Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Making Hot Tamales

Making Hot Tamales
by rob Watson

{ I have updated this report with information from my second try at making Tamales. A careful cook will notice some inconsistencies with normal Home Ec practices. These, I expect, will cause me to be banned from the Latino Homemakers Society}

For many years, possibly from childhood, I have thought of making my own hot tamales. This, as much because I really like them as because they are a rare commodity, even in Mexican restaurants. (depending on how you feel about the ones in cans) The event that tipped me over the edge was paying a dollar apiece for tamales only slightly larger than half a hot dog weeny.

I began by researching tamale recipes. There is some variation in ingredients and in directions for the task. I chose a cook book in our collection that purported to describe how Texans make tamales. I added an ingredient or two where the book seemed deficient; writing  it all down. Contrary to the suggestion by the Resident here with knowledge and experience, and book directions that I shred the pork, I chose to run it through our meat grinder. This, mostly because directions contain arbitrary instructions like "season to taste" and "mix until it looks... "; then has me throwing it all together and steaming for an hour. All such seemed difficult in light of my inexperience in this task measured against my extensive experience in cooking other things, which says taste first, middle, and last. The above decisions made before I did anything.

{My choice for ingredient amounts is about 1/2 those recommended in the Texas Cookbook:
   1 tbs salt, 1/2tsp course ground black pepper, 1tsp red pepper, 2tbs chili powder, 2tbs Paprica,
   1tsp oregano, 1tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder}

On Day One, I collected all the ingredients and equipment for preparing the meat: washing all the equipment and lining them up on the kitchen counter. I ground and mixed and tasted until I was satisfied. Then I consulted the Resident here with knowledge and experience. I was given  a tentative OK. With this accomplished, I instituted my own procedural invention: I ran the meat through the sausage maker and formed the meat into long strings, about the diameter of a hotdog. Then I froze them, thinking this would make putting the meat in the tamale less of a challenge.

Day Two: Despite our having parchment paper and crisco, we sought out a store selling real corn shucks and real lard... best to start out being authentic, right? Having found the requirements we brought them home and placed them in the pantry.

Day Three: Not being able to sleep, I made a plan to construct a "trial" batch of tamales. I arose and put this plan into action, while the Resident here with knowledge and experience continued her beauty rest. I chose to do one fourth of the whole. Step one was to clear the needed work space then collect and wash all the equipment. Next, I took out all the ingredients and arranged them on the work area. Reading my instructions for the last time, I began to make the tamalina paste. Step one there was to cut in the lard into the tamalina. Full disclosure, I have "cut in" flour and shortening for pie crusts and biscuits, so I began that here. After a half hour, we're talking one cup tamalina and one third cup lard, I still had a lumpy mess. "To hell with this!", says me to myself, I got out the electric mixer and continued the cutting in process. The end results jived with my former experience so I moved forward. Step two was adding salt and chili powder "to taste" so I chose one teaspoon of each... here a wild guess is as good as any other kind... and fired up the mixer again. Tasting for this step being hours away. Then the direction suggested adding chicken broth to the tamalina "until it looks right... but not runny" I arbitrarily chose one cup of broth for the same reason as the salt and chili powder... a wild guess is as good as any other kind here.

{Ingredients and directions for Tamalina mix: 6 cups Tamalina, 6 cups Chicken broth, 1lb lard, 1 1/2 tbs salt, 1tbs chili powder. I heated the water until almost too hot to touch then placed the lard in it. I added salt and chili powder and mixed with an electric mixer until melted. Then I added the tamalina one cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. When all was well mixed I tasted it. It was OK. I let it sit for an hour to thicken up.}

Here the directions said to spread the paste onto the corn husks 1/8 inch thick, and in a square, allowing 1 1/2 inch above and below the square for tying. My discovery was that the paste was much more inclined to stick to the spoon than to the corn shuck. Working on ingenuity alone, I devised a technique of wiping the paste off the spoon and onto the shuck right at the edge of the shuck, which also favored an easier rolling things together. I then developed the technique of placing the frozen stick of meat at this edge and rolling toward the center. I adjusted the distribution of paste with a finger to cover the meat. I am thinking I will use less broth next time as the paste seemed quite mobile during and after the rolling was done. The book now suggest, to be authentic, I should tear one shuck into thin stripes to use as strings to tie the ends of the tamales prior to the final steaming.
I did this to the seven tamales of the test batch, which lead to another "to hell with this" moment.

{Also, shucks were seldom long enough to tie as described so I placed the food materials at the wide end of the shuck and folded the top down. No tieing}

Now, done with the test batch I cleaned up my mess, washing all the things and putting everything away. All was waiting for inspection by the Resident here with knowledge and experience. When she arose I showed her what I had done and asked her to critique my results. As she looked things over, I am pretty sure she had one eye entirely closed and the other only partly open... probably fearing what she would see. After a few seconds she pronounced everything "very good", with only a slight hesitation in her voice.

With this acknowledgement, I proceeded to include all I had learned into processing all the remaining ingredients to finish the job. After steaming the product of my efforts, I lifted the lid of the steamer... it smelled like tamales. I pulled one out and unrolled it... it sort of looked like a tamale. I tasted this product, and much to my surprise, it tasted like a tamale. Then I presented it to the Resident here with knowledge and experience, who proceeded to declare "These taste pretty good. "

The really big surprise: It really did look like a real genuine hot tamale. These are going to be great under a layer of chili.

{these tamales come out a little dry and eat better with a more liquid chili or perhaps a red sauce}

Monday, September 10, 2018

Gary Phillips Safari: Rob Watson's Adventure of a lifetime

Written by Rob and Shirley

This article skips around between first, second, and third person narratives. we apologize to those who care.

An Adventure of a Lifetime.

South Africa, April 25 – May 9, 2018

We flew out Alexandria at 6 am on Tuesday, April 24 ( 3:30 wake up) and spent the night in New York. Stayed at the Holiday Inn Express because they had shuttle service from the airport. Room was nothing special but we barely touched our bags to and from the airport. On Wednesday, April 25 we arrived at South African Airlines where we met with Tom and Ellen, Ron and Shelbi (Ron's daughter) and Bill. Tom and Ellen were the only ones we knew before this trip. Flew out on the 11:15 flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.

After 15 hours on the plane, we landed in Johannesburg at 8 am on Thursday. Tom, Ron, and Bill  had to process their guns through customs, aided by a local company. Rob decided to rent his guns from our host in SA so we did not have to deal with all the gun checks at the various airports. We boarded another plane and flew to Port Elizabeth, SA and arrived there at 3:00 pm. Long trip!

From the airport we went to the Hotel Kelway for our first night. Ellen, Shelbi and Shirley took a walk on the beach after we settled into our rooms. Shelbi picked up sea shells and Shirley picked up a couple of rocks and a sea shell from the Indian Ocean. They browsed the local vendors on the sidewalk and made choices about things they would come back for the next day. That afternoon, all met on the hotel deck for a beer. That evening Tom treated us to dinner at the Coachman on the beach. Dinner only lasted about two hours.

