Voyageur education just a day at the beach

2013-09-07T19:52:00Z 2013-09-07T22:32:17Z Voyageur education just a day at the beachSusan O'Leary Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
September 07, 2013 7:52 pm  • 

PORTER | Four French voyageurs who were camped on the beach Saturday received some interesting looks from passing sunbathers.

“They think we’re ‘river pirates,’” said Aaron Smith, portraying voyageur Jean-Baptiste Foucher. “We get that a lot.”

The men, historical re-enactors with the Ouiatenon Brigade, of Lafayette, were part of the History Comes Alive weekend at the Indiana Dunes State Park.

With their colorful head scarves, flowing “trade shirts,” and wide waist sashes, the men could easily be mistaken for pirates.

Instead, said Andy Stacey, the voyageurs were actually 18th century “truck drivers,” bringing textiles, metal goods, wool blankets, and knife and ax blades from Montreal, Canada, to trade with American Indians in Indiana.

“The money was really in beaver pelts,” said Stacey, portraying Antoine LaSalle. “At the end of the trip, we would return to Montreal with the furs, which would be shipped across the Atlantic to hat makers and furriers in Europe.”

Camp included a canvas lean-to shelter, kegs of water, flour, and gun powder, bed rolls, and trade goods wrapped in canvas and bound in rope. A 26-foot birch bark canoe — which typically hauled more than two tons of goods — was propped sideways to shelter the men from blowing sand, while a wood fire burned nearby.

Although Stacey and Smith, both from Lafayette, portrayed the voyageurs with as much historical accuracy as possible, they had a backup plan while waiting for their dinner of potatoes cooked over an open wood fire.

“We have chicken noodle soup if that doesn’t work out,” said Stacey.

Authentic voyageur suppers were “even less exciting.”

“It would have been split pea soup and hardtack crackers,” said Stacey.

Pemmican, like beef jerky mixed with lard and in-season berries, would provide the calories needed to paddle the canoe 12 to 16 hours a day.

“It was an early power bar,” said Smith.

In reality, said the men, voyageurs traveled from Montreal through lakes Ontario and Erie to the Maumee River, then on to the Wabash River, ending at Fort Quiatenon, in West Lafayette.

Stacey and Smith were eager to educate those interested in French voyageur history, as both have been pursuing the hobby for more than a decade.

While the group’s largest convocation is the annual Feast of the Hunter’s Moon in West Lafayette, Stacey and Smith agree that coming to the dunes is one of their best gigs.

“No one gets to build a fire and camp on the beach,” said Stacey. “Except us.”

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