When Matthew Stewart was 5, his grandfather gave him a nickname that would chart the course of his life. “I was always playing in the creek,” said Creek Stewart, survival instructor, author and star of The Weather Channel’s now-cancelled “Fat Guys In The Woods.” No matter the time or weather, the boy was at the creek—happy. Not much has changed, except the budding outdoorsman of yore has now built an empire on his comfortable, family-friendly style of survival instruction. All things Creek also includes the soundly crafted, old-timey line of Whiskey Knives, which in addition to being ideally designed for bushcraft and easy on the wallet, also offers some scaled-down versions of classic styles that hands of all sizes can control. You can read all about Whiskey Knives and how they are made in an upcoming issue of BLADE magazine. If you’re not a subscriber, sign up so you don’t miss it.
Creek is “everywhere” and there are good reasons for that, not least being that he is genuinely warm and friendly. “I like working with people,” he said. Creek was a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout. The first E in the CRE///K logo is representative of a scratch from an eagle’s talons. He continues to be a devotee of the Boy Scouts of America and a counselor for the Wilderness Survival merit badge. He lives the Be Prepared Boy Scout motto, and opted for Not If But When as his own tagline. Yes, scouts are being taught all kinds of skills, explained Creek, “but they’re also building character and learning life lessons.” He listed perseverance, teamwork, manners, camaraderie—all things the Boy Scouts instilled in him.
At Butler University in Indianapolis, Creek first perused a pharmacy major, but the misdirection, the urban setting and a campus crow that thought it was an alarm clock brought him to an awakening. You can read about his adventures trying to snare the bird on his website at The Crow, but in summary, the crow reawakened Creek’s inner woodsman. He decided he wanted to teach wilderness survival skills and set about making it happen.
He settled on a business major, a plan that would serve him well. During his sophomore year, he wrote and illustrated a wilderness survival field manual that collected his knowledge at the time. He had the book printed and spiral-bound, and offered free classes at Boy Scout troops to peddle it. He sold books, but he longed for a way to bring his customers to him rather than traveling to them. He asked his parents if he could teach a class in the woods on the family farm. Although still unnerved by his switch in major, they agreed. He sent out press releases and 15 people showed up. He’s been teaching ever since, part-time for many years but never quitting on his dream.
Creek’s business schooling helped him hone his marketing strategy. His many brands include, in addition to Whiskey Knives, Willow Haven Outdoor Survival School where he teaches one-day and weekend getaway survival courses on his 20-acre property, complete with lodge, in Anderson, Indiana. He also is lead instructor for the Escape The Woods challenge, which takes place at various locales around the country. The Not If But When Survival Store, which his parents now run, offers a collection of widely available survival items. And, Apocabox is a bimonthly subscription; six times a year members receive a box of survival tools and gear, hand-picked by Creek. It also includes a challenge that you can practice in the calm and comfort of a non-crisis. For instance, the December box included instructions on making snowshoes from your Christmas tree.
Creek’s overview of Whiskey Knives includes a revelation: his first knife.
Creek also saw that writing was going to be essential to reaching the right people—namely men and women of all ages and abilities. (While other survival instructors might emphasize immersing you in a survival scenario while you’re still learning, Creek feels that people absorb more and retain it longer, if they’re warm, dry and fed.)
His best-selling book is “Build the Perfect Bug Out Bag,” but he offers one on putting together a bug-out vehicle, two on survival skills and an intriguing one on the survival skills used in “The Hunger Games.” But Creek has also written two fiction books. “Stuck” is a short story about a Boy Scout dropout who through a series of bad decisions finds himself in a crisis situation—quicksand!—that he can only survive by using what he learned in scouting. “Rugosa” is a young-adult romance, due out this month. The novel has been in the works for six years. “I’m really sticking my neck out on this one.” Creek is anxious to see if his fans “get” it. “I’m a survivalist, but I’m also a person,” Creek said. (Check back for an upcoming review.)
Some people learn about Creek via completely different avenues. They may read some of his guest posts on The Art of Manliness blog and other websites. “I’ve known Brett (McKay, founder of AoM) a long time. I’m so proud to be a part of that,” Creek said. The Art of Manliness celebrates men stepping boldly into their roles as men, husbands and fathers, and includes articles on everything from health and style to relationships and how to survive in the wild. Creek has also been a guest on television shows such as TODAY, Inside Edition and Fox & Friends. He’s been featured in magazines like Men’s Fitness, Backpacker and Outdoor Life. And he was the star of The Weather Channel’s hit show, “Fat Guys in the Woods.”
When IBM purchased the digital portion of The Weather Channel in 2015, many programs were slashed, and “Fat Guys in the Woods” was just one of them. The show provided Creek with the ideal outlet for his wildlife survival instructing and was an inspiration to viewers who wanted to spend more time in the outdoors or jumpstart a healthier lifestyle. Three sedentary buddies would spend a week with Creek, learning survival basics. The last 24 hours would be spent alone, each man building his own shelter and fire. Creek would award one of them with a knife-sheath set. One would stand out as needing encouragement, or being there for the right reasons or excelling in a certain skill. “He gave it everything he got—a job well done,” as Creek put it.
That kit was an Ontario Knife Company’s Black Bird SK-5 wilderness survival knife with a sheath designed by Paul Scheiter of Hedgehog Leatherworks. It was the sheath that had Creek thinking about how to fine-tune the products he offered going forward. “I love my parents, and every day I get to spend with them (at Not If But When) is a blessing,” Creek said. He’s also happy to provide a place where people can find all the products he recommends in one place. But what he really likes is working with small American businesses that reflect simple, well-made, traditional craftsmanship. “I like things that have a story.”
That quest for mom-and-pop entrepreneurship and throwback workmanship with a story behind it, is what led to one of Creeks proudest collaborations: Whiskey Knives made by Reptile Toolworks in Kentucky. To read more about this partnership and exactly how Whiskey Knives are constructed, be sure to subscribe to subscribe to BLADE magazine.
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