Thursday, November 3, 2011

Questions reenactors often hear...

Events for the 2011 season are pretty much over now.  Until events start back up I thought I'd share a bit of the the events as a reenactor might experience them. For instance, there are certain questions we hear at almost every event.   I often wonder if it’s the questions that folks want answered or if its just an easy way for  them to start a conversation. I know if you’ve never seen an encampment, its often a little scary to walk up to someone you don’t know, whos dressed differently and just start up a converstion from nothing. So maybe the answers are less important than the conversation that follows.

“Is that a real fire?” … yes it is. Ask us often enough and we just might give you a silly answer though. What I often wonder is, is the person asking if this is the type of fire that the soldiers would have?  Well, the soldiers didn’t have a tripod or spit to cook on unless they were encamped for a while someplace, and they certainly didn’t haul cast iron every night from place to place. They had one tin pot for each tent (6 men, called a "mess") and shared it among themselves.  So you’re thinking ‘Why do you see the fire set-ups like that at encampments?’ Well, we’re not given rations, so we often have more to cook.

 In the eighteenth century, there were big fire pits dug and one man from every mess would cook using those big fire pits. Today, we are usually on historic grounds where digging is a no-no, and creating that type of fire pit is impractical for just two days  Sometimes we can’t recreate everything exactly the same. We do use equipment  & cooking methods that were used in the eighteenth century… but on the average they are more than the ones the average soldier would have had. The cooking we do is more the type of thing you would see in a long-term encampment, not on campaign.

“Are you going to eat that?” (while pointing to something over the fire) Yes, 99.9% of the time we are going to eat that. It takes a bit more effort to cook a hot meal between splitting a hauling wood, keeping the fire at a certain temperature, no running water, and no refrigeration besides a well hidden cooler. After all that effort, we certainly plan to enjoy the results… as long as it doesn’t end up burnt beyond belief. We do occasionally eat those meals too. For example at the Salmon Hole Massacre a few years back, we unintentionally burned black four loaves of a new batter bread recipe. It was all we had, so we scalped the black off, pulled it into little balls of dough, and served them with the stew. Folks said they were damn fine dumplings, too. They would have done the same in the 18th century, no wasting what little they had.

“Are you hot in that?”  Well, if its summer and you’re hot, chances are I am too. I know the clothes are intimidating and there seems to be many more clothes than we wear in modern life. However the clothes are natural fabrics.. wool, linen, cotton and silk. The advantage of natural fabrics is they breathe… so I might be covered head to toe in linen. But the breeze goes through it and each time it is washed it gets thinner and lighter. If its wet, it dries fairly quickly because of the air circulation. If its layered, its warmer. The regimental uniforms are wool, often lined with wool. Sounds horrible mid-August, but remember in the 18th century, your uniform usually was given to you in the fall (as long as the supply ships arrived on time) and you wore it morning noon and night, so by the following August, it wasn’t the heavy pretty wool regimental you see on a re-enactor… it’s a worn, patched, thinning garment that would be no where near as warm as ours are.

Got a question? Think its dumb so you’re not going to ask?. Go ahead, ask. We’ve probably heard it before, but asking is the only way you’ll know the answer. Besides, if you keep asking you might just learn something. And if one reenactor doesn’t know, there are plenty more to choose from. We all know different things, just ask us.