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American Heritage Weekend

“We can, at any rate, avoid giving children cut-and-dried opinions upon the course of history while they are yet young. What they want is graphic details concerning events and persons upon which the imagination goes to work.” ~Charlotte Mason

My family and I attended the first annual American Heritage weekend on November 15 and 16, 2003. We were looking forward to an interactive, informative, historical experience. I am happy to report that the event surpassed all of our expectations.

The American Heritage Weekend was a grand scale educational presentation celebrating America’s history. The two-day event featured hundreds of experienced historical interpreters and re-enactors from Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, and other parts of the country. They represented a variety of characters from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Time periods ranged from the American Revolution and the founding of our country, to the Lewis and Clark expedition, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and on to the Spanish American War of 1898. Colonial and Victorian fashions and culture were well represented. This year they are planning to have World War exhibits, too, complete with period vehicles.

The American Heritage event was unlike any other reenactment I had been to before. We got to see battle reenactments, first-person portrayals of famous men and women, soldiers, colonists, townspeople, frontiersmen, pioneers, mountain men, Native Americans, preachers, craftsmen, musicians, and more.

Where else can you interact with living historians and re-enactors, both civilian and military, from multiple eras all in one place? It looked like the participants were enjoying it as well as the spectators. For example, standing alongside us as we watched a Revolutionary War re-enactment were Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee!

A Trip to the Past

The American Heritage Weekend was held on a grassy 40-acre tree-lined parcel of Schnepf Farms in Queen Creek, Arizona. We live about 70 miles in the opposite direction, in the desert foothills north of the Valley, so it took us about an hour and a half to get there.

The American Heritage Weekend was well worth the long drive. We went there on Saturday, and while unfortunately we missed the opening ceremony and re-enactors parade, we got there just in time to hear the thundering BOOM of cannons and see smoke drifting over the battlefield. This was the first Civil War reenactment of the day. There would be another one in the afternoon.

We had a chance to get up close to the cannons after the battle and see how they worked. These were real cannons, and although they were firing blanks for the show, the sound still made one’s heart pound. It must have been a frightening sight to see the barrel of one of those cannons aiming at you in a real battle!

At high noon there was an exciting reenactment of the American Revolution starring General George Washington. My kids had become Revolutionary War buffs after watching the educational “Liberty’s Kids” show on PBS, so they really enjoyed that. There was a small grandstand in the viewing area adjacent to the 22-acre battlefield, and plenty of room on each side to sit in the grass, stand, or set up lawn chairs.

In addition to the battles, another featured activity was a bicentennial portrayal of the Lewis & Clark Expedition, including Sacagawea and her husband. Later, we got to see the Arizona Rough Riders and their opponents from Imperial Spain. They treated us to an exciting recreation of a battle of the Spanish American War of 1898, complete with a gattling gun and other ordnance in their arsenal.

All of the re-enactors were extremely knowledgeable about the lives of their characters and well-versed in the historical events leading up to their part. After each battle, the actors mingled with the audience and answered questions, many from eager young children with a desire to learn more. The soldiers cordially invited the bystanders to visit their encampments afterwards as well.

Near the battlefield viewing area there was an information booth and a row of exhibitors along an old-fashioned dirt path. Across the way was The Commons, a nine-acre field where the Army Headquarters and period camps were set up.

Strolling “at large” throughout the area, were accompanying ladies and children from various eras representing diverse roles and social classes of historic American life. Additional participants included The Texas Camel Corps – including real live camels! – representing the unusual army unit that actually existed in the 1850s.

Among the vendors were several historical merchants offering reproductions of 18th and 19th century clothing and wares. Browsing through their wares was like going back in the past to a real old-time mercantile. Coon River Mercantile, one of the nation’s premier historic merchants for military reenactors of the Civil War and a longtime supporter of living history in Arizona, sold 19th century clothing and goods.

Parasols Plus of Carefree sold vintage parasols, lace, and ladies’ apparel from the 1850s to the 1930s. Timeless Stitches came down from the Pacific Northwest to sell their 19th century patterns and clothing for ladies, children, and gentlemen. Artec Designs of Mesa offered historically themed artwork. The Company Photographer from San Diego, CA was a specialist in 1850s-1870s style period photography.

The Pleasure Time Grill of Apache Junction kept busy serving grilled hamburgers, hot dogs, and bratwurst at lunch time. There were Colonial Era cooking demonstrations by the Red Lion Tavern of Shellsburg, Iowa, known throughout the Midwest for their homemade sarsaparilla.

I enjoyed hearing the enchanting melodies of Eachdraidh (“Eachdraidh” is Scots Gaelic for history) and the 18th century period sounds of Highland Pipes & Drums. While at first the Scottish emphasis would seem out of place at an American history event, it was during the 18th century that we experienced the largest migration of Scots to America.

Additional exhibitors included Spencer & Jackson’s Theatrical Troupe, a professional duo who recreate the musical and dramatic entertainments of the 1850s-1860s. They shared their stage with Master Thomas Flowers and his repertoire of Baroque pieces played on a reproduction 1742 harpsichord.

