GOLIAD – Underneath the shade of a grove of hackberry trees, a delicate sound of harmonious fiddles playing the tunes of Texas folk music permeates the air of a Texian encampment.
A group of passionate historical interpreters sing “Yankee Doodle” and recite Shakespeare like it’s 1835.
And it is 1835, as far as they’re concerned.
Reenactors gathered from near and far for a living history and battle reenactment event at the Presidio La Bahía in Goliad to portray soldiers and civilians involved in the Battle of Goliad, the second skirmish in the Texas Revolution where Texian soldiers attacked Mexican soldados garrisoned at the Presidio La Bahía.
For Scott McMahon, his wife, Monica, and their two children, Mabry and Josephine, reenactment is a family matter. Scott has been involved in historical interpretation since he was 14 years old. He and his wife took their son Mabry, now 14, to his first event when he was just 3 months old. His daughter Josephine, 8, is now starting to take an interest in living history and period clothing, he says. Three generations of McMahons now carry on the reenacting tradition.
“We do this as a family,” Scott McMahon said. “It’s pretty interesting when an 8-year-old kid can put down an electronic device and live in a tent for a week,” he remembers of their time in Colorado at a living history event during the summer.
Scott recalled one of his first memories of getting into living history as a hobby when he would go target shoot black powder rifles with his dad, Jerry. Shortly afterward, he participated in the Battle of Gonzales reenactment and a passion was born. A fellow reenactor took him under his wing, shared his knowledge and showed Scott the ropes of reenactment.
“It’s neat to see those people who have been around, and I’m helping kids get involved now,” Scott said about his experience with reenacting. “It’s just a continuous thing. We came up through it years ago and now there are new people coming in that have seen us (doing reenactment),” he said. “Hopefully they’ll inspire people to continue to tell the story.”
Scott said beginning a hobby as a reenactor and living historian starts with research. He described two bookcases he has full of various books about the Texas Revolution, Native American trade and the War of 1812 – Scott’s areas of passion. He’s learned different skills like period tailoring. Once they have taken in information, reenactors then pass that research on to other reenactors and inspire them to go even deeper.
“Each generation of reenactors learns something new and passes it on,” he said about the process.
Scott has passed on information to his son Mabry about military drills, the way soldiers and civilians wore their clothes in the early 19th century and what they carried when they campaigned. He said his daughter is interested in learning how to measure and make moccasins. He described it as process of passing on knowledge and sparking their interest.
Scott and his family have made friends with a lot of other people in the larger Texas Revolution reenactment community. One such friend, Andrew Gray, of Georgetown, described a lot of reenactors as being born into the hobby, a passion they acquire through their parents’ passion.
There are levels of getting into character and the first-person impression is a full commitment to portraying a person from the time period you are reenacting in every way, shape and form. David Vickers, a reenactor from West Sinton who has known Scott for more than 20 years, said a lot of reenactors might ebb and flow between a historical period and the present. You might see them on a cellphone occasionally or using a Bic lighter, but for the most part, they keep it true to the era they are portraying.
“We have a real varied group of people,” Scott said, “and being a part of that community, I know who I can draw on for specific events to give the public the experience that would help them understand a historical situation in a better light.”
While most people’s education about history comes from a textbook, Scott said historical interpretation done by reenactors gives people a chance to learn in a way that’s visual and tactile. People can feel the uniforms that were worn and pick up a musket to see how heavy they were. It piques interest, and people don’t even realize they’re learning.
“They learn more by seeing it than they would from reading it in a book,” he said. “It’s bringing the history to life.”