Here are some How-To’s and Basic Info for those wishing to march as reenactors.
We encourage you to do some research so you can enjoy “playing the part.” You may want to portray a person who was actually part of the original Battalion. Learn about that person, where they came from, how old they were when they marched, if they made it to California, were part of the sick detachments, or died on the trek, etc. See names and photos at www.mormonbattalion.com
Reenactor Tips: What it means to “reenact” -- information to make your experience even better.
Equipment: (What to bring—and what not to)
Participants should provide the following items:
Clothing – Simple, low cost clothing appropriate for the time period is HIGHLY encouraged. Use or modify clothing from resale stores. See suggestions below. If you plan on hiking more than a couple days, consider a second set of clothing.
Shoes & Socks – For safety reasons, participants must use footwear at all times. Please do not try to hike in new shoes. Wear appropriate socks to guard against blisters. To hide modern shoes, you could fashion burlap coverings that hang over the shoe.
Haversack – Each participant, both men and women, should have a heavy cotton muslin haversack. Pant pockets hadn’t been invented. Size was one foot square with one or three closure buttons. The strap is about 1½” wide and long enough to let the haversack rest on your left hip.
Canteen on a strap. Alternatively, you could use bottled water kept in your haversack.
Blanket or sleeping bag. Useful as a bedroll.
Each person should bring a large tin cup, spoon and knife.
Prohibited & discouraged items
PROHIBITED: Gunpowder and weapons of any kind unless specifically approved by us in writing. This is a safety, insurance and permits condition which we must enforce as a condition of participation.
Audio devices – Please don’t bring music players, even with ear buds.
Cell phones – If you MUST have one with you, please set it to vibrate.
The Battalion marched in their own clothing, the typical practice for volunteer military units of the time. Wearing clothing that looks similar to that found in the 1840’s will help you look the part and add to the authenticity of our event.
SIMPLE PIONEER COSTUMING Courtesy of Lori Jones, Michigan
Why bother getting or making an outfit?
Because you really can’t have a pioneer experience without dressing like a pioneer. The more authentic your clothing, the more you will understand the perspective of the pioneers. Fortunately, a fair amount of information is available on clothing and how to make a reasonably good “costume.” Below are ideas for both basic and more elaborate costuming for both males and females.
Fabrics & Notions:
Cotton, cotton blends and wools are the best fabric selections.
Prints should be fairly small, and colors should be somewhat muted – tans and neutral colors were very common for eastern “store-bought” fabrics.
Unbleached muslin should be used rather than white cotton. Pure white and fine fabrics were usually limited to the rich.
Buttons from wood, dull brass, pewter or shell are most appropriate.
Battalion members did purchase colorful clothing from Mexicans traders. They also traded for buckskins from natives.
Clothes don’t have to look new. They could be patched and well-worn as if they’d been worn for many weeks.
Men & Boys
Easy, minimal costume
Long-sleeved button-front shirt, cotton or flannel
Modified dress slacks from a secondhand store. Try to find a “grandpa” kind of wool pants. No jeans, cargo pants, or any knit active wear pants
Brimmed hat; felt or straw, but not “cowboy” style
Bandana or large neckerchief
Colder weather and desert nights will require vests and/or coats
Pants: “Front fall” pants without a “fly” or pockets are most authentic. Try Butterick™ B3648
Suspenders: button down variety – no bright metal snaps or elastic if avoidable
Vest - You can trim down a wool suit jacket from a secondhand store, or you can sew one from a purchased pattern. Butterick™ 3721 has a couple of options. Wool is the best fabric to use, but other bottom-weight fabrics can work. Avoid denim – bluejean fabric
Brimmed hat; straw or felt
Bandana or large neckerchief
Colder weather and desert nights will require vests and/or coats
Women & Girls
Easy, minimal costume
Long-sleeved cotton or cotton blend blouse purchased from a secondhand store
Full, gathered cotton skirt that falls mid-calf or below – but not to the ground
Pioneer bonnet (see below)
Pantaloons worn under skirt (pajama bottoms work)
Apron to wipe your hands on
Shawls and/or capes for cold weather and desert nights
More authentic, detailed costume
Long cotton dress with full skirt. Suggested patterns are McCall’s™ M4548, 3669, 9423. NOTE: The M4548 pattern has all you need, including pantaloons, but I suggest a different pattern for the bonnet since this one is not full enough to work well or look authentic
Apron: Design your own, or use one of these patterns. McCall’s™ 2337, 3669, or M4548
Pantaloons. Modify some old pajama bottoms or McCall’s™ M4548
Simple Pioneer Skirt with Elastic Waistband (This requires about 3-3½ yards cotton fabric and 1½” elastic to fit your waist.)
Run a measuring tape from your waist to the top of your shoe. Multiply this measurement by 3. That is the amount (in inches) you will use for your skirt. This is for 45” wide fabric.
Open the fabric to a single layer. Measure the widest part of your hips. Use this measurement to cut a 4” wide strip of this length from one salvage edge of the fabric. This will become your waistband.
