A trip back to the frontier days

Going back to the frontier days during the second half of the 18th century was our destination when we traveled to Malvern to once again relive the time of the famous Indian pathway between Pittsburgh and Detroit, the Great Trail.

We have probably been attending the Great Trails Festival for about 12 years, since Cleve Costley asked us to work for him at his grist mill that he built on the festival grounds. We sold stone-ground corn meal and met nice people along the way.

Costley is not operating at the festival anymore, but Lamont and I have it so ingrained in us to go during the last weekend in August or the first weekend in September that we just look at each other and say “It is time to wander into the past?”

I love meandering into the Indian village on the other side of the creek and seeing how they lived in the mid-1800s. Their cooking was done on a grate over an open pit fire, and the sleeping was done in the security of the tent, but not minus the visits of mosquitoes and bugs, lumpy ground and maybe a wild animal or two snooping around.

It was 1 p.m. when we arrived and, of course, that meant heading out to find something to eat. There is a rustic stand that offers baked sweet potatoes, and I always have to stop there. They are wrapped in foil and baked to a tender goodness, then slit and laced with butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. It is like a “good-for-me” vegetable and dessert all in the same meal.

While we were eating our lunch and watching for people we might know ambling along the gravel or dirt path, a couple sat down across from us and we started talking. I mostly asked questions because he was dressed in clothes of the past, but I wasn’t sure of the era.

Don Call was dressed in the attire of the Irish, with a green tam, “breeks” or britches that had laces in the back to keep them up. But the laces were not to spare the buttons, as the legs of his pants had six tiny embellished buttons down the outside seam of both trousers legs. He said his shoes were like those made in the colonial period where you could wear the same shoe on either foot. He always wore the same shoe on each foot so they formed to his feet and he could walk better, he noted. His wife, Donna Call is originally from Bergholz.

We ran into Jim Postlethwait walking up the path with his son, Gabriel, 3. They were dressed in the French trader era. He has participated in some reenacted French, English and Indian squirmishes and planned to do so again at the festival.

Some adorable young boys, probably from 5 to 12 years old, were out having fun while their parents minded their Indian wares or exchanged pleasantries with friends. They were dashing about playing an old-time kind of cops and robbers with carved, hand-made guns, swords and sling shots. I asked the one with a sling shot how much of a chance he had when others had guns and he replied, “I’ll just hit them in the head with it.”

They argued about how and where they should pose, and I was trying to arrange them for a picture and more and more frontier lads kept appearing for the picture. It was nice to see children out playing and running about.

Chrystal Orndorff, mother to Phillip, said of their playing, “It gets them away from technology for a while.”

Further wandering along the Indian Village Trail, we encountered some pleasant looking people in a tent and stopped to talk. They were Ken and Connie Sellers of Cleveland who have been coming to the festival for almost the entire time. Kaye Pellegrini of Cambridge had stopped in to visit them. It is like old home week when everyone comes back to the “trail.”

They referred to Kaye as a flatlander, and I asked them what that was. Ken had a one-word answer – “You,” meaning people from the lowlands, while they lived among the mountains.

Kaye came walking with us to introduce us to some of the Indian Village folks and just then I thought I heard my name called. Sometimes people will say “yes sir,” and I think it sounds like Esther so I didn’t get too excited until I saw Carl and August Glenn coming up to meet us.

They were visiting at the tent of Bob Daley, as Bob is from Amsterdam, and the Glenns live nearby. I am amazed at the friendliness of the people in the Indian Village. They stop and talk to each other and seem to enjoy visitors asking questions.

Kaye introduced me to “Mountain Man” Tim Rohr of Canal Fulton. He has a variety of trade goods laid out on a blanket on the ground. Very few of the wares for sale are on a table or in a display case. He had beaver heads that the tent people like to display on their living quarters much as we do Steelers or Browns lawn decorations.

We watched the cannon firing of six or seven naval ship cannons and those used in battle were set off to a very loud noise and great amounts of smoke.

And after all the 1800s living and way of dress, as we were walking out, I spotted an adorable boy and girl in modern dress in a wagon with a cover on top to keep out much of the sunlight. Their mom gave me permission to take a photo. Then I was back in the 2013s.

I like visiting the old days, but I don’t know if I would like cooking over a grated pit or hauling water to wash dishes. As compact as the tents are, there wouldn’t be much cleaning to do though.

(McCoy, a resident of Smithfield, is food editor and a staff columnist for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at emccoy@heraldstaronline.com.)