Developing a Realistic Impression.

By David A. Schmid

There is an interesting activity growing in other re-enactment societies that is helping to develop a higher understanding for the average re-enactor into his persona. Some call it historical trekking, others have labeled it primitives. Basically, it is getting serious about whom you are portraying and attempting to duplicate that role to the best of your abilities. There are several ways to do this. Intense research of primary documentation is the first step. Another is putting on your uniform, equipment, shouldering that musket and going on a march or a scout in the deep woods. This will help you dramatically in your understanding of what your uniform and equipment is really like. This will also give you and great education and a greater insight to what a common soldier might have gone through in the Revolution.

The best way to explain all of this to you is to tell you a tale of one trek that I went on some years back that helped me understand my persona. A group of re-enactors from all walks of life and historical interest gathered one Saturday morning in the woods of central Indiana. The scenario was that of 1763. These men were traders, land speculators, hunters and adventurers living around the Wabash River. The local tribes seemed to be in a high state of anger toward the white men and specially the British Government. Broken trade agreements and encroachment on tribal lands had basically gone too far, and the Indians were ticked off. So, we as white men, living in the area were warned to get back to a safe refuge, otherwise get the heck out of town. So, there you have it. We were running for our lives.

The rules of the trek were to assume the role of a hunter, etc., and stay in a first person role for the 24 hours that we were active on the trail. What a challenge! I was game for it and had packed my kit days before in great anticipation. With shoe packs on my feet, breeches, leggings, woolen leggings, a coarse linen shirt and linen jacket and a linen work cap on my head I was ready. My persona was that of a clerk of a fur trade post. I carried my Jäger Rifle, leather shot pouch & horn, a leather belt with a trade knife and ax stuck into it. A linen haversack that I had bee's waxed, a leather covered glass bottle as a canteen and my bed roll completed my kit.

The bed roll consisted of a painted canvas cloth, a heavy trade blanket, and an Indian Match coat. A Match coat is a piece of stroud wool, in this case red in color, decorated with silk ribbons. The wool is thick and repels rain very well. This was my coat and rain cape. It fastens about the neck with silk ties and when you wrap it about your body it keeps you very warm yet gives good freedom of movement. The bed roll was carried with a leather tumpline that could be worn across the shoulders, or across the forehead. In this case I wore it across one shoulder because of the difficult trail that we were going to take. The shoulder method was a great way to secure it tightly to my back.

John Curry was our leader and was very familiar with the trails and woods we were to travel. If any of you has the great opportunity to attend one of his little adventures, I recommend it highly. He is very good at what he does. Someone you can depend on. The one thing about John that I soon discovered, he does not like walking the normal trails that one finds in the forests of this great country. He cuts his own. Boy, does he cut his own!

The rules were simple, no modern talk, keep authenticity at a very high standard and get into what we were doing. Get into the role and have fun.

I knew only one other person in this party of 11, so no resting on any past achievements for me! I had to prove my worth. "What a challenge", I thought as we entered the forest and into the brush. I could almost feel the 20th century leave me, I was going for that dream that I have always had -- to step back in time.

My haversack had three days worth of food; jerky, nuts, dried fruit, maple sugar, chocolate, dried veggies like barley, corn, parched wild rice, and some dried cucumbers. The parching of wild rice helps speed up the cooking process -- instead of an hour or more to cook it, the rice now only takes 15 to 20 minutes. Try drying cucumber, that's good stuff! I had my fire starter kit, a sewing kit, fishing kit, medical kit, twine, leather thongs, a tin cup to cook in, a wooden spoon, spare stockings and shoe packs, a clasp knife, a comb and a small brick of lye soap. The strap of my pack is about two inches wide. The painted cloth weighs a bit, and my blanket is very heavy. It was feeling heavy only because I just was not used to the weight and the woods were hot and humid. The flooded areas were thick with no-see-em and other nasty critters. Our leader plowed right through without a care.

After a four-hour march we stopped on a ridge over looking a spring fed creek with an over head canopy of tall trees that cover the sky completely. This was to be our camp. Yes, I felt tired and worn through. The woods we had gone through was a roller coaster of steep hills, deep valleys and swamp. "Too much sitting on my duff back at the fur trade post", I thought to myself as my bed roll slid to the ground and I collapsed upon it. Hardly any conversation had transpired at this point. After a short rest, and a cold drink of water from my canteen, I was feeling pretty good. John, suggested that some of us go for a look around and see if there were any fresh trails or activities by our Indian friends. Feeling spunky, I went along. The intensity of my fellow adventurers was a sight to behold. I had the advantage of taking up the rear and at this point so I was able to observe the party. John was alive in the woods -- leaping across creeks, hurdling fallen trees. He was at home.

This trail was just as difficult, but minus my pack and bed roll, I felt at ease.

The heat had soared. I could only think back to a few short months before to my wintering at Fort Michilimackinac when the temperature hit -65-o wind chill factor. Sweating profusely, I removed my linen jacket, and strung it through my powder horn strap. The linen cap was off too. After about 3 miles, we hit a high ridge that surrounded a valley. At this point, John with a gleam in his eye stated "wait till you see this." Down he went and actually followed a trail for the first time that day. As we traveled down the path, in a short quarter mile, a vision opened up to us -- a hidden pond! It had high cliffs surrounding it, it was spring fed and the fish were jumping every couple of seconds. I felt as if we were the only ones to have every seen this. It was totally undisturbed.