On Friday morning we revisited the vendors and picked up some souvenirs and then met David and Henco, the photographers and Greg, Professional Hunter and Zandile (George), tracker at the hotel. Greg drove us to our first lodge. On the way we stopped at the taxidermist to see what kind of work they did. There were several items from Tom's previous hunts there. We had planned not to take home any trophies ourselves, but changed our minds when we saw the work they did. We will just have to keep them small.  Gary Phillips and his wife Lee organize these safaris.  After the taxidermist we continued to Woodlawns, which is owned by Lee's brother.  We spent a short time sighting in the rifles then drove around the 18,000 acre compound. We saw and photographed large numbers of various game animals.

Greg is our PH and Zandile is our Tracker. Greg's tracker dog is Max, a beautiful beagle. On Saturday, April 28 We went hunting for Warthog. Burt, son of the farmer on whose land we were hunting, joined us as a guide. Greg spotted some warthogs in a valley. We drove to an overlook and Rob took his shot, He pulled down his first animal at 8:30 a.m. at 100 yards. It weighed about 65 pounds. After a fair amount of additional driving he got his second Warthog at 10:30 a.m. at 150 yards and it was also about 65 pounds. He broke both this warthog's back legs.  Burt wanted a pair of the tusks, so after dressing the animals, we chose to keep one set and let him have the other. Greg suggested we also give him a tip… I told him never to tell his parents how much money he had… Then I gave him $20 for his help.

After returning from our hunt we shopped at Lee's shop in the afternoon and picked up a few more souvenirs. Lee had received a shipment of clothing and hats embroidered with the business's logo: Gary Phillips African Safaris. Then we took our rest to prepare for the evening. At each of the lodges, every evening ends with delicious canapes and local foods. This night it was prepared by Lee and Kelly with drinks in the lounge. Toward sunset, we saw 9 giraffes at the pond below the lodge. Thus ended our first day of actual hunting. Our room has a key, on a warthog tusk, that hangs on the inside of the door. We never saw a need for it. 

On Sunday we saw more giraffes, rhino and warthogs at the pond off the patio at Woodlawns. Making our way to our next destination, rising at oh dark hundred to get to an eight AM mass along the way, we discovered the mass was at 9:30. To kill time we had breakfast at Wimpy's. We attended Mass at Sacred Heart in Craddock.  After more driving, we arrived at Mel and Rory's at Cradock Farms in the afternoon. As before we took a short driving tour of the property, another 20,000 acres or so. Greg offers Rob a chance to hunt ducks and geese. First they try jump hunting by sneaking up over the dam of the pond. The ducks make good their escape while Rob is deciding when to shoot. This leaves Greg slightly annoyed. After the hunters sit for a time these same ducks return to the pond, settling within easy range of the shooter. Rob's movement startles the ducks and they take flight, urged on their way by two poorly aimed misses. Another tour of the property leads up the side of a high ridge. Four Bat Ear foxes emerge from the low brush and scamper up the road ahead of us. We surveyed the area from a ridge top and took several pictures.  On returning from this exploration, Greg decides to give Rob another chance at the water fowl. On the way back to the pond, which appears abandoned by the ducks, we see two geese taking their dinner in an alfalfa field. Again the hunters execute a stealthy approach to the prey. The prey wisely decides to take wing. As the hunters discuss their luck the geese circle back directly over where the hunters are standing under a large irrigation unit. Two more hurried misses add urgency to the geese's flight and more irritation to  our professional hunter. Keeping count: four shots, four clean misses. 

Breakfast was always something simple including cereal, breads, cheese and meat trays, fruit and yogurt selections. Lunches that were eaten on the hunt were sack lunches, usually some kind of sandwich, chips, sweets and snacks. Always accompanied by bottled water, soft drinks, beer and wine. Coolers filled with these goodies were the first thing loaded on the truck each morning. Evening meals were several beautiful dishes and always the meat was game, usually Kudu but also Impala, wildebeest, or other plains game. Dinner was usually late, around 8:30-9:00 p.m., after drinks, at a free wet bar, and canapes.

On Monday the serious hunting begins. The hunt area was a 45 minute drive from the lodge. The view was spectacular! One could see forever! It was large open flats mixed with high ridges. The entire area was covered with patches of acacia brush of various sizes and densities. Most of the driving tracks were deeply rutted and scattered with various size stones. This made any driving a jarring experience. After meeting at the central buildings, the four groups of hunters dispersed, each to different part of this 20,000 acre ranch. After a short drive, Greg spotted a herd of Springbok a few hundred yards off the track. It is clear that our camo clothing never fooled anything. Early on, the hunted kept close watch on the hunters. Most animals seemed unconcerned by our presence at a distance.  This attitude diminished once the shooting started. 

The first stalk went on for several minutes over three or four hundred yards. At the critical point Greg set up a tripod rifle rest, pointed out the direction Rob was to aim , then describing what he saw in the scope, directed him in selecting the animal to shoot. It took a moment or so for the Springbok to walk into a clearing in the brush and away from the other animals. Whispered "shoot, shoot, shoot" lead to a clean miss, followed by a cool, silent stroll back to the truck. Five clean misses and counting.

The second stalk began after we drove to the other side of a high ridge… Not really a stalk, so much as a slow speed chase in the truck. This second group of Springbok did not dash hell bent for the horizon as the previous herd had. They only moved a few hundred yards and settled down to graze again. Each pause and graze was interrupted by a clean missed shot. After the second missed shot the Springbok got the Idea and scattered.  Seven clean misses and counting.

A couple of giraffes watch this whole episode. The selected Springbok came to stop at a spot uphill of the giraffes. In sighting through the scope, with the suppressed 30-06 rested on the cushions of the hunting rack on the truck, Rob could see the shot would pass within a dozen feet of the head of one giraffe. At the shot, the Springbok leaped and collapsed, to shouts of joy from everyone except Max the dog. Each taking of an animal was followed by congratulations and handshakes all around. The springbok's front legs were broken and Rob delivered the coup-de-gras. Rob got his first Common Springbok at 290 yards. Rob is blooded by Zandile. (This we will keep for a shoulder mount.) Having missed 3 shots at Springboks, Rob renamed himself Missed-er-Watson, which his hunting guides adopted immediately. 

All of the hunting parties met for Lunch, a bar-b-qued spiral sausage cooked over a charcoal fire and served on a hotdog bun. The lunch site was a partly broken down abandoned brick home site. Other buildings and walls were made of native stone. The hunters and professional hunters then enjoyed an hour's rest in the cool shade of the buildings and trees, sharing stories of the morning successes. Rob spent his rest chatting with Ron. Rested and relaxed, the hunting parties took off for their afternoon hunts. Rob and Greg were the last to be on their way as Zandile was repurposed to skinning and dressing our kill, as well as that of some of the others.

