A living legacy
By Vicki Johnson
Sarah Rothhaar and Jeremy Moore have inherited a love for historical re-enacting from their parents, and now they’re passing along that dedication to a new generation.
The rural Bloomville couple spends almost every weekend spring, summer and fall participating in re-enactments in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and Michigan.
Sarah, 41, has been re-enacting since her parents, Mike and Karen Schafer, also of Bloomville, started attending primitive events when she was 5 years old.
“I started out with my parents at rendezvous,” she said. “At age 11, we switched to French & Indian (War).”
As she grew up, Sarah said, she went to college to become a history teacher, got married and stopped re-enacting for a while.
Jeremy, 39, said he started re-enacting American Indian – known in the living history community as “Native American” or “Native” – about eight years ago. But he was active for several years before that with his father, Roger Moore of Mansfield, also a living history figure.
Jeremy said he started re-enacting because he wanted to spend more time with his father, who has been involved in re-enacting for more than 30 years.
“He started out going to pow-wows and rendezvous,” Jeremy said.
Artists and painters saw him and liked his look, and he became the subject of historical paintings.
“As I got older, I wanted to spend more time with him and learn this stuff,” he said. “It’s my heritage too. I’m Native. I wanted to see what life was like back then.
“I wanted to get into it and go places with my dad,” he said. “They asked me if I had gear. Then I did some posing with my dad for some paintings.”
Jeremy is a quarter American Indian of the Melungeon tribe, a small group from Virginia that hid in the woods while other tribes were being forced west. His grandfather is full-blooded, and father is half Native American.
“They didn’t come out until the Civil War,” he said. “Then they dispersed. My family came to Ohio, to Meigs County, after the Civil War, and they branched out from there.”
So Jeremy began to learn from Roger.
Through the artist contacts, he said, they were recommended to take part in filming a series for the History Channel titled “Frontier: The Decisive Battles.”
Filming took place at Fort Meigs in Perrysburg and the series aired in 2000.
“Now, my dad kids me because I’m in it more than he is,” Jeremy said. He portrays Native Americans in most scenes.
“In one of them, I’m a white man,” he said. “I was dead, laying on the ground.”
That bit of fame led to Jeremy becoming a subject for historical artists such as John Buxton and Andrew Knez Jr.
Knez painted a portrait of Roger titled “Prophet,” and he calls Jeremy’s “Son of Prophet.”
“Now, he’s painted him many, many times,” Sarah said, as she points around the room in their home. “I don’t have that much wall space.”
“Every time we’re at an event together, he sits me down and takes a lot of photos,” Jeremy said.
As Jeremy and Sarah separately became more involved in re-enacting, their spouses at the time chose not to get involved.
Re-enacting was a big part of her life, but Sarah said her former spouse wasn’t interested. She tried to stop, and did for a while.
“But it got to the point where I had to get back into it again,” she said. “I revived some of our old members, and in the summer about every weekend we were going somewhere.”
Eventually, both of their marriages ended.
In the meantime, Jeremy and Sarah had met at camp.
“We were friends for a long time,” she said. “We traveled with another person, the three of us on weekends.”
“She went through her divorce and I had mine and we kind of hooked up after that,” he said. “We’re both really into history.”
Now, it isn’t unusual to find Sarah and Jeremy, along with their children, attending living history events every weekend during the summer.
Jeremy’s children are Cody, 20, and Kennedy, 13, He also has a 1-month-old granddaughter.
Sarah’s children are Wyatt, 14; Ellayna, 10; and Eastin and Keke, both 8 (but not twins).
“Every spring, I have to sit down and sew all these clothes because they’ve grown,” she said. “I use a sewing machine for the parts you can’t see, but all the seen parts are hand-sewn.”
They make their own gear and clothing.
“Sarah does the shirts for us,” he said. “I made my own leggings out of leather.”
They buy silver jewelry from his dad, a silversmith.
“Even if we buy a shirt, it’s handmade,” Sarah said.
Jeremy has authentic Indian-design tattoos on his forearms, and his long hair trails down his back.
“I haven’t been to a barber in seven years,” he said.
He has six ear piercings.
“Four times, I pierced them myself,” he said. “The other two times, Sarah and I went to the mall.”
He speaks some of the Shawnee language.
Jeremy said the way he paints his face is historically accurate, but each man painted his face in his own way.
“I got two or three that I really like that I do,” he said.
Often, the bottom half of his face is painted black, and the top is red or sometimes green.
“It takes about an hour to get painted and get my hair done,” he said. “It takes two hours to get it off.”
He uses a powdered paint used by re-enactors and actors.
He said he used to use historically accurate vermilion paint.
“But it’s got mercury in it, so I quit using that,” he said.
Sarah said the switch to Native American was different for her for a while.
“When I started getting back into it again, Jeremy was doing Native,” she said.
She said her heritage is German and Swiss “with a dash of Native.” But her fourth-great-grandmother was a full Wyandot Indian from the Upper Sandusky area, she said.
“Dad got really interested in Native, too,” she said. “All that summer, I pretty much did Native the whole time.”
The exception was the annual dance at the Mississinewa 1812 event in Indiana.
“One of the reasons I like re-enacting is because you have those times when you really feel like you’re there,” she said. “The dance is one of those times.”
She said the dance is popular at the large event.
“You have to fight to get on the dance floor because so many people want to dance,” she said. “That’s a good thing.”
“Unless you’re Native and you have bare feet,” Moore said. “I’m always getting my feet stepped on.”
