Mid America Buckskinners Info Page

The Personna Series

Missouri Iowa Nebraska Kansas

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


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JP Table of Contents

Part 1; How it began

Part 2; Methods to develop a personna

Part 3; My personna

Part 4; Confessions of a Coureur du Bois, by Phil Jose

Part 5; Andre's Story; My First Rendezvous, by Andre Vasser

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How it all began

The Pilgrim that I mention here on occasion was ready to make the long step. He was ready to attend his first rendezvous. I dug around in my gear and located enough to outfit him for an overnight visit. Basically, that included clothes, eating stuff and a ground cloth. He was going to stay with me in my camp.
Starting with nothing, and without a background in the hobby, questions and indecision ran rampant. Preparation for the event became a reevaluation of my methods, habits and beliefs. There is nothing like questions to start the process.
As it turned out, it was a dry run. Work called for me, and he had to take care of a personal matter. Bummer!
The pilgrim, whom I have taken to calling "No Show", (for obvious reasons) started out just like most do.
I have noticed that when someone starts out, they immediately head for the far end of the scale. This is good. Then they run into the two roadblocks, usually by forgetting to look at the roadmap. The roadblocks; cost and documentation, the roadmap; your personna. The personna sets who you are and thereby what you have. Rogers Rangers didn't carry a Sharps and live in a teepee. Without an idea of who or what you are portraying, it gets real hard to look or act the part. The toys that we use costs. Some you have to buy, and that keeps most of us short enough on available extra cash that you make or trade for what you can. Documentation is the vehicle that lets you know what you need and exactly what it is. The idea is to kinda drift in limbo, get just enough to get by, until you figure out who or what you are to become.
No-Show hasn't a clue to a personna for him. This is expected, to me at least. For that very reason, I have been preaching the "just get by" school. This school of thought believes that a new person should just get enough to attend without feeling out of place. This method works for an easy introduction to the hobby.
I offered to outfit him after he looked in a catalog for the first time. He was the only one planning to attend, this time, but sooner or later the whole family will be going. He is married, with 2 kids. A mistake now will follow him for a while.
So, why do you need a personna? What is the point in it? Don't most people just "dress funny" and attend for the social aspects or the shooting?
Yes, that happens. And a good time is had by all. A personna is not required to attend and enjoy yourself. While you are wandering the camps, take notice of the ones that look like they have dropped out of a time warp. The ones that look like the real thing. Those are the ones that I am working towards. The attitude that is needed to develop that camp is what I am attempting to pass along.

Next time: Methods to develop a personna.

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Methods to develop a personna

On Personnas - Continued
Ok, perhaps personna means different things to different people. Perhaps the term "role" or "character" may fit also. The term, as I use it, includes your background or personal history, occupation, training and all the other things that that makes you who you are. There are detailed personas, and very sketchy ones. The amount of effort you may wish to put forth to develop your personna is up to you. Think of it as developing a new person from the ground up.

Developing a role/personna is a personal exercise. There are several methods. One that I like, having not heard of it anywhere else, I call the Class Method. To develop a personna using the Class Method, you begin on the bottom.
The early Fox Fire books document the people in the backwoods of Appalachia in the mid 1960s . There are examples of use of the ways, customs and methods of an age gone by.
It is commonly accepted that the lower in the social strata, the slower new ways become the norm. Clothing styles remained rather static from the mid 1600's through the late 1700's, for the lower class.. Home produced cloth and the inexpensive produced materials were the common mans lot. Silk, velvet and other imported fineries were only used for accents. The common sort could not easily afford luxuries.
By taking on the personna of a member of the lower class, or a role of a "mover", it is expected that you will have a limited supply of gear. Movers, the people relocating to the frontier, had only what they could transport. They brought the best quality that was available and affordable. These core items were to serve until replacements could be made or a trip back to civilization was planned.
After you have quality core gear, then the extras can be added. The homestead has been set and a crop made and sold. Luxuries and non-necessary items may be added. You have moved up to lower middle class. With research and a direction, you proceed to your station in life.
With a proper history, you could be a relocating farmer, a soldier that received a grant for service in the War, or a runaway apprentice. The only limit is your imagination and research.
Another method of developing a character is to research your roots. Pick a time or a person and emulate them. This is the method that I used.
The advantage of this method is that most of the major decisions have been made. Your ancestor had an occupation and a station in the social class. All that is required is to become that person, or an imaginary composite of the family at that time.
The most difficult method to direct the 'skinner in historical accuracy is the Hit and Miss Method. It is a very popular method, however.
Begin by copying whatever catches your eye. Mix and match as the whim touches you. It helps if you do not ask questions or do any research. Soon you will be in the ranks of the Rogers Rangers that shot a Sharps and lived in a teepee.

