One of my best friends runs a hardware store and knows most everyone in our county, living and dead. He is not the cold, detached kind of historian many academics become. Rather, he lives the history of our region on a daily basis. He is so keen that he can look at a 19th Century portrait and identify the probable connection to modern area families. And he is very often spot on. So, it is not a surprise that he is involved in reenactments at Historic Washington State Park. One of the joys of living in this town is the opportunity to participate in historical dramas.
The hardware store historian and I became friends a decade ago through performing together in an outdoor drama called “Woods Walk.” Sponsored by the state park, this event takes place on the outskirts of Pioneer Cemetery and features an ill-fated tobacco-coffee exchange between Federal troops and Confederates. The audience is most often made up of school children who are bussed in to enjoy historic activities and stay at the bunks set up in the 1914 Schoolhouse.
My friend’s role in the play is that of Captain in the Confederacy. I portray a garrulous former Rebel sergeant, Danny Smith, now busted to private. In the drama, the captain is furious with me because I rode his mule over to Choctaw territory and they confiscated the animal. He threatens to dock my pay and I have all kinds of arguments as to why I am innocent of all wrongdoing. In other words, my friend plays straight man to my ridiculousness.
The captain does, however, have a chance to speak to the gathering about some authentic historical events and concerns centered at Washington. I always come away from the event thinking that the kids learn much more history that way than they would in a classroom. Perhaps actually being there in the midst of the action as it may have been 150 years ago nails down the reality and horror of war.
When the Yankees call out from the woods that they have tobacco and wish to exchange some for coffee, the captain orders me to take two or three of the students as bona fide so the Feds will not think we are trying to deceive them. The students are eager to be selected, but they, of course, become alarmed when shooting starts. Since dopey Danny Smith has endeared himself to the group, they are disappointed when he gets shot “in the kidney.” His last words are, “Tell Mamma I got the baccy.”
The battle continues as the group leader takes the students back towards the 1914 Schoolhouse, with the admonition, “Be careful and hold your lanterns up; there are open graves out here.” (Of course, there are not). Other events are on the schedule for the group, such as the 1844 murder trial in the 1836 courthouse on the Southwest Trail. The children seem to love their time in Washington, but no one has more fun than the captain and Danny Smith.