“About five years ago, we added some War of 1812 and American Revolutionary War events,” Sarah said.
The family’s season gets started in May when they take part in events at Martin’s Station, Ewing, Virginia; Fort Randolph, Point Pleasant, West Virginia; and Fort Meigs, Perrysburg.
Throughout the early part of summer, they travel to events in such places as Cook’s Forest, Pennsylvania; Custaloga Town, Pennsylvania; and Fort Niagara, New York.
As summer continues, events sometimes vary, but they include places such as the Grand Encampment F&I event, Portersville, Pennsylvania; and Bushy Run, Pennsylvania.
At Bushy Run for an anniversary event a few years ago, Sarah said, 140 Native re-enactors gathered.
“That’s a lot in one place,” she said.
“We sometimes throw in some little events here and there,” she said. “Last year, we went to the signing of the treaty of Greenville (in Greenville, Ohio).”
They also have gone to Frankenmuth, Michigan, and this year they’re planning an August trip to Fort Michilimackinac, Mackinaw City, Michigan.
“Right around the end of August, we don’t do anything because school is starting,” she said.
Sarah, a sixth-grade history teacher at Colonel Crawford, and the children all return to classes.
But the re-enacting season doesn’t end.
Fall events include the Fair at New Boston in Springfield; sometimes Koh-Koh-Mah & Foster, Russiaville, Indiana; Malabar Farm’s Pioneer Days; Mississinewa 1812, Marion, Indiana; Historic Schoenbrunn Village, and New Philadelphia.
Moore said he would like to go to Prophets-town, Indiana.
“I like going to the places where the Natives were there sleeping on the same ground I’m sleeping on,” he said. “Knowing they were there, too.”
Although their re-enacting is serious, Sarah said, Jeremy tends to be a jokester and have fun with his painted face.
At Fort Meigs, he’s been known to visit the museum in dress and stand very still until people stop to look at him thinking he’s an exhibit. Then he’ll move suddenly and shock them.
“He loves to scare people,” she said. “I tell him he’s got to be careful not to scare older people.”
At some events, he’ll hide in the woods among the green leaves wearing green and black paint.
Then he’ll jump out to scare people on wagon rides through the woods.
“That’s all I did for the whole day is stand there in that one spot,” Jeremy said. “But that’s all part of it. You might not know how close Natives could get to you.”
Education and fun come in equal parts for many re-enactors, Sarah said.
“I think people re-enact for different reasons,” she said. “For me, I think you’re always chasing the feeling of being in the moment, of feeling like you’re there.”
In addition, she said people in the re-enactment community become close friends.
“It’s like a big family,” she said.
“I love it,” Jeremy said. “I can put myself in their clothes just for a weekend and live the way they did, eat the food they ate.”
“I like the battles,” he said. “Even though you’re not really shooting at the guy, you get the feeling of what battle was really like.”
And then there are evenings around a campfire.
“I like at night, when we’re sitting by the fire and drumming and singing,” he said. “Telling stories and talking.”
Sarah said she also likes the face-to-face contact with people.
“It forces you to interact with people,” she said. “You can’t turn on the TV or the computer. If we have a choice in today’s world, we don’t do it.”
She also enjoys the drumming, singing and dancing.
“Now that we have our gear, it’s not expensive,” she said. “It’s gas and food. It’s a cheap way of seeing different parts of the country.”
But it’s not always fun, they agreed. There are times when they question why they continue, but those times are short-lived.
“We have slept through some terrible stuff,” Jeremy said. “One night, it was raining when I went to bed and it kept raining.”
At one point through night, he swung his arm outside his blanket, “and it splashed,” he said. “You could pick up my blankets and wring them out. I was soaking wet.”
But his daughter on the other side of the tent was dry.
Re-enacting with children also can be challenging, they said.
“We’re the only people we know who re-enact with five kids,” Rothhaar said.
But she said their children are the next generation.
She has friends she grew up with in re-enacting, and now they have children.
They, as the adults, now continue the tradition by teaching the children.
They said they learn how to be re-enactors by living it and learning from other re-enactors, but also by doing their own reading and research.
“We both like to read original journal accounts,” Jeremy said. “My favorites are captive stories, when a white person was taken by Indians and lived with them.”
He said those journal accounts often provide details of how the Indians dressed, what food they ate and other details of daily life the people of European descent noted because it was so different from their normal lives.
“We’re always learning,” Sarah said.
When they started re-enacting, they did things and dressed in ways that weren’t historically accurate.
“There are things that weren’t all correct,” she said. “We aren’t stitch counters, but we like to represent them as close as we can.”
She said “stitch counter” is a term used within the re-enacting community for people who insist on all aspects of re-enacting being documented in a picture or a written description of some sort.
“We can’t answer all the questions we’d like to know,” she said.
Jeremy makes items for his own use and items to sell to other re-enactors. He makes bags, sashes and leg ties – all accessories used with re-enactor clothing – using his skills in twining string, finger-weaving yarn and creating jewelry from wampum, traditional shell beads of the Eastern Woodland tribes.
Sarah is learning quill work – making designs on knife sheaths, leg ties and many other items using porcupine quills.
Moore said he feels fortunate to be a “stay-at-home-dad.”
“I take care of the house and the kids and make stuff to sell,” he said. “I also take care of Sarah’s grandma’s house.”
Because Rothhaar is a teacher, she doesn’t work during the summer.
“We’ve got all summer do be together and do what we want,” he said. “We get to spend a lot of family time together.”