The fur trappers and traders who gathered at Fort Nisqually in 1855 might have had as much fun as their modern-day re-enactors, but it’s doubtful.
This weekend, more than 100 history enthusiasts from around the Northwest are camped out at the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum in Point Defiance Park.
They’re recreating a “brigade encampment,” a time when the mountain men came in from the wild, turned in their pelts to the Hudson’s Bay Company and got down to some serious partying.
The re-enactors, in their homespun shirts, leather leggings and sweat-stained hats, are playing it to the hilt.
They’ve set up about 50 canvas tents just outside the fort walls and are living in 19th century style – squinting in campfire smoke, roasting meat on spits and demonstrating an array of nearly forgotten skills of the era: tanning skins, spinning wool, churning butter and working with hand tools.
“It’s a way of rediscovering your past in a real hands-on manner,” said Bill Rhind, the curator at Fort Nisqually. “It’s a time in Washington history that many people are unfamiliar with.”
The Brigade Encampment is an annual event sponsored by Metro Parks Tacoma. The public is welcome to come and enjoy the entertainment and displays, which range from a frontier-style obstacle course for kids to an elegant ladies’ tea.
Events began Saturday and will continue from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8.50 for adults and $5.50 for kids. (Seniors, students and military families get a dollar off.)
Jessica Repp, 14, of Gig Harbor, came to this year’s Encampment with her family, who she said caught the re-enactment bug after attending a previous gathering at the fort.
“First I thought it might be boring, but it was so much fun we decided to join,” Repp said.
Wearing an ankle-length dress and portraying an imaginary pioneer girl she named Justine, Repp turned in an excellent time in the Junior Trappers’ Race, an obstacle course that includes setting a trap, crawling under logs, chopping wood, throwing an ax, pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with barrels and using flint to start a fire.
Repp completed the course in 2 minutes and 19 seconds, which she said was a full minute better than her time last year.
The hardest part was starting the fire, Repp said.
“Part of the strategy is deciding what to use for tinder,” she said. “I chose the straw. I think I should have used the dry grass.”