Living history: Knox Township recreates pioneer life

TORONTO – They have come from throughout the Tri-State Area to pitch tents and live like America’s ancestors for four days on a farm on Knox Township Road 1305 off county Road 47.

Those involved re-enact what life was like for pioneers from the years 1640 through 1840, and activities include everything from a tomahawk-throwing contest to sitting around a campfire singing songs of old to banjos during the eighth-annual National Rendezvous and Living History Foundation/National Muzzle-Loading History Foundation event on 75 acres known as Nichols Farm.

The event has been growing each year, as more members of the national association come and participate along with locals who learn about the encampment, according to Mark and Linda Rebres, co-organizers.

“I’ve been doing this for eight years,” said Mark of the event, which proceeds rain or shine. “We usually average around 50 people. Last year we had about 70 people and 39 camps set.”

The nonprofit NRLHF was founded in 1998 and hosts living history encampments around the country. The camps are set up by locals, who chose leaders and adhere to a set of guidelines established by the foundation. The idea is to live as primitive as possible and educate on how our ancestors lived off the land, according to Mark.

“People come here in period dress,” he said, adding port-a-jons, or “hooters,” are hidden. “Anything plastic (or modern) is put away so people don’t see it.

“We will be doing day-to-day living,” he continued. “We will be using the kind of (tools) they had available. We will be cooking over an open fire.”

Vicki Duhamel, foundation clerk, said those attending try to be as faithful as possible to pioneer life.

“We shoot black powder (muzzle-loaders) – old school – not modern cartridges,” she said. “Our clothing is all from that time period. We have a wide range of attire here, from English to French, Scottish and American Indian.”

A “woods walk” also is part of the encampment and includes shooting live ammunition at targets, said Mark. He added many bring their own wild game to cook, usually acquired during individual seasons, including turkey, venison, rabbit and squirrel. Duhamel mans a yard spinning wheel to demonstrate how clothing was created before modern machinery, while students from local schools sometimes come to visit and learn, he added.

The encampments are close to what pioneers would do when trading items needed for everyday life, said Mark.

“The trappers would come and bring in furs to trade for their staples,” he said, adding encampments also were festive times that included songs, contests and the drinking of “home brew. They might come together once a year to do this. It’s like a flashback to that period.”

“Once you get out here you really start to appreciate the modern world,” said Duhamel, adding the campers do without the trappings of modern life, sometimes for up to 10 days at a time. Activities include games popular during that time period, including tomahawk-throwing, fire-starting, shooting and archery contests.

“The bigger encampments have up to 1,000 people,” said Mark. “They will actually have teachers onsite who help with whatever homework (students or pupils) might have. This is the only permanent site (locally).”

The learning and education about American history are big motivators for the campers, he added.

“The main reason this camp is here to to educate about early American history,” Mark said, adding members of the public are encouraged to visit. “We want to teach people how it was to live in the pioneer days.”

The encampment also becomes a place of camaraderie with life-long friends created as well, said Mark.

For information on the encampment, call (740) 632-8625; or (330) 525-7617. For information on the organization, visit