Captain Walker - June 2009
My family hails from the North Carolina / Tennessee border, near the Smoky Mountains, so I grew up with stories of self reliant hill people, both Anglo and Cherokee. History was close. As close as Junaluska, a Cherokee forced to remove to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears, deciding he didn't like it there and walking all the way back to Western North Carolina to occasionally sit on the stoop of my three times Great Grandfather's store and play fiddle. History was as close as that same three times Great Grandfather being arrested by Union cavalry during the Civil War and disappearing, not to be heard from until, nearly 100 years later, an Uncle of mine found his name among the dead at Camp Douglas, near Chicago.
My Dad was in the Navy so we often made coast to coast moves as I was growing up. I came across an article on Jedediah Smith in American Heritage Magazine just before a cross country trip to California and I became fascinated by these long ranging frontiersmen and explorers who early on knew the scale of the continent. My interest in the mountaineers of the Rocky Mountains was fired again when I discovered that my high school library had copies of Ruxton's books and The West of Alfred Jacob Miller. One of my first major purchases with money I'd earned was a muzzleloader, and I can still smell the smoke of that first shot right now just from writing about it.
From there it was a couple of summers doing living history at Philmont Scout Ranch, near Cimarron, NM, and several more summers as a seasonal living history interpreter for the National Park Service. I had the good luck to work with talented historians who saw the potential of living history as a way to deepen our own understanding of history from the careful research required for a quality portrayal of life in the past, as well as a valid tool to teach visitors about the past.
When work brought me to Northern Colorado, I began to volunteer at a historic site in Southeastern Wyoming. This was a chance to portray the mountaineers of the Rockies on a piece of the very ground that had been important to their story. Through this volunteer work I began to meet AMM members who were as passionate about recreating this period of history as I was. Different aspects of the past catch the imagination of different people, so within the AMM there are experts in just about every aspect of the Rocky Mountain fur trade - a living encyclopedia of skills bought back to life and mastered, and experiences of the past relived. I have a lot to learn and consider myself very lucky to have connected with this group.
These days when people ask me what I'm reading, I mention some 19th century memoir, or a stack of Xerox copies of trading post inventories. I usually have no idea what's on the best seller lists, can't tell the difference between one pop singer and the next, or why I should be interested. I would much rather share a camp fire with good friends who's imaginations also live as much in the past as the present.
While my daughter naps I work on articles about the fur trade and occasionally get one published. I'm blessed to have married a woman who encourages this slightly obsessive passion for a period of history. I think she figures there are worse obsessions, and that a bass boat would be a lot more expensive.