During two hours of the afternoon Rob and Greg rode in the hunting seats, high on the back of the truck. Zandile drove, directed by hand signals from Greg. These two were a well matched pair. They had worked together as a professional hunting team for about five years, with Max the dog who was used to follow the blood trail of wounded animals. Zandile having worked for the King family now a total of 37 years. Both were sharp eyed, seeing animals with the bare eyes that I never saw until pointed out to me, and then usually with my binoculars. From time to time the group would stop when the trail came within a few hundred yards of a ridge. Here the three would search the hillside for game animals.

During one of these pauses, late in the afternoon, a Kudu was spotted high on the side of a ridge. Greg and Rob exited the truck and proceeded to stalk the Kudu through several hundred yards of brush, the animal always visible high above us. At a range of about 300 yards, Greg set up the tripod and aligned Rob with the animal. The Kudu was slowly grazing uphill. He mostly presented a rear end only shot. Rob followed the animal through the scope for what seemed like several minutes, as it got higher up the ridge. Once, for a brief few seconds, a quartering shot from the rear presented itself as the gunman patiently bided his time, looking for a clean broad side shot. In the end Greg decided I should not shoot because a) it is “trophy quality", or b) it would have taken all night to get it down. (Before the hunt started I had specified I did not want to shoot any "trophy" animals because I could not afford to mount them. In return I was allowed to shoot cull animals above our agreed upon number.) I am sure Greg specified 'a' above, though I suspect 'b' was the real reason… with which I fully agree… I might have missed supper.

This was the only hunting that Shirley did not go on. She had brunch and went on a walk as she and Ellen prayed the Rosary. Tom treated us girls to a massage by Lara, Greg's girlfriend. For further entertainment, Ellen got stuck in the loo. Laundry from Woodlawns got mixed up and Rob's underwear was placed in Shelbi's room and her and Ellen decided to throw it away since it wasn't theirs! Laundry was done by the housekeeping staff every day and returned to the rooms before evening, at Woodlawns. At Cradock Farms and Fort D'Acres, Laundry was washed, folded, and stacked in a common area and each person had to find his own. Laundry was dried 'on the line'.

Rob's request to shoot culls resulted in some nice perks. Rob wanted to save the nice trophy animals for a hunter that would mount it. Gary had a Waterbok, with horns that grew skewed to the side and straight, that he wanted culled from the gene pool. Early in Tuesday's hunt, Greg spotted him and drove close to the herd it was in. Rob, shooting from the hunting seat on the truck, took the first shot at 8:00 a.m. at 120 yards. The animal walked a few steps then turns and presented a second broadside for a second shot. Two shots, two clean hits followed by the usual shouts of congratulations. Greg smiles big and says "Rob is back"! (meaning, no more missed-er-Watson)  Zandile said “Good job Old Man!” (Zandile sticks with this through out my other name changes.) This Waterbok had been been in a fight, over night, and one of the horns was broken. (We decided to keep the one good horn.) He was hung and dressed by 9:45 a.m. Rob was able to retrieve a fragment of the bullet. The group remounted the truck and went out in search of other game. Before any game is cleaned and skinned the hunter must decide what he wants done by the taxidermist, as it controls how the animal is skinned.

After a bit of bouncing and jarring in the back of the truck the group came upon a herd of 30 or so Gemsbok. They were wary of the truck so Rob, Greg, and Zandi (it took a while for my ear to catch that Greg called our tracker 'Zandi' instead of 'Zandile' which sounds very like Mandalay)
There was nothing but open area between them and the Gemsbok so, as the hunters approached the game retreated. The hunters setup the tripod a couple of times but no clean shot presented itself. Eventually the herd retreated over the ridge and onto the flats below. The ridge top was scattered with large rocks and boulders. As the hunters reached the edge, looking down, Rob fell and twisted his knee and ankle. As he fell he crushed a large dead bush making one heck of a racket. The two professionals instantly grabbed him to help him up… they each were pulling in a different direction and Rob was jammed down in the bush and between boulders. Rob pleads "give me a second guys." but the tugging continues. Then he says "OK give me a minute." at which time both men release him. After a short rest and self evaluation, Rob gets up unassisted.

Several minutes later, the herd of Gemsbok, undisturbed by this commotion, continue to graze below us. The hunters reposition themselves and Greg seems to set up for a shot. The shot would have been at a very steep down angle and Rob in a conversational voice says he does not want to take it. At which time the Gembok take flight. Greg turns to Rob and speaks sharply "Don't make noise when we are on the hunt".

All this activity leads to two good fireside stories, told later. In Rob's version, he put the sharp rebuke as a response to the fall, as opposed to what really happened. Greg twists the "Give me a second, Guys" and "OK, Give me a minute" into his own humorous tale. After Rob and Greg became more familiar and relaxed around each other a light teasing between them began. On the occasion of a clean kill, when Rob did not see what happened to the animal, Greg would take on a stern look and say "Rob, you missed again!" after a pause during which Rob felt really small, Greg would take on a big grin and slap him on the back, saying "Rob, you got him. He is down." then the usual round of hand shaking and congratulations would follow. This teasing was all in good fun for both men. Zandi mostly stayed out of this frivolity, only commenting one time… in a tale not suitable for mixed company.

After a unified lunch of sandwiches at the ruined homestead, Rob and Shirley's group drove over toward the flats where the Gemsbok were last seen. On the way they saw a herd of 40-45 Springbok plus a Mountain Zebra. On the way back, after a fruitless search they passed a large open patch of ground with a pile of brush and weeds at one end. After driving several yards past the brush, Greg gets out, loads the shotgun and hands it to Rob, whispering one word: "guineas" as they approach the brush pile two birds emerge one takes flight, the other strikes out, running across the open ground. Rob draws a bead on the flying bird as Greg shouts "don't shoot that one!"  By then the runner has made good his escape.

Language presented some interesting situations. As an example, Zandi was introduced as 'George'. But on a couple of occasions Zandi appeared not to respond to that name. Thus Shirley and Rob discovered his real name and called him by it… to which he always responded with a smile. When the Professional Hunters spoke to each other they spoke a foreign Language. (foreign to me) we were told these men were speaking parts of three languages: Accented English, Afrikaans, and Xhosa, a native language, selecting the most appropriate words from each in a mix. During the day, Shirley asked Zandile if a worn area was a game trail. He said “no, it is a footpath for the animals”. A local bird called the Ibis is called Ha Ha bird because it sounds like it is laughing loudly – ha ha ha.

Wednesday, May 2, was a big day for hunting. Rob got his second Common Springbok at 150 yards, again at 8:00 am. (We will keep the hide for a rug. It is very soft and silky, unlike other game animals we have hunted.) This hunt consisted of driving through the brush trying to find a place offering a clear shot at a female Springbok. In the end Greg and Rob stalked on foot while Zandi and Shirley followed in the truck, where possible.

