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Beginner's Corner


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No, it's not skinning bucks............ Developed and maintained by JP Finn

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by....Phil Jose

So! You've been to a rendezvous, you've looked around and there was something there-- perhaps the cut of the participants' clothes, the vista of all those white canvas tents, the smell of real woodsmoke, the obvious comraderie, or any one or combination of a thousand other things-- that made you not want to go home when the "flatlanders" (tourists) are supposed to. If it's Saturday, you can't wait to come back tomorrow. If it's Sunday, you regret seeing the tents come down. Yep, you think you'll give this thing a whirl. After all, there's nothing to it besides putting on old clothes, pitching a tent, and sitting around all day.

It seems we have some work ahead of us.

That's what the articles you'll see here are about. They're planned to help you get from the enthusiastic flatlander stage to the "pilgrim" (brand-new to the hobby) stage, including setting up your first camp. We'll cover things that are appearent-- clothing, black powder firearms, shelter, etc.-- and some things that might surprise you. Be forwarned that this is all going to be some very basic stuff. I'm writing under the assumption that you haven't a clue as to the subject covered.

How basic am I talking about? Here are a few standard warnings I've had to actually give some flatlanders:

-The fire is real, so it's hot. Please keep your small child back.
-The knife I just cut that roast in two with is sharp.
-That replica black powder gun will kill you just as dead as an M-16.

I'm proud to say that I figured all that out by myself, however there are people out there that needed to be told. Hence, the very basic approach, especially where safety is concerned. (A great deal of enjoying this hobby safely is common sense-- so be prepared to use it in massive quanities.)

That being said, let's start with the most basic of basics: What kind of events are there to participate in? Let's look at three types:

1. Rendezvous. This is the living history event that I'd bet got you interested enough to read this article. They're usually sponsored by a black powder gun club, and are put on annually on the same weekend each year (i.e., the third weekend in May, the first weekend in June, etc.)
There's a lot going on at rendezvous. There's camping, provided you are a participant with a "period proper" (authentic to a given historical era) tent. You'll see "traders" (merchants) on Traders' Row with lots of period proper goodies to tempt you into letting go of your 20th Century cash. Then there's the shoot-- black powder only, with all sorts of targets a flatlander wouldn't expect. For good measure, there's usually a "hawk" (tomahawk)- and knife-throw, as well as a firestarting contest (using a piece of flint and steel-- nothing so futuristic as a match allowed!).

Be aware that different rendezvous have different rules about authenticity, as well as authority to enforce them. These rules usually are based on the time period that camps are allowed to represent, varying from anywhere from 1720 to 1840. However, most rendezvous allow enough leeway so that pilgrims get the benefit of the doubt. After all, we all started the same way.

2. Reenactment. Reenactments are just that-- the reenacted interpretation of an historical event. It might be of Marquette and Jolliet meeting with the cheif of an Illini Indian village, the repulse of British Redcoats by the dauntless French Marines inside a fort, or river pirates making a surprise attack on unsuspecting trappers. They're fun to participate in, and the flatlanders love 'em. The folks participating in these are a little more seasoned and authentic than a pilgrim. Once you're authentic enough to camp at rendezvous, then you can start thinking about being authentic enough to do reenacting.

3. Juried events. This is at the apex of these three events. A juried event is for "hardcores" (living history enthusiasts who take authenticity to the extreme).For example, starting fires with matches and using modern coolers are allowed at rendezvous, but not at juried events. Setting up at one of these may require an invatation and filling out an application, complete with photographs of your camp, months in advance. These are passed onto a jury of the sponsoring group to see if you pass their standards.

Obviously, juried events are way out of your league for the foreseeable future. However, if you want to see camps that look like they fell through a time warp, walk through one.

By now you may be wondering "how long is this all going to take?" There's no pat answer for that. It depends on your level of enthusiasm, your willingness to work and learn, and, frankly, your pocketbook. Also, the more events you attend, the more ideas you'll get for "personna" (the type of person out of history you want to portray) and the more resources you'll see for sale. In four years, I've gone from flatlander to having a reasonably authentic personna.

Is this sounding like more work than you first imagined? I thought so. Will there be times when you find it frustrating and aggrevating? Yep. But there will come a time when after the flatlanders leave, as you're staring into your own real campfire listening to fiddle music waft through the evening and swapping improbable stories with your newfound friends, you'll know what we all do-- it's worth it.

Copyright 1999, Philip Jose.


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