At the end of the Pleistocene (about ten thousand years ago) the great ice sheets were retreating north across what is now Texas. The lands along The Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo if you live in Mexico) were at the time a mixture of dense riparian forests and vast stretches of mixed woodlands spanning north and south. Prehistoric people had dwelled in the area for at least one-thousand years camping along waterways. They trapped with snares and deadfalls and by funneling animals into enclosed areas; and they hunted using a simple catapult-like tool called an atlatl. The atlatl is an implement best suited for group use against animals where hunters can surround their prey propelling the small spear-like “darts” into flesh until the animal succumbs to its wounds. Using an atlatl in densely forested areas is difficult since the tool must be swung upwards and then forcibly downwards in order to propel the dart forward. Anyone who has ever tried sneaking up on a deer in brush or forest land with an atlatl knows how difficult that is without alerting the animal to your presence. It wasn’t until the advent of the bow and arrow that lone hunters were able to successfully venture into the wilds in pursuit of game. The bow and arrow’s stealth enabled a hunter to dispatch an arrow at close range without alerting the animal. And yet, until that time trapping was the most successful means by which prehistoric people obtained meat. Traps came in all sizes but most were small designed for animals like rabbits, raccoons, and birds. A family band could set hundreds of traps in an area and successfully exploit the faunal population for food. I suspect that small traps were used more frequently since they could be easily made and spread over an area without expending too much energy. If local plants offered appendages useful for traps then all the better since that reduced energy outflow even more.
In the brushland and desert regions grow a group of plants ideally suited for small traps. Two of the plants are members of the family Rhamnaceae and the other plant belongs to the family Capparaceae. The first two are given the scientific names, Ziziphus obtusifolia (folk name, Lotebush) and Condalia hookeri (folk name, Brasil). The third plant is Koeberlinia spinosa (common name, Junco or Allthorn). Note: the word Junco is pronounced Hoon-Ko. The J is given an “h” sound. Years ago I was camped in the mountains of New Mexico and an oddly dressed pair walked up on my camp and began asking me about the birds I’d seen in the area. Just then a bird called a Junco lit close by. The pair were both dressed in identical khaki shirts and Bermuda shorts with knee socks and Aussie-style hats with turned up brims. They both had gold ascots and gold name-tags. Identical hiking boots and binoculars; they seemed like a nice and friendly pair if not a bit eccentric. The woman saw the Junco and said, “Look, a joon-co.” Without thinking I said, “Its pronounced hoon-ko, the J is given an “h” sound.” Well, that was not a good idea since they both obviously thought of themselves as hot-shot birders and how dare a kid living in a debris hut in the forest tell them how to pronounce a bird’s name. They smiled, turned around and walked off.
Both lotebush, brasil and junco can be used as spearing devices for small traps and oftentimes the branches are cut and used as the swing-arms for a trap without any further modification. Very simple and effective, the long spines (up to four inches long) will implant firmly into any animal that wanders into the trap. Most common trap forms include swinging arms moving either horizontally or vertically when the trip line is sprung. A spring driven branch of junco, lotebush or brasil will drive a number of spear-like thorns as if they were daggers into a small animal and hold it in place until the trapper arrives. Oftentimes, the animal is killed instantly.
Mesquite thorns above are long, sharp and strong (I've been stabbed by enough to know these things first hand) but they are not as prevalent on a stem to be sufficient for a good trap.
Tasajillo spines are mean but not strong enough for a trap. Still, the spines are used by nopal rats to line the entrance of their nests. This keeps intruders away. Each spine has a sheath that slips off and remains in the skin where it festers and can cause infection. Stay clear of this cactus.
I have used lotebush, junco and brasil for small traps over the years. Brasil has built-in barbs from off-shooting smaller thorns and is quite stiff. As a side note: brasil wood has a specific gravity of over 1.0 and thus is one of the hardest woods in the American Southwest. The thorns of these plants are long and vicious and you should always wear gloves when constructing a trap. I’ll post a video making a couple of traps when the weather outside calms down a bit. A blue norther is blowing through as I write these notes.