Coming soon: Examples of personas (or roles, or characters - whatever)

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My personna

This is the third installment on developing a personna. It all started when a friend decided to get into the reenacting game, but didn't know where to start. Having a personna helps to direct your purchases, goods used and even manner of dress and deportment.

This may get involved; complete histories (personna or real) usually do!

A bit of my (real) family history....it all ties together in the end.

1744: Grandfather (Matthew Finn), married, 3 sons, Irish fisherman, was pressed into British Navy.
1745: Matthew's left lower leg (at knee) amputated due to infected wound, mustered out of Navy. Returned home.
1749: Father (2d son, Sean Finn), Grandparents; both sides, 2 Uncles,....2d family (Mickie or McKee Clan - even spelled McKay on occasion) (68 people in all) chartered the good ship Adventurer and relocated to The New World. Settled in the Carolinas on a Land Grant for the Group.
So far this is true........except for the generation titles. Now for the tall tale:

1752: I am born, 4th of finally 5 sons of Sean Finn.
I grew up on a small Farm outside Columbia; tobacco, potash, timber and livestock.
As was common at he time - Oldest Son will inherit land, Youngest Son was favorite, I spent large amounts of time with Grandfather, learned knots and tales of the sea. Learned small amount of reading and writing, spent time with Cherokee local Tribe; learned hunting and trapping.
1769: Apprenticed to a Carpenter. Didn't much like the work, treatment or town (Charleston) after living on the Farm.
1770: Ran away; hopefully to sea, signed on a coastal freighter, found that stories are better than reality, jumped ship in Brunswick, Ga.
Gets vague here; no money, no history, no family, remained 1/2 step ahead of Authorities. This is actually historically correct. People were not mobile like they are today. Most people died within several miles of where they were born. An outsider without an excuse for being in the area was a rarity. If they could not produce a valid reason for being around, they must be up to no good.
Got into the Deer Hide trade (gathering, trading, curing) with the Lower Creeks on the Alabama/ Florida border, transporting hides to St Mary's for trade with the shippers to England and France.
(The Lower Creek influence on my personna is/was great. I reenacted this era in N. Florida / S. Georgia for several years, developed this history, etc. 1790's were when the Seminole Groups split from the Lower Creek Tribes and began as a separate identify)

1795: Deer hide trading coming to a close due to effective extinction. Suddenly, relatively speaking, deer hides went from a side benefit from food to a cash crop. Along with the availability of metal knives, pots and other items that could not be produced at home, a need for an easily procured trade item was needed. Deer hides fit the bill. The more trade stuff that was gathered, the more was needed. It was good for the deer hide traders, but hard on the deer.
The easy live was drawing to a close. Have had problems with the French to the west, Spanish to the south, Creek and Seminole beginning to bicker. The Seminole had been moving south into Florida.
1810: The Louisiana Purchase had been completed and the movement into the west was about to begin. Having heard of the sale from a French pack peddler out of New Orleans, decided to get a jump on the crowds. Moved up to the junction of the Kaw and Missouri Rivers where Fort Osage (trade fort) was to be built. Have plans to develop secondary trade in the Trading Post area (old French trading post on the Marais des Cygnes River near present day Pleasanton, Ks) with the locals and transporting it to Ft Osage to sell/trade.

