By Frank Doughman
The flickering fire cracked causing a small coal to leap from the firepit. A moccasined foot reached to kick the ember back into the pit. During this maneuver, the man doing the kicking conversed with his fireside companion. Both their faces glowed from the warm cast of the firelight.
"Re-enacting is such fun. I just love coming to these events."
His friend readily agreed, "I know what you mean. This afternoon I had a little kid asking me all kinds of questions Ñ 'What's this? What's that' -- he was so excited. It's a lot of fun to be able to teach people about history."
"Yeah, although it's too bad the organizers of this event don't do a better job of teaching history."
This self-evident and universally recognized truth sparked an animated reply from the second speaker whose face now glowed, not only from th firelight, but also from a deep feeling of incredulity as he asked, "did you see the cowboy they had over there today?" "How could you miss him? Can you believe they let him through the gate? What about the guy selling plastic beads?"
To emphasize his disgust, the first speaker's moccasin again kicked forward. This time its target was the firepit's smoldering log which, when struck, stirred forth a cloud of small sparks. He sighed deeply.
"It's too bad they make so many mistakes. This could be a great event. If things don't get better, I may not come back next year."
"I only get to go to a few events each year. Like you, I doubt I'll be at this one next year."
About this time, one of the mollies strolled up toward the duo. "Hey, there. What're you fellows doing?"
The first speaker replied, "Oh, hello. We're doing nothing. Just doing a little griping."
But the molly insisted, "it sounded to me like you were doing something." The second speaker reaffirmed the comments of the first. "Nope. He said it all right. We're doing nothing."
Isn't that the truth! Are we re-enactors doing nothing except griping when it comes to improving the events which we attend? The answer, all too often, is yes. I know because I have heard similar campfire conversations and I even have been a participant in such discussions. After all, we re-enactors have all the answers, right? If so, then why have these comments never gotten pass the grumbling stage? Why have all our brilliant ideas gone up with the smoke of the campfire? The bottom line always has been -- we're looking for somebody else to fix things. Maybe it's about time to admit that we must be those "somebodies."
I for one, already have taken steps to "fix" one of the most anticipated, but, unfortunately, also one of the most historically questionable events -- the annual Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous. The very word, Rendezvous, stirs excitement among Revolutionary War re-enactors. Not so much because of the event itself, but simply because it is one of the first of the season. All of us excitedly come out of our winter hibernations with eager expectation for the first few events of the year. Rendezvous is one of those gatherings.
But just as quickly, we are disappointed with the lack of historical purity needed to make this event more than just a mere gathering. The cowboys, the stagecoach, the cloggers, the mountain men. There's no need for such historical high jinks being played upon the public.
Just as re-enactors don't spend the majority of their time worrying about the minute details of organizing an event, so too, do the organizers generally not spend the majority of their time worrying about the authenticity of the period being portrayed. The need for historical accuracy is understood by some Rendezvous members, but is not believed by others.
But recall, I didn't say me, I said WE must be the "somebodies" willing to initiate changes.
There must be a collective, concerted effort from both sides of re-enacting events. Re-enactors mistakenly often see themselves as mere guests at any given event. The organizers see re-enactors as the key to their festival. If we are seeing ourselves as polite "guests and hosts," then why is there such little communication between the two groups?
What we now have is an opportunity. The Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous organizers recently made a strong commitment toward improving authenticity. We, the re-enactors, must support the efforts to make the Rendezvous more historically accurate. You may help the cause by expressing your thoughts and opinions directly where it will count the most -- to the event organizers.
Editor's Note: Frank W. Doughman is the chief of interpretation for the George Rogers Clark National Historical Park (NHP) in Vincennes, IN. He also is a member of the NWTA and serves on the board of directors of the Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous Inc. An avid Revolutionary War re-enactor, Doughman attends numerous re-enacting events both as an individual and as a member of the Culpeper Minute Battalion. He currently is leading a campaign to make the Rendezvous more historically accurate. Ranger Doughman may be reached at the George Rogers Clark NHP, 401 South Second St., Vincennes, IN 47591. His work phone number is (812) 882-1776 and his home phone number is (812) 886-0228. Also feel free to e-mail him with your comments at Frank_Doughman@nps.gov, or email@example.com.
While you're at it, why not contact one of the host units listed in the meeting minutes (see the January/February Courier) and offer them your ideas, inspiration, or better perspiration. It's all up to us to make re-enacting in the Midwest more fun, interesting and educational.