Unschooling Articles from Live Free Learn Free

Living History
by Heather Woodward

Our family recently had the pleasure of attending the Eastern Primitive Rendezvous along with our local homeschool group. Having never been to a re-enactment of this scale, I was amazed by the amount of historical detail that went into this encampment. This particular event was held at Muddy Run State Park in Holtwood, PA and focused on the “mountain men” or original trappers and fur traders who lived in the region as well as along the Appalachian Mountains.

It was apparent that those taking part in the rendezvous were serious about their love of this historical period. They also were so enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with our kids. From the very beginning, this trip grabbed the attention of the boys, particularly my son Chase, who gravitated right to the men with the guns and knives. The men were only too happy to show them how they worked and how they were cleaned. We had several guides, one a boy about twelve years old, who took us around the encampment.

What impressed me was the authenticity of the encampments. I know when I am camping it is certainly easier to bring along my paper plates and plastic forks, but there was none of this here! You could tell from the wooden dish drains that they ate with primitive-looking wooden bowls or tin plates. They carried water back and forth to their sites using a yoke with two wooden buckets attached. One woman washed her clothes using an old washboard and bucket. Another man was making maple sugar out of sap he gleaned from the nearby trees. He had some that the kids could taste and was selling or trading his excess. Some people placed blankets at the front of their encampment site with items they wanted to sell or trade, many of which were useful to other trappers and traders, such as knives, iron tent posts ( there were no plastic ones!) and extra firewood. There were some items that were made specifically to sell, such as beadwork, furs, pottery, and wooden bowls.

Perhaps our favorite re-enactor was a woman making apple butter. She had a very large wrought iron pot that she was stirring over her campfire with a long wooden spatula–like utensil. She explained that she would stir the mixture non-stop for five or six hours that day until it was done. She let all the kids in our group take turns stirring it for her, and they loved it!

There were people who had various furs around their campsites, and they explained the fur trade to the kids. There were also encampments of Indians who played drumming songs for the children. The “Chief” taught them how to say “Good Morning” using Indian hand signs.

On this particular day there were many re-enactors who dressed as Scottish Highlanders and played “Highland Games.” These were interesting to watch. Along with the games, there were bagpipers and drummers, and among all this, I began to feel a little strange in my jeans, like I had somehow been transported back in time. The singing and gaiety that took place was counterpart to the struggle and hard work that was everyday life.

Overall, what struck us all was how much work everything took, and yet how satisfying it must have felt to be self-sufficient, to live off the land and provide for one’s family. I can’t imagine stirring apple butter for five or six hours a day or having to hand wash all my family’s clothes, but there is something really intriguing about doing for oneself and sharing your talents through trade. Society was much different. There were real dangers of getting eaten by bears or of dying of starvation if you didn’t hunt enough or preserve your food. There were also, of course, the dangers of illness. However, people seemed to depend more on themselves and their own ingenuity and banded together to help one another. People’s work had real meaning, and their relationships were genuine.

I would say that this type of learning is definitely “Living History.” This experience was better then any museum (although I love museums). The quality of re-enactment comes from a true love of a particular period in history. What better way to learn history than to be a re-enactor or attend an event? This was truly an experience I would highly recommend.

For more information on the National Rendezvous and Living History Foundation, http://www.nrlhf.org provides details about the organization and up-coming re-enactments. If you are interested in becoming a re-enactor, http://www.reenactor.net has lots of information.

Heather Woodward celebrates learning along with her three children, Brianna, Chase and Alexa, who have never been to school. She lives in York, PA.


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