Summer, 1763: Pontiac’s siege of Fort Detroit began Saturday, May 7, 1763.
Mi-ki-naak’s hunting exploits commence in the fall of that year. For the most part, this new alter ego’s journal pages are blank, containing the scrawled details of only a handful of deer hunts and wild turkey chases. “Snapping Turtle’s” outward appearance is incomplete; his physical substance is a mere skeleton lacking the time-traveling flesh necessary to claim a viable 18th-century existence. Mi-ki-naak represents an empty living history vessel awaiting the addition of historical nuggets.
Some living history simulations “just happen,” while others require a tad bit of planning. For example, last June we ventured to Friendship, Indiana, and the home grounds of the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association. Unfortunately, a knee injury ended that visit before Mi-ki-naak had a chance to create a lasting frontier memory during the Fort Greenville Match.
The Max Vickery Primitive Range includes a two-story log blockhouse. On Tuesday evening of the National Spring Shoot in June and the National Championship Shoot in September, eager participants gather in the shadow of the blockhouse to compete in the Fort Greenville Match.
Back in the mid-1990s, a group of re-enactors sat around a flickering campfire jawing about this and that. Someone wondered out loud if it was possible to re-create the conditions of a backcountry fort under attack. The discussion ebbed, but resurfaced now and again. The first Fort Greenville Match was shot in June of 1999 and became an instant success. The event honors the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.
Flintlocks, rifles in June or smoothbores in September, are required. Begrudgingly, smoothbores are also allowed at the June match. I say that because more than once “Old Turkey Feathers” has drawn disparaging remarks. The last time, that Northwest gun rang the clangor four times at 85 paces; the objector’s rifle hit twice, which ended the discourse.
Participants must wear period-correct attire. The match is shot from the second floor gun ports that face the range. Three-person teams are chosen by lot using 18th-century playing cards. All NMLRA safety rules apply. An eerie silence usually shrouds the defenders as they ascend the wooden stairs. The first team is assigned to the right window and the second to the left. Firelocks are loaded only on the range officer’s command, and the muzzles must be kept pointed up. An arm can only be primed once the muzzle is through the log opening and pointed downrange, and to do so, one must kneel on the rough plank floor. The match carries a five minute time limit. Each team attempts as many shots as possible. The team with the most hits on a target placed 75 to 100 yards wins. Shoot offs are common.
As was the intent of those initial discussions, the Fort Greenville Match affords a tremendous opportunity to experience what it was really like to live and survive in the 18th century, if only for five minutes.
In June of 1795, Msko-waagosh entered the fort’s trading house, consistent with the journal entries of John Tanner. Tanner bartered skins for gunpowder and thirty round balls. That scenario became Msko-waagosh’s intent. Instead, he found himself embroiled in a frontier drama that elicited feelings and emotions mirroring those Tanner wrote about. The racing heartbeats, the thunder of smoothbores and the crack of rifles, the flashing pans, the pungent stench of burned gunpowder and the swoop of an anxious bat chased from the rafters all flavored that pristine moment for the Red Fox.
This past June was supposed to be Mi-ki-naak’s turn to experience defending a log fort. The fervent hope was that somehow a lasting pristine moment might develop in the midst of war whoops and hanging, sulfurous smoke, a precious few seconds offering a taste of the siege of Fort Detroit. From the outset, I had no idea how the evening would play out or how the match would work its way into this new character’s mindset. I just knew defending the fort would be a noteworthy happenstance. After all, that is the fun of living history. Neither I nor Snapping Turtle could wait, and then a bum knee dashed those hopes.
Tuesday morning we hooked up the trailer and headed out. As we turned east on US-12 and began the last hour’s drive home, Tami said, “They should be drawing cards about now.” My gut twisted. I felt a great sense of loss.
“There’s always September,” I responded in a quiet, disappointed tone.
As the summer played out, hopes of attending the NMLRA’s National Championship Shoot faded away, too. Over the last two years, multiple family health issues have wiped out a lot of well-laid plans. Life is filled with choices, and family comes first.
For the September shoot, the first weekend is always preempted with the Woods-N-Water News Outdoor Weekend, held in Imlay City, Michigan. In those rare moments when guests are not viewing the 1794 trader’s camp, looking through the traditional black powder hunting photos, or simply dropping by to say “Hi,” Tami and I sit and mark time in terms of our usual habits at Friendship. Comments like, “We should be picking up our shooter registrations about now,” “They should be starting the opening ceremony,” and “They should be gathering for the Gunmaker’s Match” are common, usually followed with a giggle or laugh. The whimsical “They should be…” suggestions have turned into a game of sorts for us.
As always, I had a great time at the Outdoor Weekend. The weather was cooler and the crowd a bit larger, I believe. The time flew by as I greeted each guest and answered their questions or listened to their thoughts on a wide variety of topics. On the drive home, I juggled all of the possible scenarios in my mind with regards to making a quick trip to Friendship for a day or two. In the end, there is still no way.
So now we continue with the “They should be…” game. Tuesday evening, about 4:50, Tami said, “They should be drawing cards, or maybe climbing the stairs.” “Wednesday’s Covey,” a special match that I like to shoot at Shaw’s Quail Walk, popped into our conversations yesterday, and this morning she said, “This afternoon is the Feather Duster, right?” Each day brings a sigh and a new “They should be…” That’s all part of grasping at a vicarious opportunity that isn’t meant to be.
Traditional black powder hunting is, after all, a pleasant and enjoyable pastime. The journey down this path is at one’s own pace, intermingled with life’s twists and turns. As a traditional woodsman, I venture back in time when I can and dream about it when I can’t.
It doesn’t seem possible that three weeks ago I sat in a surgical waiting room hand-stitching a sleeve seam for Mi-ki-naak’s linen shirt—he’s using a hand-me-down shirt for now. A half dozen times I had the opportunity to answer questions and profess the joys of living history. Ya gotta admit a guy hand-sewing a French-felled seam is an oddity—if you even know what linen is or that style of seam.
One lady in particular asked questions for over a half hour. She was fascinated. Will she ever chase whitetails with a muzzleloader, I doubt it. But I enjoyed our conversation and the chance to share this glorious hobby with someone who never knew it existed. When I returned to sewing I wondered what adventures Mi-ki-naak would have while he wore that shirt…
Well, about now they should be opening up the registration window at Shaw’s Quail Walk…
Give traditional black powder hunting a try, be safe and may God bless you.