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Beginner's Corner
Section 2.....Keepin' Goin'

The Nice Man in the Red Sash

Missouri Iowa Nebraska Kansas

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

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The Nice Man in the Red Sash
Phil Jose

I imagine by now that you've at least started daytripping different events, with an eye towards that glorious day when you spend that first, full weekend. Perhaps that's already happened. Anyway, I hope you've gotten a little interested in the event itself. When you've attended enough doin's, you'll notice that some events start out small and just tend to stay that way, while others grow year after year. As a fledgling reenactor, you've come to wonder what it is about an event that makes folks want to come back year after year. You're going to find that it's more than just the fun and games and trade and what's going on in camp. A lot of it has to do with the services provided. That's what we're going to look at in this article.

Let's start with a couple of basics. It is your right and privilege, carved in granite and should be an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that you camp in a flat barren spot that is baked by the sun, has nothing to stop winter winds, and turns swampy when the rain pours ankle-deep though your tent. Likewise, it is also your right to park your vehicle in a low spot that was deemed not good enough to camp in. However, once these two essentials have been met, there are still many services that need to be provided.

For instance, most events try to insure a goodly amount of firewood. There should be enough for every participant to cook, keep warm, and sit by. (When you see in the flyer that "some" wood is provided, bring some along. You'll probably wind up needing it.) As a point of etiquette, I'd like to mention that when you're building your woodpile from provided wood, just take what you think you'll need. There's no point in your neighbor freezing while you have enough to build a cabin.

Another necessity that should be there in large quantities is fresh water. You may have to hunt it down, and it may be way over on the other side of camp, but any good event makes sure the water's there. What's even more alarming is that without enough fresh water, there's no first pot of morning coffee to reconvert us to human beings.

Let's remember that most necessary of necessities. Call them blue trees, hooters, tourist cabins, or port-a-pots, they should be there at your disposal. They should also be maintained on a daily basis. While those ugly plastic rectangles tend to put a dent in your photo opportunities, keep in mind that the alternative is a level of authenticity that even the most ardent reenactor doesn't mind cheating on.

One indispensable service that's provided by the larger events as well as the more organized smaller ones is first aid. This can vary from EMS onsite throughout the event, (and here you're talking about state-funded events) to a first aid tent manned by volunteers. Here's a thought: if you have a Red Cross card in either first aid or CPR, how about volunteering some time at the first aid tent? It's a great way to give a little something back to the event.

So much for a quick overview of the infrastructure of the temporary towns you intend to reside in. Let's look at a couple of annoying things that always follow: Rules and rule enforcement.

While there's not an event worthy of the title that doesn't allow an amazing amount of freedom, there are boundaries. That's no such a bad thing; remember that a good rendezvous is a family doin's, so folks should conduct themselves accordingly. (When you consider some of the rugged individualists and colorful characters you meet in camp, this can be quite a challenge.) I'm not going to cover each and every kind you might come across, but just a few you'll see with regularity:

Underage drinking. The first event you go to where a couple of seventeen-year-old boys throw a half bail of hay onto a fire and then slur, "Man, this is getting out of hand," (and this happened among four hundred canvas tents, so think about it,) you'll agree that only adults should be taking on an adult's bad habits. (By the grace of God there were responsible adults who got to the scene in time with water buckets, and no one was hurt or any property lost—that time.)

Noise curfew. Ask most participants for a list of their ten favorite things in camp, and hootin', hollerin', and bellerin' are in there someplace. How ever much your neighbors find it amusing at eight in the evening, they probably have a decidedly different opinion about it at three in the morning. That's why most events have some sort of "noise curfew." Basically all they're asking is that you keep it sorta quiet, usually from midnight or 1 AM 'til sunup.

Trade goods. Each event has a slightly different set of rules about what traders can sell out of their tents, or what you can sell off your blanket. Usually there's a time frame (As in "All trade goods must be period proper for 1750-1840,") and items specifically disallowed ("No cap and ball revolvers," "No cowboy clothing.") It's all in keeping with authenticity. Well-planned and well-enforced trade good rules are the difference between a living history event and a mountain man flea market.

