The Blackpowder Journal

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...for the blackpowder enthusiast

Pioneering: The Long Hunter Series
Volumes One and Two

Reviewed by Joe Cindric

"Living History," this phrase has become the chorus for the new breed of black powder reenactors. I've been knocking around this sport for a number of years and some of the best moments have been at rendezvous, at least when I started that was what they were called. In those days we all tried to emulate '43 in the Rockies. There was another group of guys who were reenacting the Revolutionary war period, but they were a sort of organized, military lot. During the good old days being correct required a deerskin shirt and britches. As time has progressed so has our sport, and along with it the drive toward authenticity. It's a shame that something like the Pioneering: Long Hunter Series did not exist then.

The series is a collection of four video tapes. Volume One and Two, contain a wealth of knowledge for anybody interested in reenacting the life of an 18th century woodsmen. The middle ground (Ohio Valley) hunters of the mid-17th century. Your guide on this journey is Mark Baker. Follow his lead and you will save time and plenty of money. Money? That's right. Having walked the path towards authentic reenactment I can attest to the problems that you will face and the high costs for making mistakes. Mark solves these problems for the viewer by playing the most difficult of all parts, the video mentor. A part he handles with exceptional ease and grace.

Volume One covers a variety of topics, starting with selecting the correct period clothing; shirt, leggings, pants, coat, footwear, etc. Not only does Mark present a selection of clothing, he does a fine job of showing how and why each piece is used. His style of presentation is carried through both volumes, and comes across as a patient and friendly stranger explaining his life hobby . But the video covers more ground than period clothing, it is a preparation for a journey. Your preparation continues with an explanation of firearms of the period, including a short demonstration of loading and firing each one. All done in a period manner. As Mark explains how to make an authentic oil cloth tarp, to sleep on of course, and how to make a pair of front seam moccasins the viewer beings to realize that this maybe more than a hobby for Mark and others like him.

Other sections of Volume One cover putting together some items for a short scout and accouterments for large party camps. There is even a short section on making paper cartridges for that quick second shot. A very interesting part of Volume One is the flint knapping demonstration by William White. I have to admire anybody that knaps flint. It looks like a thankless but necessary job, if rifle flints are to be had. Let's just say that I'm willing to leave it to an expert like William.

Volume Two continues the journey where Volume One left off. A few minutes into Volume Two and you begin to realize that Mark is preparing you to join him on a short scout. With the same patients that he showed in Volume One, Mark explains the preparation of the one of the common staples of the long hunter diet, parched corn. While he waits for his sack of corn, he opens his knapsack for your inspection. Each item is examined and its' purpose explained. As the video continues the viewer is slowly introduced to the charm of living history. Discovering what it was like to live in the time period. Most of us have read the histories, but how many of us have stopped to wonder what the food tasted like? What did it feel like to sleep under the stars on a bed of leaves? How did they survive the cold? The knapsack scene conjures up and answers many of these questions.

With his knapsack packed and his corn ready, Mark shows us how to make up bedrolls, each with an apparent purpose. A simple bedroll for a short scout, a more complex bedroll for a longer trek from home. I was constantly thinking of the weight trade offs that were involved. In fact I wondered several times whether modern backpackers could survive with the limited equipment that the long hunter used. Always the mentor, Mark leads us to the woods and presents the craft and lore of the 18th century long hunter. The twentieth century has romanticized much of 18th century wood lore, but the long hunter depended upon it for survival. For those that have never seen a fire started with flint and steel fire, primitive cooking and other aspects of 18th century wood lore, this a is trip that they will not want to miss.

Volume Two ends with a very detailed section covering deer butchering and brain tanning. If you have some very young ones watching, you should be prepared for the deer cleaning scene. It is absolutely correct, no punches pulled. In my opinion, everyone should see where our food comes from and how it is prepared, including the young. With a proper explanation from Mom and Dad, your young ones should have no problem with the scene. Paul Dismore takes over for Mark on the brain tanning segment. The demonstration covers typical eastern or woodlands brain tanning, which is somewhat different from the western method. This is a very detailed explanation and is well done. It is a great example of something that can only be properly explained by watching. I know, I learned western brain tanning the hard way. A video like this would have cut months off the discovery process.

For those looking for a quasi adventure video, this in not "The Last Of The Mohicans". The jest of the video is to research the period that you want to reenact. Know what is right and wrong and then apply the knowledge. Mark is right on target when he explains that he is trying to reenact the life of a common long hunter of the period, not a famous historic figure. In other words, if you are interested in accuracy, then forget the historic exception. Try to live the life of the common man. Why the quest for accuracy? Having been there I can say, it is the only way that you can really find out what it is like. The experience is like a drug and cannot be had with a manufactured gun, blue jeans and Coleman lanterns. As you watch Mark, you can see that he has actually slept on leaves, cooked his meals in the primitive way and trekked the wilderness just as an 18th century long hunter might have. His experience and advice comes from researching it, doing it and living it. Good advice for all reenactors.

I throughly enjoyed Pioneering: Volume One and Two. The material is well presented and accurate. I will take exception to two features that I found very distracting. The first is the background music, which thankfully was not present during the entire video. Why must the background music always compete with the presentation? In this case, the video director should have taken the lead from the people who know, those who produce commercial advertising videos. Another problem was the somewhat disjointed presentation. It would have been much better if the information had flowed smoothly from scene to scene. Most disconcerting were the cameo inserts of various items during the presentation. For instance, Mark would be giving an explanation of clothing and the camera would switch to a picture of a rifle or some other item, that was unrelated to the information being presented. I think that it would have been much better to use this material as beginning and ending fillers or perhaps to have it worked in some other way.

These are only minor problems and in no way detract from the main goal of the video, showing the beginning reenactor the path that will lead him into this wonderful sport. One hopes that those that follow this path will improve the sport along the way. This is a great video for the library of any reenactor or buckskinners. In fact, it should be the first purchase for anyone interesting in joining the fun. Even if you are not into "the long hunter period" the information and the philosophy, which can be applied to other periods, is worth the price. I would highly recommend this as a great addition for any public library, school library or organizational including the Boy Scouts of America.

One comment for Mark and his producers. I know a lot of women who enjoy reenacting, why not something from their point of view.

Video supplied courtesy of the Log Cabin Shop.