Okay, this is a little behind the times, but I shall endeavor to make it a worthwhile read as always. Anyways…
The first weekend of June saw my first NWTA-sponsored event of the year. For those new to the world of reenacting, my blog, or both, I am a member of the North West Territory Alliance, a volunteer organization dedicated to the education of various entities on the American Revolution. Furthermore, this is my second season as a reenactor, and my ever-evolving impression ranges from a “woman on the ration” to the niece of a tavernkeeper, depending on the event and the need. This event, known as the Klash on the Kankakee, located in Bourbonnais, IL, was overall a very successful one in my own humble opinion.
The location of the site was the Perry Farm, part of the Bourbonnais Township Park District. The land and the farm was built and owned by one of the pioneering families of the Bourbonnais/Kankakee area. Originally home to various Native American tribes including the Mascouten, the Illini, the Kickapoo, and the Pottawatomi, Thomas Durham staked his claim in the area around 1835. According to the BTPD’s website, Durham was the first American-born settler of the Bourbonnais Grove. In any case, his daughter Martha and her husband, the Vermont stonemason David Perry bought the property from Durham in 1866. The last Perry descendant Lomira Perry left the property in her will to the State of Illinois in 1961. Since then, the site has become used for the purposes of education and recreation.
The Perry Farm is beautiful. Even more so, it proved a wonderful site for the reenactment. After an eventful ride down with my friend Abby (my perennial reenacting buddy and carpooler) from the frigid climes of Waukesha, we arrived at a decent time Friday night. Most of that night was spent picking up another friend in nearby Kankakee and helping others set up camp. Saturday morning is often my favorite part of a reenactment because I appreciate the quiet time spent when the sun first rises. Call me a romantic, but it’s the truth, especially when there is a beautiful sunrise.
A good deal of my time was spent around the tavern, helping out as needed and mingling with fellow reenactors as well. It seems that we all enjoyed congregating around a particular tree…and of course, we were quite good at holding it up.
All joking aside, however, Klash on the Kankakee made me come to yet another realization about being a reenactor. As I went from camp to camp to visit and look for public interaction, I found myself in the most interesting situation of the entire weekend. It was Saturday afternoon, quite warm and sunny, and I was hailed by a family who pitched their own modern camp on an open sward of grass. The family included a father, mother, two girls, and a young boy. The father and the two girls, who I learned were aged 9 and 11, seemed fascinated by their surroundings. The first question they asked me was, “How do you keep cool in those clothes?” Now, for those who have never seen eighteenth-century clothing, women dressed in layers and layers, much like they did in the early modern and the Victorian eras with stays/corsets, petticoats, and shifts. I answered to the best of my ability in first person, but I quickly found that I could not maintain my impression as the family kept asking me questions.
Now, I’m usually used to interacting on a very basic level, answering one or two quick questions. But this experience was quite unusual for me. Their questions ranged from military-based to social and cultural mores. As an academically-trained historian, I was able to delve more into the historical context, but the practical knowledge of clothing, rations, gender roles, and so forth have all been gleaned from not only the aforementioned Galena event in April but also the entirety of my experiences from my first season of reenacting. This family struck me as the most interactive and genuinely interested family I had ever met because of the number and depth of the questions they asked. It wasn’t some “Hey, I’m doing this for a school project, what can you tell me?” type of deals. Instead it seemed to spring from an appreciation of this time period. Like Galena, I was interacting with the best possible audience.
My time spent with them on the field was not the last of it. I ventured with them to the artillery demonstration and continued to talk with the young girls as their father discussed military tactics and weapons with a soldier.
After the demonstration, I returned with the family to the tavern where they still actively engaged with the tavern owner, and I left them in his capable hands. By all accounts, they still maintained their interest which is honestly heartening to see in an age where history is underappreciated on so many levels. On the whole, that experience was the singular highlight of my weekend.
Upon further reflection, I realized that I had yet again changed from being a historic reenactor to a living history interpreter. That distinction is becoming much more apparent to me as I remain in the hobby longer. I am not merely becoming another person and attempting to live as that abstract person lived. No, as I’ve stated even last summer, I seek to educate, to inform others, to change perceptions of history in the best way I know how. It is one thing to learn history in a classroom; it is another to experience it firsthand in an interactive fashion from someone who genuinely loves the hobby and wants to share knowledge. And I will say one more time, that is why I reenact. It is not to wear the pretty clothes or camp out with friends for the weekend…it goes far, far beyond that.
Of course, I won’t lie, the battles are pretty damn cool!
And even the little ones were at play!