As a child growing up in rural Nevada, it was hard to ignore the impact the “wild west” has had on the patchwork of American culture. Surrounded by ghost towns and silver mines, I was constantly bombarded by visual images of “Cowboys and Indians”. More often than not, the “Indians” were depicted poorly or worse yet, in that sad stereotypical way born of Disney and Warner brother’s cartoons. For the sake of irony, I wish I could say that as a boy, when we played “Cowboys and Indians” that I wanted to be the cowboy but that is simply not the case. I was always the “Indian” in that game, and in my eyes we were always the victors. Despite the popular misconceptions about the history of Native people, I considered my very existence a victory. As an adult, I find myself twenty years in the field of public history, focusing on the Native American colonial experience and challenging popular misconceptions of the past every single day.
|Guy Johnson and David Hill by Benjamin West|
My first encounter with modern Native American reenacting took place at Johnson Hall, the home of the famous 18th c British Indian Agent, Sir William Johnson. I attended as a spectator with my daughter who at the time was 9 years old, and we walked around their spring “Market Fair”, soaking up the ambience of the g Sir William Johnson. I attended as a spectator with my daughter who at the time was 9 years old, and we walked around their spring “Market Fair”, soaking up the ambience of the grounds. There were lots of people dressed in a wide array of “old timey” clothing. It all looked so real to my untrained eye and I easily became swept up in the spirit of the event. At one point, we spied two men, nearly naked wearing only loincloths and painting each other in red and black with their bare hands. My daughters’ eyes grew into saucers and I hurried her along the path until we were well removed from the intimate scene. I masked my own shock from her however and quickly explained to her that the men were preparing themselves for the reenactment. ‘It was history’ and ‘that’s how Indian people looked in the past’, I explained; she seemed unconvinced and still a little shaken afterwards and looking back, even my own words seemed weak and uncertain. My mind was spinning, but rather than reject the whole thing because it was so foreign I decided to find out more.