This is a patch of flax.
Let that plant get high, harvest it, soak it a while, let it dry out all nice and crackly, smack it around a bit to break the outer shell, scrape off the crud - and you get a nice long fiber.
Spin that fiber, set it to a loom (KITTY!!!!).... and eventually you get linen cloth. Just the thing for keeping your skin from the rough of life on this ol' earth.
Now remember what I said about "scraping off the crud?"
This is the kind of stuff that's left over.
It's called "tow"
(pronounced like the things at the end of your feet, not anime characters misnamed from Chinese philosophy).
Now, there's lots of stuff you can do with tow, but one of the things the old frontiersmen used it for was cleaning.
This is a tow worm.
You wind your tow around that corkscrew lookin' thing, and with the help of some boiling water you get all the powder residue out of the barrel of your rifle gun.
That's what a tow worm is for. Just a plain, simple tool.
Unless you happen to be Jonathan Baker, and it's 1794 in the Ohio country.
In that case, a tow worm is the last thing you ever see before that little metal hook gets wrapped around your optic nerve by an angry Shawnee. Hopefully things don't go on for too long after that.
So I just finished Mark Baker's Sons of a Trackless Forest. Very much worth reading if you can find a copy (L of VA, your ILL copy is on its way back soon, I swear!) A couple things really really struck home.
What immediately struck me was how self-limiting - indeed, self-destroying - the raw frontier era really was. "The frontier was not a place, it was a wave" as I've heard it said, and Mr. Baker's book makes that all painfully clear... and may shatter a few other precious poetic illusions along the way as well.
More on that another time.
But for now, since I just finished it along about the same time as Nathanial Philbrick's Mayflower covering through the end of King Phillip's War, and another biography of Andy Jackson, it's back to the elephant in the room when it comes to modern frontier fiction.
The settler side of our family tree did not call those of our native side "savages" for nothing. Sure the 50's westerns were absolutely one sided. But the ones these days - leastwise those I've seen - seem less a rightening of the scales that a switching of polarity.
Back to 1794.
.... you did not want to get taken alive. In the past three weeks, I've read more historical accounts ending with "... and then they were tortured to death" than I think I ever care to see again. Most of the time with just enough detail to give you nightmares.
There's an ongoing theme there to... the natives would attack the leaves, attempting victory often as not through sheer terror and horror. The settlers would use the same tactics used on their ancestors centuries or millenia earlier - attacking the root of the native infrastructure, pursuing a deliberate stick and carrot policy of destruction, then domination, then eventually acculturation and some degree of assimilation.
Leviathan's stomp through the ages, father of us all indeed.
I kinda think sometimes Tacitus and James Fenimore Cooper might have themselves some interesting conversations if they could ever meet.