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BLAST FROM THE PAST

THESE HISTORY BUFFS PLAYED AT RE-CREATING THE OLD WEST--BUT THIS GUNSHOT WAS ALL TOO REAL.ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST THEY WANTED TO RESURRECT THE PAST. INSTEAD, THEY GOT A THOROUGHLY MODERN LAWSUIT.

Others took a less watery route. "Now, I been interested in Indians ever since I was a kid," says Ivan Hanklo, an electrician from Guymon, Oklahoma, who lived at the Polk Springs Indian camp during the events of June 1993. "In the Boy Scouts, they fall back on Indian lore quite a bit, and since I'm part Cheyenne, I got into powwow dancing. And then I met a feller who was doing fur-trade-era re-enactments, mountain man stuff. I really liked the camping out, working on the gear, the historical atmosphere. There's a big difference between seeing something in a museum and building it yourself and taking it into camp and using it."

Like Hanklo, Pueblo's Sam Pisciotta became fascinated with the Plains Indians when he was a child. "Indian re-enactments are not always favorable and not always glamorous," he says, "but it's what I do. I also do mountain man and cowboy."

Although Pisciotta doesn't mind doing his historical impersonations in front of a paying crowd--including at Bent's Old Fort in southeastern Colorado--given the choice, he prefers to let the present day recede as much as possible. This, he says, is what first drew him to a Lakewood-based nonprofit corporation known as Vistas of Time. The organization impressed him with its commitment to "living history, to demonstrating what the lifestyles were like in the 1800s and sometimes even the 1900s," Pisciotta says. "I've seen them do things at El Pueblo Museum, Four Mile Historic Park--even a World War II thing up in Denver where they were portraying scrap dealers collecting aluminum."

It was Vistas of Time that organized the Polk Springs re-enactment of 1992 and planned to repeat that success in 1993. Located some twenty miles south of Las Animas on the sprawling and remote Anderson Ranch, the camp was designed to come as close as possible to the historic events of the post-Civil War years.

"There had been a Galvanized Yankee camp there," says Tom McPherson. "In other words, it was made up of Confederate prisoners of war who agreed to come out and help settle the West, provided they became Union soldiers. I had had some success with Indian-only re-enactments, and Vistas asked me to be a part of Polk Springs."

To reserve his place, McPherson sent in what he--and many others--remembers as between $15 and $25, an amount that was also supposed to cover liability insurance for the event. Not that the camp would be without risk: McPherson and everyone else who registered were told that the Galvanized Yankees would be taking their target practice with live ammunition.

This was unusual, and a considerable draw for black-powder enthusiasts. State historic sites specifically ban any kind of loaded weapons during re-enactments, and most participants have learned to rely heavily on Nerf weapons and guns loaded with blanks, if they're loaded at all. Beyond that, there's always been an unwritten law that re-enactments are decidedly unauthentic when it comes to violence: No one is supposed to point a weapon at anyone else, not even the smallest Nerf war club or a gun whose barrel is plugged with a red-painted dowel--as some historic sites specify.

But Polk Springs was remote enough that soldiers--and their guns--could be kept well separated from Indians and settlers, not to mention any voyeuristic members of the 1990s public.

The 1993 Polk Springs Galvanized Yankee camp re-enactment got off to a rousing start. While the soldiers patrolled and shot at targets, the settlers kept busy hacking out their meager existence. In the meantime, the Indians were enjoying a sort of rustic, Western vacation.

"Of course, we'd done all sorts of visiting among the lodges," Hanklo remembers, "and there were all sorts of Indian games of an evening. During the day my wife and I would ride off to look the country over. Sometimes we'd work on crafts. We tried to cook some fairly traditional meals--buffalo and any wild game anyone had shot through the season. Not to say we didn't have a big pot of--what's that stuff called?--fettuccine."

Although conversations and cuisine at the Indian camp roamed freely across the centuries, its residents were prepared to go deep into character as Indian warriors whenever appropriate. They'd done it once, in black wigs and leggings, on a successful, if brief, settler-hassling excursion. And on the afternoon of June 10 they decided to put on a repeat performance. All seven of the braves who set out for the settlers' cabin that afternoon had slipped seamlessly into their historically correct personae.

"I was myself, but myself as a Cheyenne more than a hundred years ago," Hanklo remembers. "We'd already done lots of ridin' and scoutin' around. Our plan this time was to go over to the settlers and do a sort of ride-by, shoot a few arrows at them, and that's what we did. They were firing blank rounds at us, and we were shooting our Nerf arrows and riding around in circles, hollerin' and showin' off."

In short, a good time was being had by all.
"It was obviously a raid and not just a little harassment," Wise remembers. "It appeared they were a lot more serious. They were wearing their war paint, and they really came flying down the canyon."

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