Reenacting Season, 2012: Rebels and Redcoats, Silver Lake, WI; Laura Ingalls Wilder Days; and Pike River Rendezvous

I’ve been out of the reenacting scene for a couple of months now to focus on a new job (I was recently hired as an Academic Editor for the University of Wisconsin Colleges Online) and to hibernate for a while. It’s astonishing to me, but perhaps not so surprising, how exhausting living history interpretation takes out of a person. But regardless, I’m due for a summary of my last NWTA event from June and a weekend of interpretation at Old World Wisconsin and Pike River Rendezvous in Kenosha, WI.

In the between-time of my last Silver Lake event in June and the next event I’m attending in September, I’ve been busy. Like I mentioned above, I started a new job, and I’m loving it. Basically I’m doing a lot of editing of online classes, documents related to those classes, and ensuring compliance with the ADA, and other things besides. I genuinely like and appreciate the good humor of my coworkers because we’ve been running crazy over the last few weeks trying to get things ready. I feel I’ve acclimated to not only having a real job but to the world of online higher education. Working for the UWC has truly changed my opinion of online classes, but that is a story for another day…

Back to my main point: so, Rebels and Redcoats took place at Fox River County Park near Silver Lake, WI the third weekend in June. The site itself is located right along the Fox River (the park is aptly named!), and while there was a great deal of shade, there also exists a vast desert of tawny, scratchy, unbearable grass (which, I might add, hurts a smidge when wandering around barefoot). Both times I’ve attended Silver Lake (2011 and this year), the weather has been absolutely horrid…hot, humid, little wind. Typical summer reenacting weather, as seasoned professionals would tell you, I’m sure. There remain legends about the number of mosquitoes which bit through cloth, skin, and maybe even wool alike! I’m sure some of them were the size of hornets. Don’t believe me? I still have the scars to prove it!


I’ve found that both Silver Lake events have had a number of interesting scenarios. Last year, Silver Lake was my second event and my debut as a taverner’s indenture. Not only was my service sold from one owner to another (to a British officer no doubt), I was made to work. A woman work during the eighteenth century?! Unheard of! Seriously, however, having the identity of an indenture honestly made me feel part of the NWTA. It is a small and tight-knit organization, and I not only made a number of now close friends through the tavern, I began to identify myself as a historic interpreter. I tend to be a shy person by nature until comfortable with my surroundings. Being good-naturedly teased for being an indenture increased my confidence in myself as a reenactor as well as building my comfort level with my fellow reenactors.

Furthermore, last year I participated in my very first scenario. In an interpretation of the smashing of the British tea boxes in protestation over taxes, I played an innocent bystander who ran for aid from British soldiers. And, I guarantee you the British soldiers arrived right on time! Then, a miscreant received the wrong end of a cat o’nine tails in a flogging punishment (you can find the video on YouTube!). To top it all off was the tavern.

The Ox Bow tavern is THE place to be Saturday nights!

Okay, so the tavern really was not a scenario but more of a gathering. The thing is, the tavern became the central hub for Congressionals and Crown forces alike. The unifying agent of the Ox Bow really is astounding, and it was at this event that such an atmosphere was created. The amazing (and that is a severe understatement) Terry Sorchy and his wife Nancy have recreated to the best of their ability a colonial tavern. It’s not often that one doesn’t hear the cries for breakfast ringing out on a foggy morning or the smell of bacon being cooked on a cast iron skillet over a campfire-though I contend that it is better being cooked in day-old bacon grease. It truly is a delicacy.

To muse in the present for a paragraph, the Ox Bow has become something of a home for me. Women during the eighteenth century typically would not be found near a military camp unless they were a) a soldier or officer’s wife, b) a woman of ill-repute, c) a woman in the employ of a few men who possessed domestic duties, or d) an indenture. The tavern not only gave me a reason to be in camp, but as I’ve hinted above, it has secured a close group of friends who consistently return to the Ox Bow event after event. To a point I’ve become a regular fixture, and it’s an extremely comforting thought. Of course, it has spawned some stories of hilarity as well.

For instance (to return to the Silver Lake of this year), in the infinite wisdom of soldiers, one decided to toast a bug over an open candle flame, and consume such bug. And much off-key singing, syllabub and rum punch-consuming, and all-around camaraderie reigned. But the whole point of the Ox Box is not to tip too much into the cups and become dozy; it’s to celebrate friendship, enjoy oneself with like-minded, intelligent individuals, and create, renew, strengthen, and maintain bonds…it’s the kind of atmosphere found little else in contemporary society.

Another view of the Ox Bow.