And again, remember that there are all sorts of other rules for camp that will be unique to each event. The best advice I can give here is to check the flyer. Usually, the rules are spelled out somewhere on it. If you have any questions about them, call one of the contact people listed—that's why they volunteered to put their name and number there.

It's always a good idea to know what's expected of you in camp. Knowing the rules will keep you from being surprised now when you're asked to take that six-shooter off your blanket. It will also keep the hard feelings to a minimum later.

What do you do about the event that has rules you disagree with? Well, if you're not a member of the club, there's not much you can do. You can try putting a bug in an appropriate ear, but that'll only change future events. The first rule of thumb in this case is, don't plan to attend the event in the future. (Remember, you're the guest playing by the house rules.) If you're not prepared to adhere to the first rule of thumb, the remember that the second rule of thumb is "No whining allowed." (No one's forcing you to stay there.)

Another thing to bear in mind is that camp rules aren't enforced quite the same as those in your weekday world. Your attitude, experience or inexperience, and newness to the event can all be factors in how you're treated. For instance, say that you're trying to sell some gun cleaning equipment off your blanket, and they're in plastic bags. You're told that you're no allowed to have any plastic on your trade blanket. If it was an honest oversight or your first time at that particular event, you'll probably hear, " Sorry friend, but we don't allow plastic bags on your blanket," handled coolly and politely. However if you've already been told a couple of time you're going to hear something that starts with, "Didn't I tell you…" and ends a few embarrassing minutes later with, "…get 'em off there NOW."

I've given you an idea bout what kind of rules you can expect in camp. Now let me introduce you to the folks there who are responsible for their enforcement:

The booshway.
This splendiforous title assures its recipient of all the honors and accolades befitting a chief cook and bottlewasher. The booshway is the head coordinator for the event. It is his lookout to make sure that everything from the shoot to the trash collection comes off smoothly. His word about anything in camp is final. Treat him kindly, he's had a rough last couple of days.

At many large events, or at those where different groups (e.g., military, buckskinners, tipi camp, etc.) each have their assigned area within a camp, you're likely to find a system of governors. Each governor is responsible for a portion of the camp, to again insure that things run smoothly. Since governors have only achieved the status of semi-divinity, they are still answerable to the booshway.

Dog soldiers.
These folks are the ones you see walking through camp, usually wearing some kind of red sash. They're the troops on the line, directly responsible for rules enforcement and order. Usually, a good event put on by an active club will have "Dogs" on patrol twenty four hours a day. Dog soldiers are answerable to a Head Dog Soldier, who in turns answers to the booshway.

It's late and you've turned in for the night. You're reasonably sure that you've banked your fire right; it'll burn through enough of the night so that there'll be hot coals to start a breakfast fire. But you wonder: is it safe to leave an unattended fire burn 'til dawn? Don't worry, your fire's not completely unattended. That's what the Mighty Insomniacs who volunteer for firewatch are doing. They're wondering through the night, making sure everyone's fire won't get out of hand.

Trade committee.
These are the folks with a rotten job. It's up to the members of the Trade Committee to judge whether the goods on the blankets or Trader's Row tents are within the parameters of the event, and to let offenders know to pull them out of stock. While the job is unenviable, it is also crucial, as it insures a quality doin's.

Range officers.
These are the squint-eyed, unarmed fellows you see at the shoot. They're there not only to score the shooters, but also to insure that everyone's handling their firearms safely. If you plan to shoot, treat 'em almost respectfully; their judgements on the range are final.

If I've done anything at all with this article, I hope that I've opened your eyes just a bit. In order to make an event run smoothly, you have to have a bunch of people willing to give a bunch of effort, and at times, take a bunch of abuse. Remember that no one's paying the guy who took the 2 to 4 AM firewatch to do it. As far as the lady on the Trade Committee goes, I don't think that you could pay her enough for the bellering she took when she told a trader that he couldn't sell his neon-dyed feathers.

Remember that the Golden Rule applies in you attitude towards the appointed officials. I can guarantee you that the further you get involved in this way of life, the sooner someone's gonna do unto you.

Copyright 1999, Phil Jose.


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