For several years, my husband would don his frontier clothes, make his way to a rendezvous of several other re-enactors from the 1800s and give a historical lesson to school aged children about life on the prairie in that time period. He’s often said he’s actually an 1800s kind of a guy.
Way back in those days, there were no cameras. There was no way to physically document the beauty and vastness of the wide open spaces. Artists would often travel along with explorers like Lewis and Clark. They, like all plein air painters, had to deal with the elements, extreme temperatures, days of strenuous travel and much more. Their goal was to paint the wilderness the way it was – natural and wild. This would stir people back east to travel west and settle that part of the country. Paul would always try to involve his audience by having them imagine a world without smart phones, the internet or Instagram. Most of the time it was impossible for them to fathom a world like that.
The simplicity of living in those times. with men like John Muir, Seth Eastman, Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran would have suited my husband just fine. His survival skills would allow for it. His love of the outdoors would satisfy that passion. His desire for adventure would fill every day and he might even grow tired of it after a while. The hard work of setting up his tent and having to endure a full day of classes wore on him. He certainly would’ve survived the arrows of the natives or hunger better than the tiring work of keeping the attention of grade school children. He still talks about doing it again some day and probably will, but in a less strenuous venue.
Those times are being lost to history books, which will eventually will hold little interest to young minds. We have turned to simply looking to the future and forgetting the past, but there is so much we can learn from our forefathers. Some of the most imaginative, creative, intelligent minds flourished during those early years. The re-enactors are even going the way of the old history books and many are dying off. Who will continue to tell their stories? Guess well have to leave that to the authors.
“The future inhabitants of this region, wherever they may place their houses, may be sure that they have been anticipated. An afternoon sufficed to lay out the land into orchard, wood-lot, and pasture, and to decide what fine oak or pine should be left to stand before the door, and whence each blasted tree could be seen to the best advantage.”
Henry David Thoreau