Steven Miles Watts

1947 – 2016

The thoughtful man that Steve was, he called me right after he saw the photo below just to tell say how much he loved the trip we took together and especially that photo. The trip was an incredible visit to the Camp Fire Club of America, Dan Beard’s resting place, Bear Mountain State Park, and Wyndygoul; Ernest Thompson Seton’s old homesite in Connecticut. The pilgrimage to Wyndygoul, and it was a pilgrimage, was especially magical, as in the woods stands a lone sentinel that one could argue marks the birthplace of scouting, Medicine Rock.

Steve walking up to Medicine Rock at Wyndygoul.

Steve walking up to Medicine Rock at Wyndygoul.

As far as the photo, Steve didn’t know we intentionally waited behind as he walked alone up to the unmarked stone. You could feel this was his personal quest which Steve confirmed sometime later in one of our many philosophical conversations — that he had been walking the trail to Medicine Rock his whole life.

The son of a young father who was also his Scoutmaster, Steve knew he was blessed early in life. It warms my heart to know he is now sharing a campfire with his Dad whom he very much adored and spoke of often. Perhaps that is why Steve was very much a father figure to me and others. That and his heart of hearts had more capacity than most.

Steve with Dad

Steve was one of the most genuine people I have ever met. And if you didn’t know already, he was big on context. One of my favorite quotes of all time is his, “if it’s not in context, it’s just arts and crafts.” While the quote is meant to be specific to outdoor skills, it is really a metaphor to a larger view of who Steve was and how he couldn’t help but influence others.

His enthusiasm was contagious. Whether you knew him for years or were meeting him for the first time, if there was something profound or he was passionate, you could just see it in his eyes and hear it when he said “man-oh-man.” You simply couldn’t help but get excited too whatever the topic, and he knew a bunch of them! 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

I sincerely believe that Steve not only thought in a more encompassing context of life than most, he also had the spirit to stay in that plane of existence — he was the epitome of humanness. Steve wouldn’t say a bad word about anybody and was there to help you find your place in the world like no one else could. I will miss him just as a son would miss their father.



More about my friend, Steven M. Watts

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).

Extreme History

Yes, that’s Roger Daltrey of The Who next to Steve.

Watts and WescottMany times in conjunction with his best friend, David Wescott, he presented workshops, aboriginal technology demonstrations and classic camping skills trainings (with the Acorn Patrol), throughout North America; not to mention Watts & Wescott co-authored numerous articles published in a variety of periodicals on those same subjects.

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 Skills was 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). A fan of the transcendentalists, I will miss our philosophical conversations, especially about Emerson, who said… “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.”

Steve Watts was a genius in every sense of the word. I will forever miss him.

Steven M Watts

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. 

About Christian Noble

Chris Noble is the founder of and Woodsmoke Camping Company. A Master Naturalist, he holds a Bachelor of Science in Forestry and has worked as a Registered Forester and Certified Burn Manager in several states. Chris is also a Wilderness First Responder and since the late 90’s has been “practicing primitive” skills and taking lessons from numerous Master Woodsmen throughout North America. An advocate for Conservation, teacher of Wilderness Living Skills, and happily married, he enjoys passing what he has learned thus far to others, especially his 2 children, Emerson and Duncan.

34 Responses to Steven Miles Watts

  1. Christian Noble March 22, 2016 at 4:36 pm #

    Steven Miles Watts passed away March 21, 2016 at the Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute, part of Carolinas HealthCare System, Charlotte NC. Admitted on Saturday with low blood pressure and dehydration, close monitoring and tests revealed advanced kidney disease and cardiogenic shock (very weak heart).

    Carpenter’s Funeral Home,1100 East Main Street, Cherryville, NC 28021 is coordinating arrangements. Tentative plans are for a Service at the Schiele TBA within the next few weeks and A Celebration of Life at the Center for Aboriginal Studies at the Schiele in July, near Steve’s birthday July 25th. Steve was 68 years young.

    Memorials may be made to the Schiele Museum: Aboriginal Studies Program.

    Condolences and cards can be mailed to:
    Starwalker & Jonathon Reed
    710 S York St.
    Gastonia, NC 28052

      Mike Kotwica March 22, 2016 at 5:52 pm #

      So sorry to hear of his passing. He surely will be missed!

      Wayne Williams, Acorn Patrol March 24, 2016 at 9:43 am #

      Steve gave many of us the license to reconnect with our childhood fantasies and youthful dreams. He had the wisdom of an elder and the heart of a child.