True to form, John and another skirted around the pond to see if there had been any visitors, I on the other hand went right for it to cool off. I was spent and over heated.

We stayed there for about a half hour. At this point, feeling safe, we began to be able to have conversations. This was difficult, because in order to be in a first person mode, you have to think as they would have in this situation. I asked the others if they had heard who had stirred up the trouble with the tribes. One man had heard that an Ottawa chief had been sending the war belt about, someone named Pontiac. We all had never heard of him. There were a few speculations that it was so-in-so from the Ojibwa of the North and another was blaming the Shawnee. Either way we had to get clear of the region. Business had been good and now this trouble was disrupting trade. Most of us had already sent the pack trains down to the Ohio River or up to Fort Michilimackinac and were expecting new shipments of trade goods. My boss, Alexander Henry was supposed to be sending a ship to my post off the Great Lakes. I was looking forward to some mail and supplies. Now, all of this trouble. The more I thought of the loss of income, the madder I got. "Hey, I am getting to this", my 20th-century mind thought!

As we heading back to camp, the trail we had used coming down to the pond was now a straight shot up. The refreshing pond had done wonders, but I was feeling great fatigue. I was feeling extreme guilt for holding the party back. I was taking the hill slowly. I had to stop about three times to catch my breath in the extreme heat, but my companions stopped and waited for me. We were a team and no one is left behind. Good friends, these boys were. That was a great experience, one that is so few and far between in this modern world.

At this point, I was spent and washed up. All, I could think about was my bed roll, and a long nap. The three miles back to camp took forever, or so I thought. I began to whisper to myself, "you're almost there, you're almost there." Worried looks from the younger guys in the party forced a fake smile from me. The old man was out of it. FINALLY, there it lay before me -- my camp! Without a sound, I hit the blankets and sucked the last of my canteen down. As the world around me was reeling, all I could think about was Frederick the Great's command to his officers to walk the men around the parade ground after a long march to cool them down -- like horses.

Frederick was nuts!

As the sun sunk a fire was started. The area we were in was well hidden from the world around it, so a small fire was safe. We boiled up some water for tea or chocolate. I cooked up a stew made of rice, barley, corn with shredded jerky. It hit the spot. The chocolate and maple sugar gave me a quick energy charge and I was finally talking again.

This is were all the research paid off. I read journals! My personal library is full of them -- Hessian, Brunswicker, traders, townspeople, travelers, soldiers, loyalists, and any one else I can get a hold of. I have made a study of the mind set (from what I can interpret) and I think I understand the people of the 18th-century. There is so much more to know and learn.

One member of the party, started telling us his life story. Then another. It was as if we were just slipping naturally into the roles. This was great. When we talked research, instead of saying, "I read this one journal and it says....", we would say, "I was talking to..... and he told me that........"! I was able to share primary documentation and still be in first person!

Then, the politics of the times came up. One gentlemen from Scotland started spewing Jacobite rhetoric. Making comments about German Georgie and attacking the legalities of his Governing Powers over Scotland. It all sounded like sour grapes to me, and I dove right into it. We actually had an 18th-century political argument, all in first person. No one strayed off or used improper terms. The Scot did get his gander up, and I feel that the Royal Government of King George won out, but a smile on both of our faces showed the great fun that we had had.

The rest of the evening, was idle talk about what each had experienced this last season -- the deer hunted and the furs collected. A discussion was started about if we were to head to Detroit or Fort Pitt. I was all for Detroit, because of a certain maid that worked in a tavern there. She was very accommodating to weary travelers who had a few coins to share with her. The group liked the idea of meeting this maid, but our leader Mr. Curry would have none of it (I suspect he had a lass at Fort Pitt). A camp watch was established and we hit the blankets.

In the morning we bundled up our gear and did a bit of exploring and eventually found our start up point. At this, we stepped back, with much regret, into the 20th century. There were grins all through the group, we knew it had been a good adventure. I found out my adversary the Scot was a guy I had been wanting to meet and had heard much about. He had the same goal. We did not know each other by sight, only by name (we had each used our historical name while on the trail).

With the adventure over, I began to think about my clothing and equipment. I was happy with most of it. The belt knife was a pain and seemed to get in the way. I found I did not like a waistbelt either -- it felt too confining. I switched over to a long clasp knife and a shoulder carriage for my ax. My Haversack was OK, it seemed to slide forward when I bent down or crouched. I switched to a rucksack that is carried high on my shoulders. My bed roll is rolled in a horse shoe style and worn across my body.

I learned so much and progressed even further in my comfort and knowledge of the 18th-century common man. It was a great lesson. One, I hope that all of you reading this can experience.

I would like to see a Military March of NWTA units, wearing their field equipment and setting up a make shift camp. Night watches and stepping into a first person role. Walk as they did, try to experience what they did. Can you imagine what you would learn?

Whether Military or Civilian. You can do this! If any of you would like to experience this type of in-depth living history please look me up.