Sunday, August 7, 2016

Spirit of Vincennes

Originally posted: March 15, 2014

My vacation season of 2013 included a re-visit to America’s historic past by driving to Vincennes, Indiana for their 35th Annual Spirit of Vincennes – a traditional Rendezvous similar to that of the Mountain Men at Blennerhassett, I wrote about earlier.  As I was soon discover, this Rendezvous would be well attended, well-organized and full of interesting things. This event draws civilian re-enactors, craftsmen, entertainers, musicians, regiments of uniformed flintlock carrying armies from both British and American sides as well as civilian militia from many surrounding states. This was going to be a good experience as long as the weather held out. The weather forecast called for scattered thunder showers later in the day, but it was all sunshine and blue skies now.

Gateway to the campground. There is a playground before you get to camping area.
Since I was returning to my home state of Indiana, I thought it would be a nice idea to invite my daughter and her three girls, my granddaughters to camp-out with me. It was all arranged and I made reservations online for the weekend. It was every bit as easy as booking a hotel. I picked two sites from a map on a guess and by-golly chance that they would be decently flat and easy to locate. Since we were tent camping, I selected two congruent sites near the bathhouse, but not too near. We camped here: It is pronounced Wah-bash. I assumed the original spelling could have been native American, but that’s not true.

I checked in with the office and was directed to my site, unloaded my stuff and got busy. Tonight would be on my own, since the kids wouldn’t be coming in until tomorrow afternoon. I like to travel light. If it doesn’t fit in the trunk and in the back seat, I don’t need it. Camping isn’t camping if you take along air conditioning, stereo and color TV, or is it? I still had my cell phone and contact with the outside world, so I wasn’t in the land of the lost somewhere. This was still civilization, but on basic terms. I loved it.

My site the following morning. Simple is as simple does.
After set-up, I went to buy some local firewood. You know we have to always buy local firewood these days because – as everybody knows – tree borers and other harmful insects don’t have passports into other states, therefore “other” wood products and their inhabitants would be illegal immigrants.

Got a nice fire going, burned a couple of hot-dogs and boiled water for some dehydrated trail chili and got the crockery ready for a feast. One plastic spoon, one tin cup for coffee or tea and the water boiling pot and I was cooking on a hot flame. Following a fine meal, I made sure my flashlights all worked and my lantern was close at hand and everything in the tent was where it should be. The firewood was stacked neatly and conveniently near the fire ring.  I was all set, but it was too quiet.

I got on the cell phone to make some calls. I wanted to be sure the kids were still coming and sure they had their maps or GPS. I called some friends in Indy saying that my return route was taking me in their direction and could we meet on Sunday sometime. It was all arranged. Too soon, it seemed, my eyes were burning – a sure sign the wind had changed blowing smoke in my eyes, but it also meant that after an 8+ hour drive, camp set up and all, I was very tired. Time to hit the sleeping bag and the cot. I was out like the lights as the crickets sang me to sleep.

After a fulfilling breakfast the next morning, I showered up and dressed. I got my cameras and lenses together being sure that everything, even my cell phone, which had charged in the car overnight, was ready to go. I was ready to take my 21st Century digital self back in time to about 1776 and a Rendezvous with America’s Revolution. I drove into town, followed the traffic and was directed to the field where I was to park. Volunteers also directed me to the ticket booth where I purchased a pass for both days. Tomorrow, the kids would be with me for just that much more fun.

Mountain men and Indian friends or scouts were everywhere to be seen, photographed and even interviewed.
Mountain men and their Indian friends were in very much in attendance. White canvas tents aligned in a military manner filled the area leaving enough room for foot traffic and so they could peddle their wares. There were woodcrafts, silver smiths, jewelry makers, weavers and many other craftsmen making and hand-finishing their wares for sale in pioneer traditions.

I took so many pictures that I would truly bore you to tears should I post them all. I remember the days as a kid when we would go to a neighbor’s house to watch either their home movies or slide shows of their vacations. After a few minutes of seeing things that had no relevance to me, I wondered where the popcorn was? So for that reason, I’ll try to limit the entries in this post.

I walked through the increasing crowd of people, there was a man making free personalized bookmarks in calligraphy. Those who could write were called “clarks” or “clerks”. There were shop keepers who sold fabrics, colonial flags and ironwork, and lots of food. Every now and again, the Colonial Town Crier would happen by, ring his bell and announce the next big event.

There were several musical stages in the park, jugglers who juggled fruit and knives, fife and drum corps as well as various colonial and British contingents marching through the grounds in full uniform. It was a sight to see.

You’re free to wander through the village or cross the road into the actual encampment where the re-enactors, themselves were camped. While on these weekends, the live in 18th Century style. They walk the walk and they talk the talk. Everywhere there is evidence these folks have studied the historical period and enact it in true-to-form fashion. It was wonderful to see so much dedication for which no one was being paid – except the food vendors, of course. However, I later discovered that many of those were established solely for charity purposes. All their proceeds over expenses would go to charity, therefore everyone was there for charity. It does a heart good to know that.