And there was a point of digression…as usual. Other scenarios occurred this year as well. We had a runaway (figuratively and literally!), a madman running through camp, and a reprise of the tea box-smashing of the year previous. Finally, there was a case of miscommunication when a group of British soldiers attempted to frog march away a deserter only to find out such deserter was misnamed. But no mosquitoes. For whatever reason, the mosquitoes decided to hide away and leave us poor reenactors alone. I can’t think of one person who missed them…certainly not me!

Overall, Silver Lake this year was a genuine continuance of last year’s event in terms of weather, turn out, nightly enjoyment, and other frivolous things. There is not much to speak in the way of public interaction for I had none (though a foreign couple remained intrigued by all aspects of the tavern, and from what I gleaned, their interest and questions were genuine…such public are indeed a rarity).

That was a breath-and-a-half to write! Now, on to my next event! The first weekend of August saw a heat wave-turned-bearable weather conditions as well as my first weekend of interpreting since Silver Lake. This time, I volunteered at a special event at Old World Wisconsin (herein referred to as OWW), a living history museum located in Eagle, WI. Established in the 1970s, OWW brought together relocated regional historic farms from around Wisconsin and settled them in one place. Period objects, occasionally belonging to the families of those whose houses/buildings were moved, fill these homes. The site is split up into various regions, a crossroads village, a German area, a Norwegian area, etc. All of the sites are easily accessible, but the distances between them can be long. Therefore, a tram system is in place to ensure easier mobility.

OWW, owned and managed by the Wisconsin Historical Society, sponsored an event based on the Little House on the Prairie Books called “Laura Ingalls Wilder Days”. A close friend of mine works at OWW and asked me to volunteer. We were assigned to jump in hay, help young ones jump in hay, and pitch that same hay. Easy, right? It was, up until I got stung. A wasp decided to make its way up my skirts and get me right in the stomach. I have a decent pain tolerance, and so I made a rather noncommittal remark to my friend Michele about my condition. Some of the other workers were concerned, and it was a nice feeling of inclusion, seeing as I was a volunteer at my second event.

The entire day was warm but ended in thunderstorms. In the meantime, Michele and I ushered young children, some little more than toddlers, onto a large bale of hay (which by the end of the day resembled a mushroom hat). One, two, three, and BAM! We landed in hay. I enjoy the company of small children every once in a while, and I made a few friends, especially a blonde-haired young ‘un who insisted I jumped with her every time. Needless to say by the end of the day, I was exhausted. A lovely day, nonetheless.

And an added bonus? I made page 12A of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that following Monday!

I’m famous! Photo courtesy of Rick Wood.

Ah, Pike River Rendezvous on Simmons Island in Kenosha, WI. One could argue its status as a timeline event, some might say it’s Piratefest. I just say the event is a good deal of fun. Pike River Rendezvous is an event put on by the city the first weekend of August every year. Set right along Lake Michigan, the island is a welcome change from other sites, maybe because one actually has a way of cooling down if they so choose…just go jump in the lake!

I originally intended on going in civilian clothing to Pike River. In layman’s terms, I wore street clothes and not my reenacting gear. Apparently I have a knack for making friends with complete strangers…or old men, I haven’t figured out which yet, but almost as soon as I stepped out of my car, I met two reenactors, a buckskinner man and a woman. I started chatting with them and soon found myself coming in the reenactors’ entrance instead of the main gate and in the kitchen of one of the canvas restaurants listening to stories about “reenactors gone wild”. Hold it, I’m not talking about any spring break action here! I’m referring to tales about what happens when reenactors decide to invade Playboy mansions-turned-luxury resorts. I doubled up in laughter, simply put.

Little did I know (though I should have figured) that most of my unit made an appearance. And, as authentic reenactors do, they had spare clothing. So, donning not only makeup and painted toenails but also a bathrobe, a petticoat, and an apron, I ended up in kit anyways. Not that I was difficult to persuade! It was nice to reconnect with people who I hadn’t seen for a while.

But, I’ve learned to not put too much stock into historic “authenticity” at events like Pike River, however. Not that they don’t give extreme enjoyment, but I think they are more apt to capture the spirit and emotion of a period rather than actual historic fact (much like Renaissance faires). It’s not often where French soldiers and Congressional civilians intermingle with Native Americans, pirates, and buckskinners. I mostly people watched and learned to throw a tomahawk…admittedly I did pretty damn well for never having attempted it before. Lesson to be learned? Never mess with a lass who carries a tomahawk if she knows how to use it!

So overall, my summer of historic interpretation has extended beyond traditional NWTA reenacting. In addition to OWW and Pike River Rendezvous, I’ve helped out at the local museum numbering objects, cataloguing, my usual mischief making. Oh, and blogging. I can’t forget about that now, can I?

Up next…well, I haven’t made it that far, but rest assured it will be something amusing. I always attempt to be readable…or laughable…or both!

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