Is there a bit of ‘pioneer’ still trapped within us all?
It’s a question that was prompted in my mind by the sight of what I suppose would be called ‘western re-enacters’, camping out as frontiersmen and women as crowds passed by and stared in.
Initially I couldn’t quite work out what would motivate someone to set up a pioneer encampment and live the cowboy (or indian) way, depending on your particular preference, for a weekend. I looked up ‘Western re-enactment’ and found that the Shootists website defines Western re-enactment as being: “…all about reliving the “Old West”, not content with just reading western books or watching westerns on tv, we’ve taken things to their next logical phase. Re-enactment groups are nothing new, people have been staging shows for more than 100 years. Even Buffalo Bill’s travelling shows that featured staged “Indian” attacks on settlers were a form of re-enactment, and the growth and enjoyment of the hobby is steady.
Western re-enactors cover time periods spanning decades, from Native Americans through to gunfighters, lawmen, ranchers and civillians. The re-enactors pride themselves on authentic attire, replica firearms, and many put in countless hours of historical research into their characters surroundings and cultures. Many of these groups are more than willing to accept new members and they’re a great bunch of people.”
Whilst Open Range has a mission: To promote respect, credibility and awareness of and for Old West re-enactment and Living History in the UK, by advocating and encouraging authenticity and historical accuracy.
All well and good, if you’re into that kind of thing. But perhaps behind the explicit references to the Wild West there’s also something a little more universal going on here, something hinted at by the gorgeous ephemera that’s so proudly displayed in every encampment.
Here are people seeking to create imaginative closed worlds; worlds that hark back to a time unmediated by virtual reality and squarely set in a more direct and harsher physical reality. Here are people creating a palimpsest of something long gone, yet it’s something that increasing numbers of people strive for, namely a simpler life more closely connected to the natural world.
To be honest I wasn’t so much struck by the teepees and the cabins, the buckskin and the stetsons (authentic and cherished though they obviously were) but by the gorgeous equipment-of-camp, all of which would be familiar kit to anyone passionate about the great outdoors, whether that be fishermen, campers, walkers, ‘glampers’, shed-workers or boaters like me.
Yep, it was the campfires, smokey hurricane lamps and homemade stoves; and the sooty tinware, kettles and kitchenalia that really seduced me, alongside the fact it was so obviously well used by committed re-enacters living their dream.
I thought back to my happy experiences around the boat’s campfire earlier this Summer, and found myself longing to build a campfire again.