 Following a similar hunting technique they pursued a female Gemsbok. At 9:15 a.m. Rob took his Gemsbok at 305 yards up the mountain side. Unfortunately Rob had broken its legs again and the animal only moved a few yards. Greg chased it down the mountain a short distance to keep from hauling it so far. Greg had taken the rifle up the ridge with the understanding that he would deliver the coup-de-gras.  The group had picked up Fikatini that morning and it was a good thing because the brush was very thick and we could not get the truck very close. The men had to carry the Gemsbok down the hill and through a system of ravines twelve feet deep before getting to the truck. It was also a large animal… four or five hundred pounds. We will keep only the skullcap and horns of the Gemsbok because the horns are very long. 

When driving across country to where the Gemsbok lay, Zandile had to get out and move boulders to make a track. Shirley was fascinated by the termite mounds. They were as big as boulders and over time became hard as rock. Some were about waist high and scattered throughout the fields like boulders. Some you could see where anteaters had been working on them.

After a lunch of sandwiches and goodies, Rob and Shirley continued their rest while Zandi and Greg cleaned the Gemsbok. This task completed, the group set out for more hunting. On the road a group of guineas was spotted. Two more clean misses brought out the Missed-er-Watson comment again. (Well what does one call a guy who has 11 clean misses on game?) At 2:30 that afternoon following a short stalk on foot, Rob got his Mountain Reedbok at 200 yards. It is smaller, weighing about 40-50 pounds. Greg carried it down the mountain as Zandile had gone to help bring another hunters's Kudu down off the mountain. (We will keep this as a shoulder mount.) At the Mountain Reedbok site the group saw Wildebeest, Mountain Zebra, and Cape Buffalo. That evening, the weather turned ugly with thunder, lightning, rain, and hail. Power to the compound failed resulting in no water that night (Shirley was just finishing up her shower when it went off) and into the next day. Some lighting was powered by battery. 

One irritation that I experienced, for a time, was that Greg drove with one hand and mostly fiddled with his iphone, especially during the hunts. I was later to learn that most of this was communication with other hunters, describing where various game animals had been spotted on the property. This came in especially useful on our Kudu hunt.

Thursday the videographer joined our group to record my hunting.  At about 8:00 am, Zandile had been dropped off at the base of a mountain to track and move a Kudu down. As the truck moved to execute 'Plan A', Greg got a call from Gary on another Kudu. Greg then drove to a spot on a field near the buildings. He drove through the brush and trees to a spot through which a tall fence could be seen between two trees. Here he directed me to set the rifle on this gap and wait for the animal to appear. It did not. He then got another call and commenced a high speed drive through the trees to a spot near where the buildings were fenced off. For a flash the Kudu was visible but quickly disappeared again. This lead to a second high speed drive back the direction we had come.  After stopping, Rob and Greg jumped off the truck and walked swiftly through the open brush to a spot where the Kudu was visible. The shooting tripod was set up and the rifle loaded. Rob took one quick shot before the large attractive bull Kudu trotted along the fence past the hunters. Rob was tracking the animal in the scope, trying to get a shot by leading the victim. All this time Greg was whispering "shoot, Shoot, SHOOT!" Rob did not shoot because he could not decide where to place the shot. The Kudu disappeared into the trees. The pair raced back to the truck and commenced a third high speed run through the brush and trees. Each of these runs found Rob trying to hold on to the rifle and the truck as everything bounced energetically over rocks, ruts, stumps and various other incidental obstructions. This chase stopped near the fence again and the pair jumped off and began to look for the animal before it got away completely. After a few minutes the chase became less frantic. Then the Kudu was spotted lying in some thin brush, quite dead.  The usual congratulations were exchanged, Shirley joined Rob at the prize while Greg went to retrieve Zandi, and another helper. The Kudu was shot down at 80 yards. Another big animal weighing about 450-500 pounds. (We will keep the horns that Greg says just “screw out”.) It had become customary to clean up the game and pose it and Rob for pictures. Greg showed great skill with the camera so Shirley would give him hers to take her pictures for her. When Greg finished the still photographs, the videographer took his place and began filming. Greg stood behind the photographer and mimed to Rob that he should be talking to the camera. Rob did not catch on right away. This was our first day with David and Rob wasn't used to being interviewed. He actually expected the guy would ask some questions.

After the Kudu was processed, Rob's hunting at this ranch was complete. This hunting group, Rob, Shirley, Greg, Zandile, Max, and David headed for the hunting lodge. During some of the initial tours of the Cradock Farms, Rob saw, what appeared to be a large jack rabbit, that quickly hopped away, exactly as a jack rabbit would. Greg informed him it was an antelope called a steenbok. Ever after this, Rob called it a bunnybok. One evening he asked Gary if he could take a steenbok. Gary agreed, stating it would come from Cradock Farmes and would cost $300 because it was not part of the original agreement. Now, on the road through Cradock Farms, the group began to search for a Bunnybok. On a pass through a second field, Zandi spotted one near the trail. When the truck stopped the Steenbok hopped away a distance then stopped to check on the hunters. It was taken where it stood. At 12:30 Rob got his Steenbok at 70 yards. It is a small animal, weighing only about 25 pounds (we will keep a shoulder mount of this animal.)

Almost every part of the taken animals is used. The meat is all given to the people in the village or sold or used at the lodges. The heads and hides that are not taken for trophies are kept by the property owners. Even the edible innards are not wasted. The ranch hands collect them and take them home. All of the animals taken by our group are considered antelope so they are all edible. (No exotic animals were harvested by our group.)

For an late afternoon adventure the three hunters and their professional hunter guides loaded in three trucks and went on a waterfowl hunt. We jump hunted a small waterway and Tom Got a duck. Later we came to a large ranch with a large pond and a large alfalfa field with goose decoys set up. Tom and Rob set up by the pond, one on each side. The others went across the alfalfa field.
Rob had many shots himself but found himself, the gun, and the ammunition not up to the task. Ducks headed to the pond mostly came over Tom’s position… You have seen the WWII films of warships in the Pacific with their 40mm antiaircraft guns: boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom at the Japanese aircraft… well, think of that as you imagine the sights and sounds as birds flew over Tom: boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom!! The few he brought down usually had a broken wing and had to be chased down on foot.

On Friday all say goodbye to Cradock Farms and drive to the coast. One stop was at a Farm Stahl and we bought books about the area, a second stop at a gun store (Rob can't pass one up) where he bought a camo hat. There he learned it is against the law to go into a gun safe to look at guns. We had a beer at the Pig and Whistle, the oldest continuously licensed pub in South Africa, Established in 1820. Ellen and David rode with us. We arrived at Fort D'Acres in the afternoon. Shirley didn't think anything could be more beautiful than the lodge at Cradock, but this one was and her favorite. They both took many pictures.

