Mississinewa 1812: two centuries later

by Ashley Flynn

Thousands walked through ancient I

ndian villages and military encampments as they traveled into history last weekend during the Battle of Mississinewa re-enactment. This annual event, in its 26th year, is the largest War of 1812 living history museum in the U.S.

Visitors experience the sounds, sights, scents and way of life as it was over 200 years ago.

Near the battlefield, spectators caught a whiff of gunpowder and held hands over their ears as canons blast and rifles fired. The War of 1812, a battle between American settlers, British troops, Canadian colonists, and Native Americans over territory control and trade restrictions, lasted two and a half years.

Indians who had been neutral began aligning themselves with the British and threatened the U.S. control over the Northwest Territory.

The Battle of Mississinewa began on Dec. 17, 1812, when Lt. Col. John Campbell surprised the first of four Indian villages, killing eight and taking 42 prisoners. The next day, approximately 300 Indians counterattacked. The battle took the lives of 12 federal troops, injured 48, and as many as 45 Indians were killed. Campbell’s troops hiked back to Ohio in knee-deep snow, resulting in 300 casualties from frostbite.

“Bob is a rope maker by trade. He built a replica of the rope machine with a big wheel. We’ve been to Jamestown, Va., making rope in front of the ships, and we’ve been to other living history events, and we do a lot of school programs,” said Penny.

Along with homemade ropes, the couple makes pioneer wood toys, which is how they became introduced to the life of re-enactment.

“We were doing craft shows. We make pioneer toys and pull toys out of wood in our woodshop, and these people came around saying, ‘Well this will work. That will work. That won’t work.’ We didn’t know what they were doing. Soon they came around to us and said there was a rendezvous in Rochester called the “Trail of Courage.” They wanted to use some of our things and asked if we were interested in participating. We thought we would give it a try. We did, and 37 years later we are still doing it,” Penny said.

Penny, who was born in Wabash County, and Bob, born in Canada and a Wabash resident since 1960, have always been history buffs, but say with re-enacting, they are continuously learning.

“Once you get started in it, you’re always learning. You’re always finding something new. We read a lot of books and do a lot of research,” Penny said.

They don’t use or own a computer, so they do all their research the old fashion way.

There are also seminars for re-enactors, which discuss clothing, what is and is not chronologically appropriate and the different ways of life people can portray.

“We like history and showing people the way it was. We enjoy doing it, but it’s important to do it properly,” Penny said.

She says she also enjoys meeting new people and watching them learn.

“People come out here and learn, but they also have a great time. And kids come out here and don’t even realize they’re learning. They can sit and read about it, but if they experience it, then they get it. It sticks,” she said.

Bob and Penny used to travel to 20 events throughout the year, but have since slowed down.

“We slow down more and more each year, but we will do this as long as we can. The rope machine is grueling. You walk back and forth all day and never have time to sit down,” Penny explained. The machine takes approximately 4 hours to put up and another four to tear down.

“There’s no money in it; it’s more of a demonstration, but it does your heart good to see the kids skipping down the path with the jump ropes,” Penny said.

When they are not re-enacting at a living history event, the Galleys can usually be found at the Dr. James Ford Historic home sharing their knowledge. Catch them next year at Mississinewa 1812 Oct. 10-12, 2014.

Posted on 2013 Oct 15