Eddie Little Bear's Journal - October 19th

Saturday morning dawned cold and clear - with emphasis on cold. A thick blanket of frost covered the valley floor, so thick it almost looked as if it had snowed. The air was so still and silent, not even the birds were stirring yet. And I watch in awe as the first golden rays of the sun peek over the Kames, glistening off the frost and making it sparkle like diamonds.

I hear a sound and look up to see a lone hawk circling the camp, searching for his breakfast. Now, in the distance I hear the soft lowing of the oxen, answered by the whinny of the horses. As I look around the camp, I see a motley collection of wall tents, Marquis, lean-to's and Tipis. Wisps of smoke curl from my Tipi flaps, and the crude chimneys on other tents as well, caused by the wood fires inside trying to provide warmth. The rattle of old tin pots tells me that others are beginning to stir. And I tell myself it is mornings like this that make it all worthwhile.

A weathered old Mountain Man happens by, clad in heavy furs. He nods a greeting to me as he approaches. "Morning" I reply. He stops to show me what he is carrying. It is an empty, beat up plastic jug. "The #### water buffalo is froze up again. I hope you filled up your jugs last night. Oh and watch out when you go to the hooters, my ### just about froze to the seat."

Just then, we hear a sound like someone strangling a sack full of cats and we turn to see a Highland Piper warming up his bagpipes. The old Mountain Man reaches into his possibles bag and pulls out a battered old digital watch. "Humph, only 45 minutes until they start letting in the flatlanders and I ain't even got enough water for a cup of instant coffee." he mumbles as he heads for his own lodge. I turn to see the cannon crew on top of the Kames, preparing for the morning salute.

Another day of the hustle and bustle of "The Trail of History" is about to begin. But, at least for a few moments, it was real. I had traveled back in time.

Who and What are Living History Reenactors

There are many of us out there, reenacting almost every period of history. Every time period from King Arthur to General McArthur, and more. A few portray legendary figures, such as Lincoln or Washington. Some people portray one of their own ancestors, based on family history. But the majority of us portray everyday people. Hunters, soldiers, shopkeepers and such. No one special, no one mentioned by name in any history book.

Mainly they are fictional characters, created from our own imaginations, like the story of Eddie Little Bear. However, these fictional characters are based on historical accounts of the times. They are characters that could have existed, lived and worked in the manner that we portray them. And we are always trying to improve our characters. To allow them to grow and develop, just as if they were real people. This is called "First Person Interpreting".

When a group of us get together and invite the public to come out and meet us, we call it a Rendezvous. And on virtually every weekend of the year, somewhere in North America, there is a Rendezvous going on. We all pack up our period tents, our period clothes, our period pots and pans and our period characters and we head out to the Rendezvous. Sometimes setting up in the dark, late at night, just to be there for the crowd the next morning. And we live in those crude shelters the whole time we are there. Dealing with the flies, mosquitoes, bees, rain, snow, blistering heat and freezing cold, just to be part of the exhibition. Sometimes traveling hundreds of miles to a Rendezvous and not even making a profit. Usually, we are lucky enough if we just break even. Only to pack up again and move to the next one.

So, why do we do it? The answer is as complex as the characters we invent. Some people do it for the adventure and romance of reenacting. To relive a time of swordplay and gunfights that we only know from John Wayne and Errol Flynn movies. Some people do it for the attention, what a psychiatrist might call the "frustrated actor syndrome". Some do it to preserve primitive arts and crafts, centuries old methods that have been replaced by technology.

Many people do it for the love of history itself. Or to pass down their own heritage to future generations. And I think most of us believe in something Ben Franklin once said, "Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it." I've even met a few people who believe that society, as we know it, is on the verge of collapse. And that, when it does, only those people who still have the "pre-industrial" skills of our forefathers will survive.

For my wife, it's because she loves the simple life. She prefers cooking over an open fire and sleeping in a Tipi. And she does it quite well. She enjoys making things with her own hands, whether it's our Rendezvous clothing or our wooden camp "furniture". She says the way she feels (when we are at a Rendezvous) makes her want to believe in reincarnation, because it's like "coming home" each and every time we set up.

As for our kids, well the baby doesn't fully understand it yet. But she loves the fact that she can run around barefoot and eat with her hands and nobody yells at her. Our teenager, on the other hand, is a typical teenager. If her peers don't think it's cool, she hates it. Sometimes it's a struggle getting her out the door. But once we get there, she's happy enough. You see, deep down inside she really loves the costumes and pageantry of Rendezvous. She just won't admit it. She also loves the fact that, in the time period we portray, girls of her age were considered adults. And, in keeping with the spirit of reenacting, she is treated that way by all of the participants. Now, for the two in the middle it's an adventure. And the things they bring back for "Show and Tell" make them the hit of their school.

As for myself, I guess maybe it's a little of all of these things. But mostly it's the child in me. The one who always dreamed of being a great explorer, like Lewis and Clark. The one who always loved to play "Cowboys and Indians". The one who hates to see the imagination of today's children being drained by the one eyed babysitter (a.k.a. Television). The one who believes that Interacting is better than Interfacing. (Of course these Web pages show that I also believe in "If you can't beat 'em, Join 'em!")

Because of this, most weekends during the summer you'll find me out in a field somewhere, sitting in front of a Tipi, smoking a hand rolled cigar and watching as the eyes of the children (and many adults) who have gathered around me, slowly get wider and wider as I tell my tales. It gives me a good feeling to know that I have tossed a small spark of fantasy into their minds.

A spark that, in at least a few of them I hope, might grow into a roaring blaze of created by their own imagination. A blaze that may someday make one of them the next Shakespeare or Hemingway.

What is Living History? / Ed "Eddie Little Bear" Emerson / elb@elbtipi.com / updated 11/19/97