Saturday was the last day of serious hunting. The owner of Cradock Farms was also the owner of Fort D'Acres and had an airplane that he flew between them. Our hunt began on his runway where we drove through a small herd of giraffes. Shirley took several pictures. Not far into the open part of the brush Greg spotted an impala, the last of Rob's hunt list. Rob's shot broke one of the animals front legs. It hopped away into thick brush. Rob gave Greg the rifle because he could not keep up with the search, because of his twisted knee. After bit, Rob found himself left behind and alone. When he came to a jeep trail through the brush, he stopped, looked for tracks from the others and the Impala, then sat down to wait. After a few minutes Greg, Zandi, and Max reappeared, did their search for tracks, then disappeared again. Rob heard Max baying in the distance and decided to make his way through the thick stuff back to the truck. As he was nearing the edge of the thick brush he heard the truck horn beep and the engine start. When he broke into the clear, the truck was waiting a few yards away. He got in and Zandi drove to where Greg had downed the Impala. Then came the usual back slapping and congratulations, followed by picture and now, a video interview.

At 8:30 am. Rob shot his Impala at 260 yards. A medium sized animal weighing about 180-200 pounds. Greg and Zandile tracked it for an hour after it was shot, as Rob had broken its front leg. Rob continued to wander in the thick brush until Zandile picked him up, after Max found the impala. Good job Max! Rob has adopted the nicknamed Phuka Unlenze (break a leg). (We will keep a shoulder mount of this animal.) Ticks were everywhere in this area. Each day ended with a search for any that may have joined us for a meal. After the hunt we drove around the compound and saw Zebra, Giraffe, Warthogs and Nyala. After lunch Rob, Shirley, Ellen, Shelbi and Bill were driven to a nice lookout over the beach area then walked on the beach. A fence with a locked gate blocked the trail to the beach. The group struggled through the deep sand and brush to get around this fence. On returning to the overlook they found the key to the gate.

Mel took Shirley, Ellen, and Bill to St. James Church in Port Alfred. A child about 3 years old came up and hugged the priest around his legs during communion. This group later took another driving tour of the ranch.They saw Cape Buffalo and more Giraffe. Huge animals!

Sunday at 6:30 a.m. Rob went deep sea fishing with Tom, Ron, Shelbi, and David the videographer.  The water was moderately rough with wind and seas of up to three feet running in differing directions. The railing on the boat was only 18 inches high, making moving around somewhat precarious. The first stop was about 15 miles off shore. Here a reef rose to within 160 feet of the surface. All the fishing lines were baited with squid and heavily weighted. Rob's experience was the the weights were so heavy that he could not tell if there was a fish on his line or not. He would feel a tug on the line and reel the whole 160 feet of line in. Sometimes there was a fish, sometimes not. Three or four baby sharks were caught and thrown back. After a number of fish were caught on the reef, the boat set up for trolling for tuna and headed for blue water. Out there the water was a spectacular clear blue, the Mosambique current. They trolled for hours but only caught one fish. The boat paused at the deep reef until a few more fish were caught, then headed in. At the dock two men were available to clean the catch. Rob caught 8 fish, half of the total catch and everyone ate them for dinner that night. .

On Monday, May 7, Greg and Zandile had to leave. Len took us to a Game Drive (game drive means ‘drive around a game preserve and look at the animals’) on the Fish River with Ellen and Bill. First part was a boat ride to see birds and jelly fish. Then we boarded a land cruiser to see game. Michael was our guide. We had lunch on the tour. We wanted to see elephants, which we did not, but we did see a Rhino and nice pride of lions with cubs.

The lodges we stayed in were nothing short of mansions. In the last one on the coast, Shirley was able to have her coffee in bed while watching the sun come up over the Indian Ocean and watch waves crashing on the beach, through the big bay window.

Tuesday was the saddest day of all as we had to leave South Africa. It was an extremely long flight home. We left the lodge on Tuesday at 8 am and did not arrive back in Alexandria until 11 pm on Wednesday… 48 hours of driving, flying and waiting in airports. Pictures from the photographers should come in about 4 months. Trophies will take at almost one year before they are shipped to us. Estimated trip cost is about $20,000. That does not include the taxidermist.

This was truly an adventure of a lifetime… and we are trying to sell half of what we own to get enough to go back again.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Singapore

By Rob Watson

Back in 1977 Big Electronics Inc. sent me to teach computer repair to their customers in Southeast Asia. Recently a friend from Denmark went to Singapore and her Facebook pictures and comments reminded me of my own experiences there.

When I was told of my assignment, I began to think of one of my life's goals: to circumnavigate the globe. Singapore, as you may know, is exactly half way around the world from Texas, where I was working at the time. So I went to my boss and ask if he would mind if I went one way and came back the other. He replied that he would give me money for the fare for a normal flight and I could make my own reservations  to go where I wished, with me paying any difference. DEAL says I!

When I was making the reservations, the cost was somewhat more than $1,000 over what I had to spend. (that was back when $1,000 was a lot of money) When I asked the lady for my itinerary, I noticed I landed in New York an hour after I left London.

 "Say", says I, "that plane from London to New York  is moving right along."

"Yes," She replies, " I booked you First class on the SST." (The SST flew at just under 1,000 miles per hour)

"Well, what would it cost if I took a regular airplane?"

" Oh, About a thousand dollars less."

As I look back, I regret that I did not take the SST.

The flight over took 24 hours. I landed just after dark. A company guy was waiting for me and drove me to my hotel. The first thing I noticed was the cars there drive, at night, with their lights off. The street lights provided limited illumination... but we made it without mishap.

I arrived on Saturday. Sunday morning I found a church near the hotel and went to the service. I knew Catholic services were the same world wide, except these were in Chinese. Despite the differences in language, I realized I was not really that far from home... The alter boys all wore tennis shoes and blue jeans under their robes.

 I was introduced to my guide, and the plant manager, the next morning. The plant manager was a good old Texas boy and my guide was a young Chinese woman. She had been educated in England and had a degree in engineering. My class was made of 28 people from Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and one guy from Australia. I later learned that 6 of these spoke no English at all. I was disturbed by this but my guide said not to worry... so I didn't.

At this time I had made only one trip outside The US of A and decided I would only eat local foods. The cafateria had two areas, I ate Chinese food on that side... American food was served on the other side. The class thought I was strange, but they weren't the first. For breakfast the Aussi and I ate together at the hotel. In the evening, my guide, at my insistence took me to local, non tourest, resturants around town. The food was always great and different. We also ate at a "Food Court"... way before they were invented here. It was in a park and there were dozens of food booths. I loved it. I ate way too much. That experience has caused me to be disappointed by the ones in the malls here. The night before our last class, the manager took us all to an outdoor, all you can eat, seafood establishment. The 32 of us, 28 classmates, me, my guide, the manager and his wife, ate all we wanted, drank all the beer we wanted, and when the final bill came it was for $120 American. Whenever I remember these things, I want to go back, just for the food.

On the weekend I was on my own and went to see some of the sights around town. One was Fortress Singapore where they detailed the Japanese takeover of the area during World War II.

