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Civilian re-enactors outnumber troops

June 26, 1999|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

FORT LOUDON, Pa. - The half-dozen soldiers manning Fort Loudon on Saturday weren't expecting reinforcements.

While the wooden fort, reconstructed at the exact site of the French and Indian War-era fort, serves as its centerpiece, the annual Frontier Days event isn't focused on the military side of history.

The faux British Colonial soldiers were far outnumbered by dozens of civilian re-enactors, craftspeople and period and modern peddlers who had pitched cream-colored tents around the fort.

Spectators, most in modern-style clothes, strolled around the tents, stopping to watch the various demonstrations, question re-enactors or make a purchase.

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In its 25th year, Frontier Days actually started as a weeklong carnival to raise money for the Fort Loudon Historical Society to use to develop the fort site, said longtime group president Anna Rotz.

Because the carnival atmosphere "didn't quite blend" with the historic site, the event has evolved to include more and more things "of a historical nature," Rotz said.

The event, which now includes numerous presentations and demonstrations, was also pared to its current two days because of the large number of volunteers needed, she said.

There aren't nearly as many French and Indian War period events as there are events set in the Civil War era, said the re-enactors, many of whom dabble in other periods of history.

Sitting outside her wedge tent sewing a shirt, Suzanne Mathieu was portraying one of Shelby's Volunteers, a company of civilians contracted to keep the military provisioned during the French and Indian War.

When she's not doing French and Indian War-era events with the Frederick, Md.-based group, Mathieu, 48, plays a Union soldier in Civil War re-enactments with the 2nd Rhode Island, based in Centreville, Va.

"It's kind of nice to vary the two kinds of history," said the Charlottesville, Va., resident, who took up French and Indian War re-enacting about three years ago after about five years of Civil War re-enacting.

Luckily, a lot of the gear can be used for both periods, she said.

James Owens, 37, of Silver Spring, Md., said he started with Colonial re-enacting about 24 years ago, but has since branched out, doing Civil War and World War II as well.

"I'm interested in the American soldier in all periods," said Owens, who was portraying a Colonial militia man - donned in work clothes of the period - on Saturday.

Dressed in the style of 18th-century scouts and longhunters, Mercersburg, Pa., resident Doug Keefer explained how the American Indians and Europeans adopted aspects of each other's dress to come up with their unique style.

The Indians really liked Europeans' cloth shirts, which dried quickly, and Europeans found the Indians' hide leggings, clouts and moccasins more practical for the American terrain, Keefer said.

Keefer had a tent at the event for his seasonal business, with his son Travis selling leather work, Indian lore items and 18th-century products.

Frontier Days has generally drawn "a good crowd," Rotz said. But she didn't dare try to quantify it.

This year, for the first time, a count was being made to get a better crowd estimate, she said.

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