Background on the EDUCATION, History, Reenacting, trekking, Rendezvousing


Fundamentally the IMM is about a deep love of American frontier history and living that history for ourselves.  Often this pastime is often referred to as “Living History” and those that participate in it are “Living Historians” or simply “reenactors.” Living History is where people portray (or interpret) the role of actual or typical historic persons, adopting their dress, mannerisms and speech, tools and equipment, personal effects and the like. Living History events include portrayal by individuals or groups of actual events or typical every day living of a particular historical period. There are many living history groups around the country and the world. Some focus on the Civil War, others on the colonial period, or other periods of local or national interest. Each member participates at various levels of authenticity. Some are content with maintaining the appearance of an historical character and situation by dressing the part and hiding the modern stuff. Others go all the way by carrying only gear that would have been found in the time period they are portraying, speaking in period vernacular, and only talking about period relevant topics.

The time period of particular interest to many living history groups like the IMM is the American frontier period from 1750 or so until 1840. This includes the French and Indian War, Pontiacs Rebellion, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the 100 years of the 200 year fur trade period.  This period of history witness the birth of our nation from that of a two-bit colony under the rule of England, to a nation that twice defeated the world’s greatest military.  

Sometimes re-enactors will go to great lengths to define a persona for the character that they are trying to portray.  To define a persona, the re-enactor will research people, events, and implements of the time period they are interested in and build from them a composite character that will be their persona – or their historical alter-ego.  They will use this persona as a basis to build their historical character, buy their clothes, gear, and establish their camps. This adds a touch of realism and illustrates the length that these folks will go to in order to understand the exact historical context of the character they are portraying.  The amount of reading, study, and scrounging is unbelievable.  While this sounds really formal and detailed, its really a matter of going to the library or buying a few books, reading and re-reading, taking notes and drawing some conclusions. All you need to get started is a natural curiosity for history, a particular character or event, and nature will run its course. Most beginners are unable to detect subtle differences that are obvious to some – for example the difference between a sleeveless jacket called a “weskit” made in 1750 and one made in 1770. An experienced re-enactor will be able to tell the difference. While this might make us sound like a bunch of snobs, nothing could be further from the truth. Most re-enactors are more than willing to share what they know about a time period, their character, or anything else related to their historical interpretation.

There are several kinds of events that are common for re-enactors that are interested in this particular time period – these are described below:

      Rendezvousing – This is a camp that is set up to relive the western mountain man’s annual rendezvousing. The rendezvous was used as venue where traders would buy furs from trappers for resale to the markets back east. The critter of choice was the beaver which was used to make fur hats – especially popular in European cities. However, what a lot of folks don’t realize is that the fur trade started in the east in the early 1600s and ran until its ultimate demise in 1840 when the fur hat fell out of fashion. The fur trade was a ubiquitious industry during America’s first 200 years.  America was literally built on the hides of the animals of the land, and by the blood and sweat of fur trappers throughout the period from 1608 to 1840. In the beginning, French fur trappers in the north east would trade with Indians and transport bundles of furs back to outposts and forts where they would sell them and buy trade goods and supplies for the next trip. By the time the fur trade moved out west, the trappers were so far out in the mountains, that the traders would make an annual sojourn to a pre-arranged meeting place or rendezvous. Rendezvous are where most re-enactors get started. The camps are big, it’s easy to hide modern stuff, they are great when you have little kids, and there are usually lots of opportunities to shoot.   Rendezvous have varying degrees of primitive correctness required, but generally are a bit more forgiving than other kinds of events. The focus of rendezvous is shooting, games, partying, and generally socializing.

      Event or Situational re-enacting – There are many cases where re-enactors will portray military characters, scouts, frontiersmen, tradesmen and so forth in a realistic setting. These events tend to stress the history, the characters, and recreating a particular event or situation. The kinds of events that are re-enacted can include battles or something a bit more peaceful such as a hide tanning, maple sugaring, blacksmith shop, or some other kind of historical vocation or craft oriented event. Often the public will attend these events and watch the re-enactors play the part of historical character. This can be extremely rewarding and a whole bunch of fun, however these events usually require that re-enactors are more primitive correct. Often these events are “juried” which means that someone will check your gear and accouterments to ensure they are period corrent. These events are wonderful opportunities to delve into your persona and practice at developing your skills and character.