Over there, and I suppose in most foreign countries, there was an American enclave. Many Americans lived in this one huge, and very nice, building. The plant manager invited me over to his apartment for dinner on Halloween night. American kids were running around the place having a ball, all dressed in their costumes. As I was leaving, the manager pointed out that the Chinese were not into the celebration. They had placed little ...whatever... all around the building to ward off the "evil spirits."

I cannot say how much my students learned, but I had a blast. I was invited to stay another two weeks... and would have except I had scheduled my first Texas deer hunt for the week I returned.

On my flight back to the US we stopped over in Bahrain. when the plane came to a stop ti was immediately surrounded by heavily armed soldiers... to protect us from... well, I don't want to know.

I had planned my itenerary such that I would have a day to spend in London and go back to the Tower of London to take pictures. But, London was fogged in and we landed in Manchester instead. The airline put us on a train to London. On the train I went directly to the dinning car and ordered a meal. Because of this I was one of the few who got to eat. The train ran out of food. I got to the Tower about 4:30. The it closed at 5, so I ran around madly taking pictures and did not get to hear the Beefeaters talks.

The rest of my trip home was uneventful.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

A Boy Scout Fourth of July

By Rob Watson

For those who may not know, Boy Scouts is an organization made of a core of paid professionals. Their job is to organize the various units and recruit adult volunteers to run the units. A good portion of their money comes from the United Way and other charitable organizations. Each unit ( Cub pack, Scout troop, Explorer post) is sponsored by a local civic volunteer organization or church. Sometimes the sponsor will have more than one or all of the above. Most nations have their own Boy Scout organization, making Boy Scouts the worlds largest free youth organization.

I joined as a Cub Scout at the age of 8. I progressed through the ranks and earned my Eagle badge a few weeks before I graduated from high school. (for those who may care, the Eagle badge is one of THE markers for future success... All 7 Mercury Astronauts were Eagle scouts.) During my first semester in college I found a Boy Scout troop near campus and joined as an assistant scout master.

The highlight of each scouting year is 'Summer Camp'. One of the problems with getting every boy to summer camp is baseball Little League. The kids don't want to miss the games, so they skip camp. The other problem is money. Our scoutmaster was an exceedingly clever fellow. He became a Little League coach and drafted all the scouts onto his team. For game night the parents came and hauled the kids over for the games and back to camp again. For money, he recruited the kids of the richest family in North Louisiana... Problems solved. It was quite unusual for even one of our boys to miss summer camp.

About the summer before my fourth year of college, we took about 100 boys to Summer Camp with us. Friday night is the closing campfire for summer camp. The awards are presented, songs are sung, etc. When I woke up that Friday I realized it was the Fourth of July. On asking the folks in charge, I discovered there were NO plans for celebrating the day... Sad for an organization dedicated to God and Country.

I asked if they would mind if I could 'cook' something up. "Sure" was the response from the head guy. I figured, with a hundred kids, I should be able to get something going. One of the staff took me to the library of a large, nearby city. There I found a one act play on the debate over the Declaration of Independence. I made several copies and headed back. At camp I handed the copies to the Senior Patrol Leader, a kid of about 16 and told him to "Make it Happen"

In the mean time word got around camp that things were in the works and I was approached by a member of the Louisiana National Guard. It seems he had, with him, a 'supply' of flares,  hand-launched star shells, and a few simulation hand grenades, along with a very large American flag.

It went like this: After the regular events of the final campfire, an Indian Chief announced the play. As the actors paraded onto the set, a simulated grenade went off out in the lake, with a big bang, a flash and an impressive column of water. Five seconds later a second went off nearer to shore, then one went off at water's edge. These were followed by a flare igniting the logs for the campfire.

As the play reached its climax, rolecall of the colonies voting YEA for independence, across the lake, 10 flares ignited to illuminate the huge American Flag, while the sky was illuminated with exploding star shells.

Thanks to a dedicated 16 year old kid and the Louisiana National Guard, I have heard that was the best Fourth of July they ever had at Camp KiRoLi.

( only trained adults handled the fireworks)

Monday, April 11, 2016

More Civil War Reenactments

By Rob Watson

If this is the first time to read some of my stuff you might look through the list on the right for other Civil War Reenactment pieces.

I expect Civil War reenacting will eventually become boring. But this passed weekend did not contribute to that expectation. First, I read about the events and movements of the original battle. This contributed to my understanding of how the reenactors were trying to recreate history. In one respect it was a little silly. In the original, a good portion of the Confederate forces were cavalry fighting mounted against three thousand Union cavalry; represented today by three guys on horses in gray against seven guys in blue. As one might guess, cavalry is a very expensive proposition. Along with all the equipment, pistols, swords, leather goods, and uniform, there is the horse and it's equipment, transport, and upkeep. Hence, the small numbers.

In sitting about the camp talking, I steered the conversation to larger reenacting events… because I would really like to go to one of the big ones. One of the guys, who has been doing this for 30 years, told of going as infantry to Franklin Tenn. He and 9,000 other reenacters, in gray, formed a battle line facing 6,000 in blue. They formed rank after rank after rank, marching across an open field toward the Union position. He said, for the first time, and strongly, he began to feel the emotions that must have been in the souls of those men and women of that former time… fear, pride, determination, duty, urgency, desperation…

Saturday’s battle lasted 50 minutes, instead of the usual 30. We fired 24 of our 25 rounds. (For safety reasons we do not fire if anyone is within 50 yards in front of our cannon.) Otherwise we would have fired them all… the worry was if Sunday lasted as long, we would run out entirely. (only 25 more rounds were back at camp) We were saved the embarrassment by a lost child. On Sunday, the organizers halted the battle after 40 minutes to search for the child… who was shortly after found.(a deputy later told me a total of three had been reported as lost and eventually found.)(the other fact: the Sheriff's Deputies were unpaid volunteers!!?)

The battle was halted by the organizer shouting over the amplified sound system: "Cease Fire, Cease Fire, Resurrect!" The dead arose and reformed with their units. Several discharges continued for a few minutes as cannon, rifles, and pistols were cleared and made safe. Then the participating units were announced... all of them, blue and gray alike, were from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. (for my foreign readers, All these are Southern {Confederate} states.

 Another interesting note: one crew brought a small mortar. They must have been using a heck of a powder charge because it made a heck of a boom. I wanted to see it worked but they put it at the far end of the firing line. The other cannon were between us. I snuck a peek or two when I could, but it was on the ground and all I saw was the smoke from the blast. From time to time a regular cannon will make a large smoke ring when it fires. This mortar made one nearly every time that I saw.

As I sat waiting for the battle to start I noticed one of the three ‘Tom Green Cavalry’ was riding an interesting looking horse with white writing on it’s neck. So, I wandered over and started a conversation. When I asked about the writing he told me the Bureau of Land Management had done it.

