use. Traditionally, with stock horses, the hackamore was introduced early on in order to teach the horse certain basic things. Key here, however, is that it is capable of getting the attention of a green horses, which shows that it isn't a mild thing. When the horse had certain basic neck reining cues mastered, the horse was switched, or is switched, over to a snaffle to finish it off, and then to the curb. This system is used to finish a stock working horse. If a person isn't neck reining, and most people aren't, and shouldn't be, perhaps, they shouldn't be using any sort of hackamore.
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Post by selewis » Wed Oct 01, 2008 10:10 am

The readiness with which native horse cultures adopted improved bits speaks volumes about the relative crudeness of the devices that necessity supplied them with previously. It also attests to their good sense as horsemen, and their sound judgement in appraising horse tack. Similar praise cannot be given to the hucksters and their gullible clients who are now pushing the old ways as some kind of superior ancient knowledge with mystical overtones.

Sandy

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