Saturday, July 6, 2019

The History of the Shirttail Mess

Well, it’s a been a while. We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus with the blog due to all sorts of real life happenings. Sometimes the hobbies get put on hold, but hopefully we’ll be rolling out some new blog posts in the future.

 I wanted to give a little story and history about the origins and the purposes of the Shirttail Mess and what it was that caused us to start the group in the first place.
The First Photo of The Shirttail Mess
 The story begins with Myself and Matthew Fennewald. After watching the discussions and seeing the poor quality at many of the Western Theatre events (Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois etc.) we decided it was time there be a group of individuals doing well researched impressions at said events. The impressions everybody claimed to be doing, but done with the most recent and best research available to us. We relied heavily on the research of Fred Lucas, Nathan Koebuck and a host of others who have dedicated their free time to wandering the ancient paths of ledgers, diaries, textiles and other archival material. It was our hope to make a place for that research as applied to the western frontier and backcountry of the 1760s and 1770s.

 But it was also our goal to not just compile this research, but to live it and represent it at events all across the Midwest. To create our own space within the walnut, the oiled haversacks and the baggy leggings. To show people a better way and to do so by participation in the events that were riddled with such caricatures. Not in a combative way, but to show up and let what we were doing speak for itself. 

 Our goal as listed on the Facebook group and on this blog was to recreate Soldier and Civilian of the period. Not to have a Hawkeye complex about “I ain’t in no damn militia” simply because we didn’t want to mix it up with the farbs during a cheesy pitched battle on a mowed fort lawn. But to form our own militia and be active. To show that the common criticism that “Progressives just want to stand over there and not be involved” wasn’t true of us (or really any "progressive" reenactors I've ever known). This was discussed multiple times and it was agreed that this is what we intended to do. 

This image was made by Matthew Fennewald as a protest against bias towards the myths of the frontier era. The message of the Shirttail Mess is to put your own desires aside and let the research speak. 

 Then along came the great Internet Raid. A certain Facebook group run by people I will leave unnamed became the place where good research and discussion went to die. Censorship was commonplace. So we revolted. We made a big mess for them to clean up posting dozens of images of our “Crush Cognitive Bias” flyer all at once and after 10 min were promptly removed and blocked from the group. 

 This is when things started to shift in our focus. We became a rather combative group (not really on purpose) with a bit of a reputation that started to leave a bad taste in peoples mouth. Some of these things got back to me from people attending events. We were getting a certain publicity, but not the kind that screams of respect and longevity. That calmed down eventually and I’d say we’re out of the woods on that. 

 But during that time the tone of the group changed. We went from a group that was actively seeking to do soldier and civilian impressions to a group of “sharing research” and that’s been about all we’ve done in the last 2 years. My own frustration at this has caused me to take a step back and reevaluate the mess and see what could be done. It sort of has become its own animal and while that’s not a bad thing, it’s also not what I intended from the outset. Yes, I want the Shirttail Mess to be known for the research we share. But I also want it to be known for participation at events. For doing our own immersion events that inspire people to want to step up their game so they can be involved! 

Shirttail Mess at Fort De Chartres 2017

 Going forward, my hope is to be more active. Life has gotten the best of me lately, but next year the hope is to get out a bit more. 

 I’m calling all able bodied men. If you want to see the Shirttail Mess at events, being soldiers, being civilians, whatever the event calls for then don’t hesitate! Get involved! Hit me up about what you’d like to do and let’s try to get it rolling! 


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