      Trekking – After a few years of practice, you might want to really push your comfort zone and give trekking a try. A trek is a where a re-enactor will load up their gear on the back, horse, canoe, or pirogue and head out into the woods to live the life of their character. Treks tend to focus on total period correctness in terms of equipment, situation, and environment. These may involve small or large groups, animals, carts, troops, cannons, and so forth. While each event differs, trekkers only bring equipment, clothing, and foodstuff that is period correct. Sometimes the public attends trekking events, but this is generally rare. Trekking events are typically not “juried” but standards for period correctness are typically established before the event. Since trekking is usually undertaken by more experienced re-enactors, participants typically voluntarily adhere to the established standards – or risk a razzing by their peers.

These are typical venues for practicing this pastime. All are fun and if you spend a few years practicing your skills and expanding your knowledge of your character and the time period, you will probably meander through all of these venues at one point or another. If you are thinking about joining in this pastime, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1.    Read first, buy later: It is common for people to get really enthusiastic, so they run out and buy everything from a gun to a tent. After they spend a bunch of money on gear, they discover that they have the wrong gear for the character they are trying to portray or they discover a character or time period that they would rather portray. Read some history first - author Allan Eckert has several historical fiction books that are informative and entertaining. Some titles include:

a.    The Frontiersmen

b.    That Dark and Bloody River

c.    Wilderness Empire

d.    Blue Jacket: War Chief of the Shawnee

e.    The Wilderness War

f.      The Conquerors

g.     Twilight of Empire

h.    Sorrow in Our Heart

i.      Gateway to Empire

j.      Savage Journey

2.    Visit events: Go to events and check out the people, their equipment, their lodgings, and ask lots of questions. Some events allow “pilgrims” to visit. In other cases, you may have to have some period clothes to get it. Get the bare necessities and visit as many events as possible before you invest in a lot of equipment. When you see something you like, ask questions, and when you get back to civilization, research the character and the event.

3.    Hold out for the best: If you buy substandard junk, it will look unauthentic and ruin your portrayal. Looking authentic doesn’t mean that you have to spend a lot of money on every bit of gear you own. It often means that you have to search and scrounge for the right stuff to buy or craft your own gear – hold out for the best, don’t settle. Sometimes holding out for the best means that you have to spend a lot of money- for example, that custom flintlock will cost you a pretty penny. Its gotta be right, and it may be the only one you buy in your life – so hold out and get the best you can. This is why doing your homework (see #1 and #2 above) is so important!

4.    Practice: Wear your gear and get used to it. Make sure everything fits and is comfortable. Try walking through the woods with your equipment. Try setting up your lodge at home before you get to the event. Practice cooking a meal or two in your backyard with your period cooking irons before you burn supper at the event when you are cooking for folks visiting your camp. Practice loading and shooting your rifle from your pouch without the full toolbox at the bench rest. Take your gun for a walk in the woods and practice making it shoot in less than optimal paper-range conditions. All this will not only get you familiar with your gear, what works, and what doesn’t work; it will give you a confidence and add to your character’s authenticity. Also the best way to get that authentic look in your gear is to authentically use it in field conditions.

5.    Simplify: It is easy to create a “death star camp” but a real pain in the ass maintaining, moving, and setting up these kinds of camps. Less is more when portraying any frontier character – they simply did not have much superfluous stuff! An authentic camp is light and tight with a few quality, well worn, but serviceable items. Simplification applies to individual accouterments as well as entire camps and camp gear. If it is hard to set up your camp and impossible to move everything unless you have a 30 foot trailer, you will probably attend fewer events. Unless your character is a trader,… simplify, and remember that less is more.