The American Heritage weekend was truly a unique historical experience. This is definitely an event the whole family can enjoy. It contains something of interest to everyone, from period fashion and fabrics, to authentic weaponry and exciting battles, from vintage cookery to toy guns and swords for the kids.

Back to the Future

If you missed the American Heritage weekend last year, do try to go this year. It was definitely an event to remember. For those who live close enough to Queen Creek to attend on both days, I highly recommend doing so if you don’t mind paying the entry fee twice. With four narrated battle reenactments per day, there were so many battles going on that it was hard to find the time to look around at the other exhibits. Besides, with so much to see and learn, it can be hard to absorb everything in one visit.

The American Heritage Weekend was held on a private area of Schnepf Farms. The nearby public area of Schnepf Farms was open to attendees at no extra charge. Although we ran out of time, we could have walked across and explored its shops and attractions afterwards.

According to the map and schedule of events that we received at the gate, the two days of the American Heritage Weekend were similar but not identical. The merchants were open and the battles were held on both days, but the Lewis and Clark Presentation was only on Saturday and the “Great Awakening” church service was only on Sunday. I would have liked to have come back on Sunday to witness the historic style church service that was based on George Whitefield’s 18th century “field preaching” during The Great Awakening. Maybe we’ll do that this year.

To view a collection of photos from last year’s American Heritage Weekend, visit www.americanheritagefestival.com.

If You Go:

Bring sunscreen. American Heritage Weekend was warm and sunny last year, with a temperature between 70-75 degrees. (The re-enactors must have been pretty warm in their wool uniforms!) I normally don’t think of getting sunburns in November, but I should have brought some sunscreen – or bought one of those lovely vintage parasols! – because we did end up getting sunburned after standing out in the sun for six hours.

Bring plenty of Kleenex if you have allergies. I haven’t had any allergy symptoms since living out in an uncultivated area of the desert, but walking around those fields of Bermuda grass caused my allergies to really act up. Even though my nose was itchy and sneezy the whole time I was there, fortunately it didn’t detract from the experience too much.

Bring some extra money. You will undoubtedly see some unique historical item or frontier toy that you or the kids will want to buy, which you won’t be able to find anywhere else. Water bottles, food and beverages will also be available for sale.

P.S. Following are some of the units and organizations that have enlisted in previous years: Patriot Volunteers (Revolutionary War), Loyalist Regiment (Revolutionary War), The 1745 Jacobite Society (Colonial, Revolution), Appalachian Rangers (Colonial, Revolution), 4th Cont. Lt. Dragoons (Revolutionary War), 6th US Infantry (1812), Powderhorn Clan (1750-1840), Texas Camel Corps (1850s), Arizona Rangers (late 1800s), ACWS (American Civil War Society) of California, Moody’s Battery of the Madison Light Artillery (Louisiana), Imperial Valley Living History Association, 1st Virginia Infantry , 5th Texas Infantry, 1st Delaware Infantry, 1st US Infantry, 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry, 3rd Georgia Infantry, 10th Georgia Infantry, 2nd Kentucky Infantry, Terry’s Texas Rangers, Arizona Rangers, 2nd U.S. Artillery, 8th Louisiana Infantry, 8th Alabama Infantry, Hardaway’s Alabama Battery of Artillery, 6th US Cavalry, Arizona Rough Riders, Los Cubanos Loyalistos, Arizona Historical Military Transport Association, 101st Airborne, 1.SS Recon Element, Museum of Military History.

We Make History

I am grateful for the individuals, couples, and families who take the time to seriously participate in the art of re-enacting, thus bringing history to life for the rest of us. In particular, Mr. Scott Hinkle of We Make History has done a wonderful job of making history come alive for families and the general public who wouldn’t ordinarily attend re-enactment events. “Lord Scott,” as he is affectionately known to his followers, has a passion for educating and reconnecting people to their heritage through portraying history in the context of an authentic, interactive and family friendly environment.

As a side benefit, Scott’s efforts at promoting these events have helped to get more families and young people interested in becoming re-enactors themselves. He specifically welcomes newcomers by saying “A few of you are new to reenacting. You have your clothing. You’ve done some research. But this is your first event and perhaps you are a little nervous. That’s alright…. We all need to start somewhere and this will be an excellent opportunity for an initial foray into reenacting in a friendly, supportive and educational environment.” Perhaps you will come to the American Heritage Weekend as a spectator and gain some inspiration to do some re-enacting yourself!

In addition to historical reenactments, “We Make History” offers authentic historic dance events throughout the State of Arizona. Each “Grand Ball” is set during a certain historic period such as Colonial, Regency, or Civil War/Victorian. The “We Make History” website is filled with fascinating facts and beautiful photos representing several different eras.

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Teri Ann Berg Olsen is a home educator, librarian, and author of the book “Learning for Life: Educational Words of Wisdom.” She lives in New River, AZ.


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