Our Colonial Color Guard.
Soon, there would be a flintlock musket and rifle demonstration and I had hopes of getting that special shot – not only of the action, but the fire of the explosion of powder as it left the muzzle. It was a tricky shot and the timing had to be precise. The same would be true of the cannon firing demonstrations. Now you know why photographers take so many shots – just so they can get that one … the one they call, “the one” … that absolutely made their shooting day.

This group is a small rifle demonstration squad of a very large group that included drum and fife corps, cannoneers, uniformed infantry as well as un-uniformed armed militia. All of whom would participate later in the afternoon in a huge battle which would absolutely be worth the price of admission alone.

Ready, take aim, ... FIRE! Cool. See the fire? (Nice shot, Jim).
In this next shot, a native American actor works on his home craft.

Home crafts of the native Americans.
Of course, later in the course of the Revolution, the French actually came to assist the Americans in their struggle with the British. It seems the French and British didn’t get along very well, so helping the Americans was a no-brainer.

Our French allies parade into the encampment area.
Everywhere there were costumed volunteers eager to talk and tell tales of the Revolutionary War period. They were well prepared and really knew their stuff. You can ask any question you like, but correcting one of them privately would leave you very embarrassed.”You see, I thought ….”  See? There ya go.

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Along another row of heavy canvas tents, a colonial mother and her children busied themselves making a new patchwork quilt that would keep them warm through the following winter months.

Next winter, we'll be warmer under our newly made patchwork quilt.
Ben Franklin was represented there and the vendor almost looked like a hundred-dollar bill, but not quite. It was easy to distinguish him, however.

Ben Franklin - the man, himself and his lady friend.
A little farther down and to the right, there was a lady artisan who created silhouette portraits of people. It was a kind of early American pictograph which resembled a cameo – white against a black background and framed in gold. Her creations were very beautiful.

This lade made cameos and silhouette portraits.

This is the French version of a flintlock musket.  There was a fleur de lis design on the flashpan.
By this time, it was getting later in the day and time for the big daily finale where the British open fire on uniformed Colonial troops as well as Colonial Militia assembled for the battle. Nobody actually knew who fired the first shot on April 19, 1775 to begin this war, but by God of Thunder, the Americans were going to finish it.

It wouldn’t be finished this day, but the real frontier battle of Vincennes – the territorial capital of Indiana – which means, “Land of the Indians” – was an important battle and is so commemorated annually here. I was very lucky and had my Nikon D2x and the best lens in a photographers bag, the Nikkor AF 80~200 f/2.8 fixed onto it and ready for the action to begin. There were skirmishes behind the trees as the British lined up company front to face the militia hidden in the trees, while uniformed colonials faced their enemy in traditional fashion of the period. Casualties were taken on both sides. As the pioneer women ran to the aid of the fallen, militia men hurried to cover their comrades and those who assisted them.

It wasn’t long before the air was full of black powder smoke and the air hung heavy with the change in the weather which signaled rain was coming. Seeing the British forces outnumbered the colonials, there was but one thing to do. Call out the artillery.

This is my best-timed shot of the cannon firing demonstration. BOOM!
This is perhaps my favorite shot of the day and well worth the shooting of all the ones that didn’t work. See the sparks fly from the lighting hole as the powder charge is touched off right at the moment of explosion out of the mouth of the cannon. The cannoneers hold their ears as best they can.

The battle continued with neither side a clear winner until the out-numbered and out-gunned Colonial regulars and militia began to experience heavy casualties and therefore reduced firepower. Out of either powder or ball, the Colonials retreat with fixed bayonets as the British advance on their positions.

British troops advance on Colonials with fixed bayonets, giving no quarter, stepping over casualties.
Eventually, the Colonials resign the field and are taken captive by the British rather than be slain outright. Live to fight another day. Of course, at the end of the battle, the dead and wounded are resurrected and everyone laughs and enjoys the applause from the huge crowd in attendance. This is the highlight of the day and wherever there was a place to sit or room to stand, someone was there.

What followed was a grand parade of each and every unit which were individually identified as they marched – not necessarily in step – but together as a unit. It had been a grand exhibition and would be repeated tomorrow. At this point, I didn’t know what kind of shots I had captured. I just hoped I had something good.

The sky turned darker and it was very close to closing time. No electric lights in the 18th Century, you know and everybody was on Colonial Time. With aching feet, I strolled toward my car and exited the Rendezvous and headed back to camp. I hadn’t been there long when my daughter arrived and we put up her tent and decided to go into town for dinner. Tomorrow would be a good day – if the weather would hold out.

My daughter, Jennifer and her family along with Sarah's boyfriend, at the time.
It didn’t. It rained all through the night. We assembled through the raindrops and drove back into town – like everybody else, whose campfires wouldn’t start and those who stayed elsewhere for this weekend’s Spirit – and eventually found a place that could serve us breakfast. After breakfast, we packed up our wet tents, drying as best we could and checked the weather forecast with our cell phone apps. Looked like rain all day. I decided to head back to Indy to visit the friends I had made arrangements with the day before. The kids packed up their stuff and went out to the park to experience the Rendezvous on their own terms. Grandpa was pretty much a stick in the mud anyway. I’ll have to work on that.


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