      Matt April 2, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

      The thing that I always liked about Steve,is that he was a down to earth nice guy. There was no big ego to deal with. I got to know Steve from the Rabbit Stick gathering,and The last time I saw him was at Woodsmoke in 2012. I will miss him.

    Randy Breeuwsma March 22, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

    Thanks Chris. Till we meet again.

    • Christian Noble March 22, 2016 at 6:28 pm #

      See you soon my friend! I’ll share some stories about Steve around the campfire, he’d like that.

    Douglas Meyer March 22, 2016 at 5:37 pm #

    Awesome! Made me cry all over again!

    Yankee March 22, 2016 at 5:42 pm #

    My write up on him and my personal experiences with him…


    Please send his loved ones & friends my sincerest condolences.
    We are a lesser community without him.


      Yankee March 22, 2016 at 6:00 pm #

      Bear Mountain State Park is where I grew up outing in the woods as a youth.

      • Christian Noble March 22, 2016 at 6:32 pm #

        There is a nice tribute there to Daniel Carter Beard with his uniform and other artifacts. Steve was a huge fan of Kephart and Beard for sure.

    • Christian Noble March 22, 2016 at 6:31 pm #

      Will do Steven.

    Daryl March 22, 2016 at 5:59 pm #

    Nice tribute

    Eve King March 22, 2016 at 6:18 pm #


    Excellent article. Steve will be missed by so many. He was larger than life and leaves a void just as big.

    Eve King
    Acorn Patrol

    Todd Walker March 22, 2016 at 6:33 pm #

    A fitting tribute to a great man, Chris. Thank you!

    Ben Kirkland March 22, 2016 at 6:40 pm #

    Words can not express how he will be missed! Please keep us informed when the date of the celebration will be. Thank you for your words!

    • Christian Noble March 22, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

      Thanks Ben. I, and I am sure many others, will spread the word when the celebration of Steve occurs in July.

    Tracy Alderson March 22, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    I have just learned of Steven M. Watts passing. It brings me much sadness.
    My sincerest thoughts, prayers, respects, and condolences go out to his family and friends. We have lost a great man, and a true bushcraft legend. It has been an honor to know him. Rest is peace friend.

    Richard Bell March 22, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

    We have lost a giant in the world of outdoorsman. You will be missed.

    Tim Smith March 22, 2016 at 7:15 pm #

    A beautiful post. Steve is already missed, but he is also already remembered as one of the greats. We were fortunate to know him.

    Ernie Boyd , Cadiz,Ky. March 22, 2016 at 9:33 pm #

    We talked on the phone about our dads, both were in WWII, in Okanawas invasion ..Both dads Scoutmasters and we were scouts in the 50s & 60s ..

    Sons of an age ” The greatest generation” who taught there children what it was to be a man and an a American.

    Never met Steve face to face but he will be missed.

    Shannon Swanda March 23, 2016 at 1:47 am #

    What a beautifully written tribute of your friend. I am quite sure by what is written about him he would feel humbled and honored by your words. When I read articles like that it makes me feel as though I missed out a little for not ever knowing someone like him. Thank you for highlighting the life of one amazing man. I did not know who he was this morning and now I go to sleep wishing I did.

    Ron van Wiggen March 23, 2016 at 3:32 am #

    You have been blessed by his friendship, Chris and it certainly sounds like the world has become a less friendly place by him leaving it. But his legacy will live on and with that he will too.

    That “sometimes”-quote…. wonderful!

    Jon mathrole March 23, 2016 at 9:59 am #

    Great guy and friend, will be missed my many.RIP

    American Grouch March 23, 2016 at 11:57 am #

    A fitting piece on the man, well done. Happy Trails Steve, your words wit and wisdom will be missed.

    Tom Ray March 23, 2016 at 6:25 pm #

    Beautiful tribute Chris! Our hearts are broken, but we will always have wonderful memories of Steve. Greatest teacher ever.

    • Christian Noble March 23, 2016 at 6:31 pm #

      Thanks Tom, means a lot coming from you as close as you both were.

    Bob Estep March 23, 2016 at 11:30 pm #

    Needless to say,our lives will never be the same.It was a perfect world when Steve was with us.We will hold him close in our hearts and memories,always.
    Fair well, Steve

  19. Christian Noble March 30, 2016 at 1:13 am #

    Steve Watts Rememberance
    April 10th


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