Mountain Men and Life in the Rocky

Subject Guide


Mountain West

Malachite’s Big Hole

Living History, Reenactments and Rondyvoo

Why do it and the philosophy, Your Persona, Your Clothing and Outfit, Guns, Hawks, Knives and Traps, Shelter, Skills and Plans, Sources

Why Living History and the Philosophy: 

Living History is recreating life and living for a time period and locale as closely as can be documented, but not tied to any specific event.  A reenactment can be the same as living history, but is more specific still in that a historical event is recreated.  Reenactments generally are held at or near the site of the original event.   Reenactors and living historians are a group of people with an interest (which can in time grow to be a fanatical obsession) in a particular historical event or period/place.  Unlike a historian, a reenactor or living historian, however, is not satisfied with merely the dry facts, dates and narratives available from history books, diaries and journals and the artifacts seen on display in museums.  The living historian wants to experience life as it was during the time of interest, from the smells of campfires and cooking foods in the evening, the feel of buckskin clothing against the skin, the satisfaction of a well thrown tomahawk or knife sticking in a target, to starting a campfire with flint and steel, or the shock from a muzzle-loading rifle being fired.  Living History is a celebration of our past and those qualities-independence, courage and self-reliance-that we admire in our ancestors.  Living history also provides the opportunity to share ones historical interests with other enthusiasts, as well as those skills and knowledge sets that go with it. A caution though, the past was not all glamour and our forebears were not all heroes.  They were, like us, human, and deeds of greatness are mingled with dark deeds, the ruthless slaughter of wildlife, and senseless atrocities against outsiders.  Also, our ancestors viewed living very differently than we do today.  Shear survival was often the goal, and there was no assurance of a long and healthy life.  Anything that could be done to assure survival was considered fair.    

If you are considering reenacting or living history, one of the best places to start is by looking around at the events which took place locally or in your region.  Reenactments and Living History events will most often reflect events or the history of that area.  It might not be possible to do French and Indian War re-enactments if you live in Colorado, unless you can budget for the travel expenses. However, in Colorado, the fur trade is very appropriate to the state’s history, and there are many so-called reenactments of “Rendezvous” held throughout the state (historically, there never was a rendezvous within Colorado).  Before you start gathering clothing and gear, attend a couple of living history events to see what its like. Some sites, like Bent’s Old Fort NHS offer an “Educator’s Encampment” annually to train interested persons about what is expected to participate in living history events at the site.  

To play in living history events, or reenactments can be difficult for the beginner because these often require a considerable investment of resources in clothing, equipment and background knowledge.  The “Rondyvoo” route may be a good way for a beginner to get started in living history provided he/she is careful, because these gatherings are generally quite accepting as long as it is apparent that the beginner is trying to fit in.  Rondyvoo events have general guidelines, which may be enforced to a greater or lesser extent, on what is expected to participate.  Depending on the event, you may see a mélange of time periods representing everything from French and Indian Wars up through the Civil War.  The danger for the beginner at a Rondyvoo event is that the beginner will spend considerable resources putting together a kit which spans centuries and geographic areas, and will be acceptable only at Rondyvoo events.  

However, individuals and specific camps within the Rondyvoo may be very accurate for the persona/period they are representing.  If the beginner can identify these individuals/camps they can learn a lot by observation, and by talking to the participants.  Some participants may seem like a cliquish lot, and to a certain extent they are.  They already know each other, and in some cases have friendships which may go back for decades.  However, ask questions!  Most of these people didn’t put hundreds of hours into research, sewing and construction of clothing and purchase or building of equipment and development of skills to keep it all to themselves.  They are proud of what they’ve done and the times they represent, and most are only too happy to share what they know with anyone who demonstrates an honest interest.   

Take a camera with you and take lots of pictures especially at events sponsored by the Park Service or historical sites.  Pictures can be an immense aid when you start putting your own outfit together.  

Although the living historian strives for as much historical accuracy as is possible, exceptions are made in some matters.  It is no longer possible to ride out and bring down a buffalo before dinner, and so the convenience of the modern cooler ( properly disguised, or hidden) is usually allowed. Other exceptions for sanitation, and for health and safety reasons, are also overlooked. Different rendezvous will have different rules regarding what is acceptable or not, and different ways of enforcing those rules.  Also, participation at the historically accurate events might be by invitation or pre-approval only.  It would behoove one to question the rendezvous booshway or event coordinator prior to attending a specific event about what the requirements are to participate. Also, be aware that many "Rondyvoo" can be better characterized as "theme camping" or “costume camping” rather than truly historically accurate events.

Finally, living history is a moving target.  Many things that were widely accepted in the 1970’s, are laughable today based on on-going historical research.  

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