Even I agree that is a little more history than is really needed to wear funny clothes and sit around a campfire. I have an excuse, though. As a first person reenactor, I get asked how I learned to tie fancy knots, make netting and other such questions. I needed a historically reasonable answer. Being familiar with my genealogy, the answer was easy. I slid into an ancestors family during the time period that I was interested in.
Another side benefit is the personna that I have taken fits my type. I like the minimalist approach to camping. As a ner-do-well, I would have less "stuff". The few fancy things I like were possibly relieved from the previous owner without permission, or received as a gift for a service performed. Perhaps this will give a little background. The finer details change to fit the story at the time, but the backbone stays the same.
Past Times 94
You never know when a history teacher or archeolegist may show up.
Need a genuine hand netted potato bag? It's a little thing I learned from my Grandpa when I was a child......
Potato Bag JP Finn

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"Confessions of a Coureur du Bois"
Phil Jose

It had been a good event. Besides the usual round of good times and good friends, there was an extra: as we strolled through Traders' Row, a man with a lot of fancy camera gear asked my wife and me to pose. After the pictures and some questions about the kind of people we portrayed, he identified himself as a reporter for a local newspaper. "Great," I thought, "this is our payoff for all the research I've been doing into our personae and costuming." The high point for this event came later when our picture was published.
I'm just glad he didn't follow us back to our camp

Had he, he would have seen us in a tent that was still 70 years in the future of our personae, complete with park-bench green chairs that I doubt would fit into any era. It's a little embarrassing, but until I can do some trading or cough up some cash, I'll learn to live with blushing.
I had made a mistake all too typical of folks first getting into this hobby: I'd looked around and decided that this was the life for me. The time to start was immediately. So I spent a lot of time and money mismatching a lot of equipment for my camp and clothes for us. I had become the essential generic "mountain man."
Then it happened. I realized that, first, I'd managed to fall madly in love with the French and Indian War era, and, second, just about everything I collected was wrong for that period. Basically, I'd have to start over.
This time, I decided not to take another headlong plunge. I did some reading to find out something about life in the mid-eighteenth century. What were the different classes of people? How would they live? What would they wear? After some research, I decided I wanted to represent a coureur du bois, a French fur trader/trapper.
In my reading, I learned that the coureurs would often assimilate the dress of the Indians with which they traded. That gave me my idea for my clothing. I decided on a region that my persona would be trading in, and did a little digging to see what the Indians of that area would have worn.
The results from this approach were obvious from the very beginning. After modifying some of my generic clothing, I actually started looking like a coureur du bois. Once I read some more about the French trappers of the era, I started collecting things for my camp, and learning the skills that would have been daily chores for my persona. Slowly but surely, I'm now making progress toward the level of authenticity that I want.
I've found the process to be circular. I began with a persona in mind, which led to research. The research helped me modify my persona and my camp. The more they're modified, the more enthusiastic I am about further research to lead to more modifications, which... well, you get the point.
While this method is slower than the scattergun approach I started with, it is far more rewarding. There comes a day when someone whose camp you've always admired for its painstaking authenticity will come up to you and say, "You know, you've come a long way." Suddenly, all that time spent reading and researching is a little less painless.
With a little patience, you can do it. You don't need much to start-- at the first event I dressed out to attend, I was in a period-proper shirt, jeans, and tennis shoes. It was a small start but a start nonetheless. If you don't have a buddy already in the hobby to stay the weekend with, don't spend a lot of money on a tent that may not be proper for your future character. It's no disgrace to just spend the day and go home when the tourists do. If you see someone dressed the way you'd like to, or you see a camp that catches your eye, stop and ask questions. Answering questions is part of why we're there.
Who knows? Maybe one day it'll be your turn to be photographed by the press-- and you'll be proud to lead him back to camp.

--Phil Jose.


To see Phil's Page, head over to: Les Coureurs du Bois de Fort de Chartres

Send Phil some fan mail. Phil Jose

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Just want to pass on a signal? Hey, jp!