If you’re just starting your portrayal, how much stuff do you need to show up at an event?  If you have visited an event or participated in one with a different, non-native persona, you have probably seen folks loading up a whole bunch of stuff from the native camp.  How will you ever get all that stuff before you can participate?

I admit,  I am the world’s slowest at loading and unloading. I used to haul a bunch of stuff, and that was why it took so long. Some people work up quite a sweat while putting all the canvas, acoutrement, and furniture in the vehicle.  Why do we have so much stuff?

Thinking about that is why I started this post.  It was going to be a sermon against totin’ a lot of stuff, but others have done that. What I arrived at is – if you’re coming to an event as a native, how much stuff should you bring?  One thing we’ve been working on in the Southern Indian Department is helping people cut back on what they have to bring, providing meals, shelter, and such.

For battle, trade visits to European towns, etc, the people we portray didn’t carry a bunch of stuff. It doesn’t fit on your back or on a horse, and you don’t have a wagon. We all bring a lot of stuff beyond what it takes to do the “reenactment”. This is one of the reasons that people new to living history over buy, or underspend on the essentials – they think they need all that stuff.

A good rule of thumb is “If I can’t tote it from a parking lot to the camp, I don’t need it”.  If you are doing a demonstration or presentation that involves a wide range of material goods, that may not be true.  If you have to bring a “lodge”, or have kids, it can be a couple of trips.

Taking that to its logical conclusion – how much stuff should you have when you start? How many new reenactors should be expected to have the knowledge, much less the “stuff” to do presentations or show and tell type demonstrations?

Let’s take a look at what you need to have to show up at your first event and even take a stab at figuring out how much it might cost if you gather it all yourself (instead of begging/borrowing/stealing/doing without).  This assumes you can wear your own hair and don’t need any dye, extensions, prosthetic locks, etc.  Items with a * are nice to haves, not gotta haves.

For men

  • Trade shirt (white or checked linen) – $35 and up (making it yourself is cheapest, figure 2-1/2 yards of fabric, but takes time)
  • Leggings (wool or leather, wool is cheapest) $15-20 if you make plain wool leggings yourself, and use good wool.  If you shop and know what to look for, you can find good wool for much cheaper – you don’t need much for this project.
  • Breech clout – included in cost of leggings, or buy a saved list stroud one for $20-30
  • Wool “ferreting” or “gartering” for leg ties – less than $5 (you’ll pay more in shipping than the item, so order it when you get wool for your leggings and ‘clout.)
  • Moccasins – $30 to get deer/moose/elk hide to make multiple pairs, plus have leftovers for sheaths, bags, and so on.
  • Paint and oil – cheap or free – a couple of dollars from a sutler, small containers to store in.
  • Basic blanket – plain white 100% wool military “hospital” blanket to start – $30 if you shop around.  You can keep this as your second/backup blanket when you find a more accurate one.
  • *Tumpline – with help, make it yourself for $10 worth of materials.  Buy one for $150/up.  You can do without this at first, but it is handy to have something to bundle your stuff with.
  • Knife – inexpensive scalper or trade knife – as cheap as $15 from Avalon Forge (Cooking/Eating Utensil page here) – the kitchen knife.  Ask for one that isn’t stainless and that has iron/steel pins rather than brass, if he has any. 
  • Belt sheath – from leather you bought for mocs.  Follow Jim Mullins’ instructions here.
  • Eating bowl, spoon – cheap or free.  Wood or gourd bowl, wooden or period metal spoon. If you’re handy with a knife, making a spoon at an event is a great time-waster and demonstration for the public. You could do the same to make a bowl
  • *Basic tomahawk – $25 or a little more for a round-eye forged throwing hawk.  Make a wrap type head cover (not “PC”, but needed) from the scraps of your moccasin making.
  • *Alternatively, a War club – a saber or atassa style war club can be made for the price of a 30″ piece of wood and a couple of hours’ time.  Ball head clubs require time in the woods looking for a root ball.
  • *Gun – fully depends on what you buy.  It is possible to get a “good enough” that you can sell when you’re ready to upgrade for around $600 – 700 if you watch sales forums.  A good Carolina/Type G trade gun will cost $1500 at least.  This is probably the last item you should buy, and by all means, find someone to help you evaluate if you aren’t extremely comfortable in picking your own.
  • Simple leather bag and strap – using the same leather as your mocs – the most basic shooting bag possible.  A split pouch or one made from a cased hide can be inexpensively made also (if you don’t have to buy the hide)
  • *Cheap mostly white powder horn – $35 and up.  Add a leather strip for the strap. You only need a horn if you have a gun.  Doing the scrimshaw with a knife blade, stout needle, or flint burin at an event can be a demonstration item.

For Women:

  • Trade shirt (white or checked linen), or a chemise from a period fabric – $35 and up (making it yourself is cheapest, figuring a couple yards or so of fabric, but takes time)
  • Wrap skirt (yard and a half of navy wool can yeild two for an average sized person) – $25 or cheaper if you find it on sale
  • Moccasins – about $30 to get deer/moose/elk hide to make multiple pairs.
  • Basic wool blanket – plain white military to start – >$30
  • *Tumpline – with help, make it yourself for $10 worth of materials. Buy one for $150/up. You can do without, it’s just handy to be able to bundle your stuff up in a blanket roll and walk out.
  • Knife – inexpensive scalper or trade knife – as cheap as $15. You will need a sheath to store it in, and can use leftover leather from your mocs – it doesn’t go on your belt anyhow.  The seam will be on the back of the sheath (a “center seam” sheath, sorta).
  • Eating bowl, spoon – cheap or free. Wood or gourd bowl, wooden or period metal spoon.
  • Demonstration materials – some basic stuff to sew; wool yarn or natural fibers to fingerweave/twine/etc, clay to work, and so on.

With these basics, you can sleep, eat, interpret to the public, and join the battle (depending on the scenario, and whether or not you need/have a gun). What more do you expect to do?  Our group has been working on having shelters at sites, and members will gladly share their shelter when you need. People will have stuff for you to do – help cook, set up camp, cut / gather wood, help with projects they have going, so you will never lack for activities that interpret life ways.

If it’s cold, you might want to add a 2 yard long piece of heavy wool stroud/broadcloth in either navy or scarlet.  Splurge, get the nicest you can afford, with plans to dress it up with ribbon in the future – $40 or $50 will cover it probably.  That serves as a spare blanket too.

That’s a couple of hundred dollars at most, discounting buying a gun.  Not so painful, huh?  You’ll dress it up some with purchases that can be inexpensive – silk ribbon to tie your hair, proper glass beads, brass wire bracelets, some legal feathers, etc.
For further thoughts on this topic: I talked about getting started as a Native reenactor here: http://southeasterntrading.com/amohkali/gettingstarted.htm.  We have a lot of instructions for these clothing items and such available on our Southern Indian Department site: Portrayal Guidelines.  Mario Doreste has a post similar to this on his blog – Why Carry So Much?

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