Saturday, January 31 – San Diego, CA

We take the yellow Henski Truck down to Old Town San Diego State Park early in the morning. The fourteen LDS Stakes from around San Diego each provide a “hands-on” activity booth for this annual Battalion commemorative event. Thousands of folks will come to participate in the fun and hopefully learn a thing or two.
Richard and Eva Peterson take good care of us. They’re the coordinators for this large scale event and are terribly busy I suspect. We appreciate their kindnesses in giving us a good location on the plaza at Old Town San Diego State Park.
Dragging out all our period gear, we set a representative Battalion camp. The tents go up quickly. The laundress equipment and cooking gear is set out. Backpacks, blankets, muskets, books and all the accoutrements we’ve decided to use today are arranged. Then it’s show time.
At the northwest corner of Old Town the reenactors gather to parade onto the Plaza. There are about 30 serious reenactors supplemented by about 100 full-time LDS missionaries. With flags a-flying, drums a-beating and cannon a-booming, we parade around the Plaza then assemble for short commemorative speeches.
In 1847 the Battalion did not march en masse into Old Town. They camped up near the old Mission, about five miles up canyon. They were allowed to leave camp the next couple of days and a few recorded their impressions of this very small community by the bay.
The Henry D. Fitch store was in business in 1847 – the only store here. Henry Standage wrote, “No shoes to be had or much else.” Levi Hancock sketched the town and ships in the great natural harbor. Today, all sorts of vessels are anchored nearby including US Navy aircraft carriers.
All day long we field questions, talk about Battalion members, equipment and techniques. We invite people into the tents, to sit and wrap up in “Buffalo Bill” and hold the musket. This is much more familiar territory – just like the “River of Time” living history event back in Michigan.
Getting people to participate is key to getting people interested in history – their history – whether their actual or adopted history doesn’t matter much. It’s where we came from and how we got to where we are today – and it’s important to understanding today.
Everyone asks about “The Beard.” My face hasn’t seen a razor since July 5 and the seven month growth is … substantial. In fact, Denny has avoided most facial contact for about four months or so. Can’t blame her. The hair hasn’t been trimmed either. I’ll be glad to be rid of it.
My only concession has been to snip the moustache a tad so it doesn’t get into my mouth. It’s just easier to trim it than to bite if off. Val Halford, one of the major reenactors from SLC, said I’d done reenactors a service by showing how big a beard gets in seven months. Easy research, eh?
Well, I’ve joked a few times about cutting “The Beard.” Starting at the Yuma presentation, I’ve said people were invited to San Diego to see me cut it off. And I made the half-hearted joke again this morning on the stage. “Ya’ll are invited to our camp at 3 PM to see me shave off ‘The Beard.’”
So, at 2:45, Denny reminds me I’d better be ready. There’s nobody hanging around our camp, but off I go to get some hot water from a nearby restaurant. When I return at 2:55 – there’s about SIXTY people standing around! YIKES! Put up or shut up time.
One minor consideration; I’ve NEVER used a straight razor before – Ever. I’m quite concerned this could be a blood bath! I even warn the crowd that if anyone’s queasy around blood they’d better sit down or not watch. So what happens? A mother plops her three really young kids directly down in front of me! Sheesh! I wonder if she’s hoping to use me as a “bad” example?
Anyway, long story short, I shave the right side of my face so people can see a “before and after” view of me with & without “The Beard.” Fuzzy left and smooth right side in one photo. Quite a difference. Seeing the photos after the fact, I’m surprised at the comparison. No wonder the 1846 group wanted to keep their beards for their family to see. But, military regulations being what they were, Colonel Cooke appropriately ordered the men to “clean up” – Armyspeak for “shave and groom.” This they did the following week in San Luis Rey – not at San Diego. I’m jumping the gun slightly, I know.
After the photos, I finish the deed and have my face back. Yippee! Happily, the blood loss is minimal (double Yippee!). Seeing myself later in a mirror is a shock because my face is so much thinner. All too soon, 4 PM arrives and we break camp and it’s time to celebrate.
Denny’s arranged a big “pot luck” dinner at the Scout camp. We didn’t keep a very good count, but about 50 or so folks show for meal. We’re humbled by the contributions many of these folks have made to “our” success. Some are Trek board members. There are old friends, new friends, relatives and new people to meet. Some are local. Others have driven a thousand miles to be here today. We are so blessed by this.
The dutch ovens and stoves have been busy. Little groups form and reform as folks share stories about their ancestor and our experiences during the past year. There’s lots of food and we’re all well fed by the end of the evening. We clean up and folks head home. It’s been a great day.
After dark, a thick fog rolls in from the bay. Floodlights play through the fog and tree limbs giving an odd look to the place. As traffic on the 4-lane highway zooms in the background a coyote strolls through camp making the night seem even more surreal. We’re in San Diego. The Trek is almost done and that’s the most surreal part the entire day.

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