Ken Purdy, of Montezuma, fires a flintlock rifle during a demonstration Friday at the 20th annual Frontier Days festival at Chehaw. The event continues Saturday and Sunday. (Jan. 11, 2013)
ALBANY, Ga. — If you take the time this weekend to wander through the Chehaw campground, you could feel that you had disappeared into an earlier time. You’ll see jerky strips drying over fire, smoke wafting past teepees and lean-to shelters. Suddenly there’s the crack of a flintlock musket and a tomahawk competition is starting up.
Chehaw’s 20th annual Frontier Festival pitched some tents Friday and will run full bore today and Sunday, said Ben Kirkland, resource manager at the park. According to Kirkland, most event participants can be identified either as “buckskinners,” who dress in buckskins or other period clothing and may demonstrate a trade or occupation, or “traders,” who offer goods for sale to the visiting public.
On Friday, Kirkland showed methods of creating “fire by friction,” using an authentic deer-rib bow and crafted wooden parts. A wealth of information on primitive life and Native American lore, it’s easy to believe that Kirkland might count his calendar every year, looking forward to the event.
“We all know each other here,” said Kirkland, “It’s like a big family reunion.”
The annual festival demonstrates to the public what life was like from the early 1700s through 1840, when beaver hats for men went out of fashion
“Although beaver felt had been the preferred material for those years, all of a sudden you weren’t anyone if you weren’t wearing silk,” Kirkland said.
According to Kirkland, simultaneous to the collapse of the beaver pelt market came a desire in the Eastern population to push westward. It was the now-unemployed trappers of the Northwest who led the wagon trains across the Rockies to new lands, changing the face of history.
When Helen Martin isn’t spinning thread, she’s educating curious visitors as to how it’s done. First, she demonstrates the “carding” of fibers in preparation of making thread, straightening and separating them for the wheel. She keeps a stock of cotton, and several types of wool for spinning. Onlookers are allowed to touch the soft, knitted or crocheted hats and other final products.
“I knew how to knit and crochet,” Martin said, “and I told myself, one day I’d learn to spin. When my sister in California started an alpaca ranch I knew I had to do it.”
Veronica Wiese, of Juniper, is a regular at the Frontier Festival and similar events, she said, and she’s passed the frontier bug to her husband and kids. She makes her own period clothes and surrounds herself with authentic reproductions of items such as lanterns, candle holders, coffee pots and other cookware.
“I try to picture the period as accurately as I can,” Wiese said. “The only things I really miss are hot showers and my medicines,”
Her greatest fascination with the period lies in old recipes and cooking methods, she said. In fact, she’s done extensive research on the topic and has written cook books for dishes popular in frontier days.
Generally, Wiese attends frontier events as her alter ego Karina Viseman, who is emigrating south to take advantage of the land lottery.
“I don’t know why we left Pennsylvania,” Wiese said in her fabricated German accent, “We had a good farm there. My husband, he just got the wanderlust.”
According to Kirkland, the pioneer skills to be demonstrated at the Frontier Festival include fire building, blacksmithing, candle making, flintlock rifle firing, tomahawk throwing and woodworking.
Chehaw is open for the event 9 a.m.-5 p.m today and Sunday. Regular park prices of $2 per adult and $1 per child ages 4-12 apply. Children under three years old are admitted free.