Do you recall news reports of the BLM horse rescue? It was an effort by the BLM to reduce damage to western lands caused by “wild” (read escaped) horses. In this program BLM would round up the wild horses on a segment of their land and offer them for sale, on the condition they not be sold to slaughter houses. (thus reducing horse meat for dog food and sale to foreign countries)… Anyway the rider had gotten the horse from the BLM.

From several feet away, the horse looked big but not tall. A closer look showed it has rather short legs… otherwise a handsome animal. It seemed totally unconcerned by the noise and activity around it… Infantry, standing a few feet behind, frequently clear their rifles by popping caps in them… so, I asked how the owner accustomed the horse to the noises of the reenactments. His reply, “Black Cat Firecrackers”

He said he tied the horse to a post and saddled it. Then he lighted the firecrackers and tossed it away to one side or the other of the horse. At first, the horse jumped and kicked, but after several bangs began to settle down. After a while the horse seemed to shake off the noise. Then the man mounted the horse and continued with the firecrackers.

As we talked, the horse sidled over toward me and began to swing it’s head over to me, ignoring the riders efforts to move him back into position. I began to scratch it’s ears and pat its face. Wife said I looked like I was petting one of our cats.

When there were pauses in my activities during the battle, I would watch this horse. Cannon before him, cannon behind him, hundreds of rifle discharges all around, and his own rider blasting away with blank pistol rounds, the horse went where directed and never seemed disturbed by the noise.

Which brings up a memory from Pleasant Hill four years ago. A cavalry rider had fallen ‘dead’ and was holding the reins of his horse. The ‘dead’ rider had to keep rolling around on the ground to keep from being trampled by his very nervous horse. Eventually, another cavalryman came and lead the horse away so the dead rider could rest in peace.

Before all this was the playing of The National Anthem. It was played to a slow beat by a single violin and accompanied by a guitar. For both Wife and I, it was very moving. If you have ever seen the Ken Burns Civil War series, the background violin is very similar… mournful without becoming a dirge.

Until next time, keep your powder dry.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Civil War Plus...

By Rob Watson

As you may know, I do a fair amount of traveling to attend Civil War Reenactments. Most are just sitting around camp and swapping old stories then standing out on a simulated battlefield loading and firing a simulated Civil War era cannon. Last month at, Pea Ridge, was an interesting change in the battle and events in camp. This month almost everything was different and interesting. We left a day early so we would not be rushed to get set up.

D'Arbonne State Park was the site of our event. They had improved camp sites with electricity (for our popup camper) so Wife decided she would like to go with me. I made reservations and was allowed to pick and reserve a campsite. I looked on the map for the most remote site and chose it. (These sites are removed from the 'period' sites where the reenacters camp in their simulated military units in canvas tents.)

The first pleasant surprise was the park itself. D'Arbonne State Park is situated in the steeply rolling hills of North Louisiana. It is set beside D'Arbonne Lake. The area is heavily wooded with large pines and oaks. It is large, clean, well maintained, and all together, a very attractive place.

Our next surprise was the campsite. It was not remote. It was completely surrounded by other campsites... the map I chose from failed to show the 50 or so additional sites in the area. All the campsites were well spaced from each other and lay beside the paved road. The road formed a large loop leaving a covered pavillion and open space in the center. This area, as well as all the campsites were in open woods and was almost completely shaded. I was, at first, irritated by a dozen or so portable canopies set up in this open area, even though they were several yards (meters) from our campsite. During the evening, an excellent pianist played some of the old 'swing' songs from the 50's.

Wife has an attractive Civil War era dress, so I asked before we left if she wanted to take it. "No, I would rather just be a spectator." In the process of setting up the camper and searching for our "regiment", Wife mentioned that she had thought of being a soldier. "I would rather be a soldier than a 'woman'. (Reenactment rules state that female soldiers have to look like men) I was surprised and very pleased by this development.

Fortunately, Wife's becoming a soldier was easily accomplished except for disguiseing her womanly shape. I had brought two sets of uniforms. (I selected my uniforms to be oversized for me so that I could wear winter wear underneath.) Wife put my pants and shirt on over her regular clothes, and with the suspenders strategically placed, took on the appearance of a slightly plump soldier. At the soldiers camp, the captain had a spare pair of period shoes, cappie, and a gray wool jacket to complete the uniform. She was then introduced around camp as 'Sam'.

The administration for the battle requested our battery put out three cannon, which left each gun short handed. In such cases, large children are sometimes allowed to 'run powder'. That is, they take the powder charge from the ammunition box (limber) and carry it to the number two gun crew member for loading the gun. However, no such children were available. 'Sam', not really familiar with this task, was reluctant to join the gun crew but agreed anyway. After several practice drills, which are always done for safety reasons, Wife became comfortable with her assigned task.

Remember the dozen canopies that surrounded the large pavillion and first irritated me? Well, on Saturday, early on the day of the first battle, as I returned to our campsite from the room of requirement, I encountered a pleasant senior citizen. She was cleaning tables in the pavillion and engaged me in conversation. She was a member of a group called D'Arbonne Dutch Oven Cooking Society, and they meet at D'Arbonne State Park on the third Saturday of every month to have a cookoff. This month was special because they had invited other societies for a regional cookoff. She invited Wife and I to join them for lunch. After some thought, I asked if it would be an imposition if I brought a dozen or so Civil War soldiers to the event as well. "Oh, yes, by all means, every one in the park was invited."

When 'Sam' and I got to the battery camp I passed the word that we had all been invited to lunch with the 'cast iron cooking society'. This was welcome news as there was a burn ban in place because of the very dry conditions. No one could cook on the ground as they usually did. (some said they were planning to eat hambergers at one of the sutlers... but, they later discovered the hamberger guy never showed) Ten of us piled into a truck and drove to the cookoff. We were fortunate to arrive early because when the line formed for food we were at the head of the line by accident. We were all in our Rebel uniforms because we had to hurry back to take our place on the battlefield. We had gathered at the raffle ticket table when people asked us to pose for pictures. We moved off to the side and formed up. Several people came over with their cameras to take pictures. Where we stood became the head of the line for food. We were fortunate in that the line for food reached nearly to the street. It would have been longer had the people not been four abreast.

There were 60 or so pots of food lined up on the tables. I, at first, tried to get something from each. It became clear this was an impracticle idea because my plate was large, but only 1/4 the required size. Turns out, each of the soldiers had the same idea and the same problem. Much of the food was 'different' in appearance and excellent in taste. I had left room for only 2 of the ten desserts. All of the time we were there, excellent, live, Blue Grass bands were providing the music.

Back at camp we were greeted with "lean hungry looks" by those who chose not to go with us. We lunch goers staggered around groaning from the great overload of food. Some lay down for naps. Then came time for battle.

Even our battlefield was unique. Normally we fight on broad, open pastures. Here we were in heavy woods. There was just enough space between trees that we could see that our field of fire was clear of people (a safety requirement). The colonel complained that he had forgotten his binoculars. "What for?" says I, "You can't see 50 yards anyway." In fact we never saw the enemy and seldom saw our own infantry. Our three guns booming and smoking away was the whole show on our end. Sam did very well at her assignment and later claimed to enjoy it.

