How many of you know what a historical re-enactor is? You may have seen them while touring an old mansion or fort. Historical re-enactors are people who bring history to life by creating a persona of sorts and acting out a time in history. Re-enactors are part historian, part tour guide, and part actor. They provide an unique way to educate the populace on their own history and to visually bring that history to life.
During my senior year of college, I took on an internship and worked as a tour guide for Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Park Service which is located in Lajunta, Colorado. Just to give you a little background, Bent’s Old Fort was a trading post during 1833 built by William Bent, his brother Charles Bent, and their business partner Ceran St. Vrain. The fort was an adobe fort used to trade goods with the Plains Indians and trappers, the only people living in the southeast part of Colorado at that time. The fort was abandoned in the late 1800’s and was reconstructed in 1976.
I began work at Bent’s Old Fort with the idea that I would simply tell people important dates and names. Little did I know that I was required to not only create a character but be that character during my working hours. Basically, I became an actor of sorts and make the tour educational as well as entertaining. Needless to say, I slept very little during the first weeks of training since public speaking is one of my greatest fears.
Luckily for me, I was surrounded by professional re-enactors who took me under their wing and helped me to develop my character, my tour, and provided me encouragement on speaking in front of people. Many of these professional re-enactors were retired school teachers, college professors, and park rangers who dedicated their free time to researching Colorado history and developing an amazingly complex character. Anytime I observed them on their tours I could see how much they loved history and how they loved teaching others. It inspired me to work hard in researching my character and to overcome my fear of speaking in public.
One event that really allows re-enactors to shine is the Bent’s Old Fort “Living History Encampment”. This event is open to the public but is used as a training tool for re-enactors to help them develop their acting skills and increase their knowledge. The encampment last for three days and all re-enactors are required to remain in character until the event is over. When I say we were required to “be in character,” I mean we had to place ourselves back in time and live like they did in the 1800’s. As part of the Living History Encampment, all re-enactors wear clothing that was made with materials used during the 1800’s, including underwear; ate food that would have been eaten, (I was a kitchen servant which meant I ate a lot of buffalo liver); drank out of tin cups; and are not allowed to mention anything to do with modern times. Many of the re-enactors were so in character that they either spoke the language of their chosen persona or they spoke according to their character’s status, just like they would have done back then.
We slept on buffalo hides, cooked all our meals over an open fire, and kept warmed by those same fires. We did all of this while remaining in character and demonstrating in front of curious tourists. Let me tell you it was the best time of my life, though I was a little tired of being stuck washing the dishes all the time (such is the life of a lowly kitchen maid). By the end of the event, we were an unshowered and tired group of people but we had been given the greatest opportunity of all time, to step back in time.
A re-enactor is certainty not as glamorous as a Hollywood movie star, but if you witness the amount of work it takes to become that historical character, you might begin to appreciate what they do. A re-enactor isn’t just some old fuddy-duddy. They are well-educated men and women who have dedicated their time to keep the past alive. Re-enacting brings history to life in an artistic and entertaining way, while educating people on their past. Being a re-enactor even for the short time I was one was the best time of my life. It was hard work but well worth the memories!
Written By: Kristy Trowbridge
©Kristy Trowbridge, 2013
Bent’s Old Fort NHS: http://www.nps.gov/beol/index.htm
Bent’s Old Fort Events: http://www.nps.gov/beol/planyourvisit/events.htm
La Junta, Colorado: http://www.ci.la-junta.co.us/
Sand Creek Massacre Site NHS (Also, near Bent’s Old Fort): http://www.nps.gov/sand/index.htm