Fold the fabric back in half. Cut it into three equal lengths. Use the narrower piece (from which you cut your waistband) for the skirt front.
Match the long edges of the skirt pieces, right sides together. Sew the three skirt pieces together in 5/8 inch seams. Iron them open.
Take the short ends of the waistband and match them up. Sew up one side 2”. Sew up the other side ½”, leaving you with a 1½” gap in the seam. Fold the waistband in half lengthwise, right sides together, and press. It should look like a waistband now. Divide the waistband into thirds and mark, using the waistband center back seam as one of the points. This will help you distribute the gathers on your skirt more evenly.
Gather the top of the skirt, using long basting stitches all the way around. Do a second row of stitching ¼” away from the first stitching.
Pin the skirt to the waistband (right sides together), matching the skirt seams to the marks on the waistband. Pull up the gathers to fit.
Stitch the skirt to the waistband.
Cut a piece of 1½” wide elastic to fit your waist. Slide it through the waistband and sew ends together.
Try on the skirt. Make sure it is mid-calf to ankle length. It should NOT touch the floor. If you make it too long, you will trip on it and it will kick up dust. Make about a 2” hem.
Battalion Trek cannot provide refrigeration or transportation for participants’ food. Please make your own arrangements. Careful menu selection will not require ice chests or large boxes of food. From Battalion journals, we have compiled a list of foods they ate on the Trail. Many could form the basis for your meals. The Battalion served before the “Word of Wisdom” was accepted as binding upon the general Church membership in 1851. Items marked by an asterisk (* ) should not be used in camp.
Living History –Who Ere Thou Art, Act Well Thy Part Just putting on the clothes doesn’t make you a living history re-enactor. You may “look the look” and now you can learn to “walk the walk” and “talk the talk.”
This re-enactor’s portrayal of Abraham Lincoln is highly convincing. He looks the part and knows the history of our 16th President. He only responds to “Mister President” or “President Lincoln” when speaking with people, never responding to his own name. His behavior is everything you’d expect of the real Abraham Lincoln. And, most importantly, because his character is so realistic, people TREAT him like he’s Abraham Lincoln. They treat him with great respect – which he deserves. He knows his man and honors Honest Abe’s memory.
Some re-enactors focus on technical skills: how to fire cannons or guns, be a blacksmith, play a musical instrument or sew period appropriate clothing.
Other re-enactors focus on history: someone may know fine details of how a particular battle was fought, another may know everything about civil war ironclad ships or the exploits of a certain brigade.
Another set of re-enactors are excellent actors: some people enjoy playing the part of an ancestor, a famous general or a lowly private. All these people are needed in camp.
One thing they all have in common: they have some of each of these skills and background. What you specialize in is up to you. But some things you must learn to do.
Here’s a basic question to ask yourself: “How familiar am I with this period of history?”
If you’re just getting your feet wet, consider starting slowly and don’t try to do everything at once. Use the Internet to learn from the other re-enactors. Do some reading about your historic time period. Look at both sides of an issue. For example, what did the Mexican people think about the Americano invasion? Beware of extreme viewpoints on any topic. Usually, someone like that has an ax to grind.
Most importantly, keep your eyes open. Ask questions, listen to the answers. Remember them.
Persona – Your Character
What person from history will you represent? Will you just dress the part and talk ABOUT someone in the Battalion or, will you try to act and talk like they did?
The Battalion had over 600 men, women and children associated with it. Each one has a history – a life story that should not be forgotten. If they were here, today, what could we learn from them? What questions would you ask them – about their life, their work and their aspirations?
Consider the following:
Most of the men were privates; very few were officers. If all the re-enactors are officers, who will represent the “common soldier?” We need more privates in the ranks. There were many other volunteer units that participated in the Mexican-American War. Their journals have not been mined for information that may give a better understanding of the Mormon experience.
There were very few women that wrote about their Battalion experience, but we can take what is known about the few and extrapolate it into the lives of the other women. And, we have journals of women who were on the plains - along the Oregon, California or Mormon trails. They give us a wealth of information that can be used when representing Battalion women.
Children came in a variety of ages, boys and girls. What did they do along the trail?
What about representing an Army soldier instead of a Mormon volunteer?
Who were the guides or “scouts” that led the way?
Was the person a musician? Did he play the drum, fife or fiddle? What talents do you have that you could contribute to the modern Battalion?
Is there a doctor in the house?
Besides the outward appearance and general information, there’s personality to consider. Was the person jovial, dour, calm, excitable, deeply religious, irreverent, a complainer?
Finally, you can choose to TALK ABOUT someone in the Battalion or you can BE a specific person. We call that “Third Person” or “First Person” portrayal – the outlook you have for who you represent.
Outlook or viewpoint
Talks ABOUT the person. “He went hunting and…”
Speaks AS the person spoke. “I went hunting and…”
Skill level required
Good when beginning re-enacting because doesn’t require sustained acting skills
Requires more acting knowledge to “pull it off” convincingly to the public.