After the battle, Sam and I walked over to the air conditioned Visitors Center to listen to a noted author describe his future book on Nathan Bedford Forrest (famous Civil War General). When walking, Wife and I normally hold hands. In this case, Sam refused to hold my hand explaining, "This is not Brokeback Mountain." NBF is one of my favorites. This author chose to describe events from his life and times that are not normally covered in other books on the man. It was very Interesting. I learned a lot. This guy also has a book out on Richard Taylor,(famous mostly in Louisiana) another of my favorites.

Returning to our campsite showed the whole cookoff crowd and their canopies had completely disappeared, as did many of the campers around us. It was then that I noticed some of the campers had marked off their spaces with strings of Christmas lights.

Sunday morning, Wife and I showered at the nice, new, clean, facilies in our campground, then dressed for church. After the service, visitors were asked to identify themselves. I was asked for our life history... I gave the short version.

The Sunday afternoon battle was a repeat of Saturday... smoke, noise, and trees. We moved the cannon back to camp by hand. Sam turned in her borrowed uniform parts and became womanly again. We said good bye and hit the road for home. Of course, there was no actual battle at D'Arbonne Landing but a good time was had by all at the 'reenactment' there.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Pea Ridge Civil War Battle Reenactment

By Rob Watson

Thursday, after an 8 hour drive, I arrived at Pea Ridge battle reenactment site. I paid my entry fee and set up camp at the top of a very high hill. The view in all directions was of rolling hills, forests, and pasture land typical of the lower Ozark region of northern Arkansas. During the night my camp was inspected by a skunk, who did not leave any odorous markers.

Friday Morning event plans called for a 7+ mile march from the reenactment site to the actual battlefield. I presume this was to reenact the march of the Confederate soldiers before the battle. Having done my share of long hikes in the Boy Scouts, I drove to the battlefield and saw the museum. Featured there was a 30 minute film describing the battle. Like Pleasant Hill in Louisiana, they claimed to be the largest Civil War Battle fought west of the Mississippi. While there I noticed a description of a third battle which also claimed to be the largest battle west of the Mississippi. I wrote the names of the three battles on a slip of paper and suggested the park service guy research these claims.

Friday Afternoon saw the reenactment of the first phase of the original battle. In this, a small group of Union soldiers tried to ambush a much larger Confederate force. These troops were routed but managed to kill the two Generals commanding the Confederates. This set the stage for the eventual defeat of the Rebel force on the following day. The most notable difference from other reenactments was the large number of expensive equipment, such as large cannon with ammunition limbers and full teams of mules to pull them. Also there were several supply wagons with horse or mule teams. The numbers of federal and rebel infantry and cavalry were much larger than I have seen before. When I asked "Why?", I was told this was a 'national' event. Further investigation showed organized units from Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana, as well as Rebel units from Arkansas and Missouri, along with larger contingents of troops from Louisiana and Texas. The troop numbers and the large size of the reenactment site allowed the Union troops and the Confederate troops to have separate encampment areas.

Friday Night, about 11:30, I was awakened by gunfire from the Union camp. This noise consisted of both musket and cannon fire. It lasted for thirty minutes after I was awakened. No night battle was on the schedule. My unit, camped down with the Confederates claimed, next morning, not to have heard anything.

Saturday morning was graced with new and strange happenings. An actual reveille was sounded at 6am. By the time I joined my unit each of the infantry units was marching and drilling about the camp site. When this was finished, a large unit near us posted guards at the entrances of their campsite. These guys were in gray uniforms. Our unit was assigned to be Union troops so we were in blue. One of our guys, feeling frisky, walked into the guarded camp and was immediately arrested as a 'spy'. His 'punishment' was to haul two arm loads of firewood for that camp. Not having learned his 'lesson' he sneaked back into their camp and carried off their flag. He was captured again, given a summery court marshal and condemned to die by firing squad. The firing squad was organized and he was "shot".

In reenactments, it is not unusual for new guys to join and be included in the action. My unit is artillery and the same is also true. Because we use significant charges of black powder in firing our gun, a number of safety practices must be followed. There are essentially four 'skill' positions on each cannon. Carelessness or ignorance can cost one a finger or a hand.

The usual practice is to place the artillery before the battle and leave it in place without moving. When not in action we will sit on the ground away from our guns to simulate not being there. Friday a spectator walked by our fixed position and asked what we were doing. Our captain told her we were not there, we were invisible. 

Because our two gun crews were knowledgeable and practiced at our positions, our captain volunteered us for a special assignment. (also because our guns could be moved easily.) The Saturday reenactment was of the phase of the battle where Union troops were attacked and driven from their camp. We were to move backward while firing at the approaching Confederates. The man in charge of this movement came by our camp to give us a brief description of our 'action' and requested we place our guns early and be ready to practice the movement.


Saturday Afternoon was interesting and stimulating in a number of respects. First was the number of troops. All Saturday morning, hundreds of troops came pouring into the reenactment site. Where Cavalry units are usually represented by four or five guys, this day we has dozens. Where infantry is reenacted by units of dozens, this day we had hundreds. Where artillery is usually 6 or 8 small cannon, today there were more than twenty, most of them the larger guns. For me, with my limited experience in reenacting, the long lines of infantry and cavalry advancing on the field, firing as they came, gave me the first impression of a real battle. It has given me the desire to see (be in) one of the really large reenactments.

Our battery consisted of four cannon, divided into two sections of two. When the battle began the four guns opened a steady fire on the advancing Confederates. As they got closer, two guns continued to fire while the other two moved back a few yards. When they were set, our two moved back behind them and they began to fire again. We then got set and loaded and began to fire again as they moved behind us. These steps were repeated several times as we retreated over 200 yards to the base of the hill. At the bottom, the rest of the cannon, another 8 or 10 guns, opened fire. It was a challenge to keep my mind on my job of loading the cannon, while all the other impressive action was going on around me.

This reenactment simulated the other half of the first days battle at Elk Horn Tavern. Here the outnumbered Union troops were driven from their camps by the second half of the Confederate command.

Saturday Night, about 11:30, the Confederate camp decided to have a night battle. Again, cannon and muskets blasted away for about a half hour. Some of my unit were awake for this and speculated that the Union camp came over and attacked them.


Sunday Morning had its own unique events. Each unit held its own religious service. Also different, the battle reenactment was held in the morning. The units were somewhat smaller than the ones from Saturday. We were again with the Union artillery. One small cannon advanced up the hill with the infantry. We stayed in place. With a little coordination, it was impressive when all 12 guns in our batteries fired at the same time.

After the battle, I parted ways with my unit, packed my camp into the car and headed home. I was less concerned with fuel economy on the way home and instead of getting the 44 mpg on the way up, I only got 42.5 mpg going home... 24 gallons of gas to go just under 1,000 miles.