Students enjoy last year of reenactments, demonstrations at Koh-Koh-Mah

·4 min read

Sep. 19—RUSSIAVILLE — The sound of musket fire echoed through the woods, the gun smoke billowing through the trees.

British troops hid behind trees as Native American warriors, supplied with weapons and artillery from the French, returned fire on the advancing riflemen.

Up above on the hillside, over 1,000 students watched the battle unfold, cheering with nervous excitement each time the cannon sent an explosive boom across the woods in western Howard County.

Friday marked the day dedicated to taking area elementary students back in time during the weekend-long Koh-Koh-Mah & Foster Living History Encampment.

Throughout the morning, kids experienced firsthand how the nation's 18th-century settlers lived alongside the Native Americans. That included reenactors dipping candles, playing period instruments, making their own rope and yarn, and frying up fresh-cut bacon over an open fire.

It also included the 30-minute reenactment of a battle during the French and Indian War, as well a portrayal of historical figures from Howard County like David Foster, who founded Kokomo.

But Friday also marked the last time local students would be coming to Koh-Koh-Mah. The event is ending this year after 20 seasons.

Russell Morris, who's driven up from Cincinnati for the last 10 years as a Native American reenactor, said this year feels a little bit like a family breaking up. In the last decade, the other reenactors at the encampment have become some of his best friends.

"It's very sad," he said. "This is our best event, so everybody is just kind of heartbroken."

Morris said he does reenactments almost every weekend throughout the summer, but nothing compares to Koh-Koh-Mah. He said it's like the Super Bowl of historical encampments.

"Out of all the reenactments we do, this is the best one," he said. "It's the battles and the location and the friendly people. Everything is so authentic."

That's why he brought along budding reenactor Caleb Fraley, a seventh-grader from Cincinnati. Fraley said this is his first reenactment ever, but he already felt right at home at Koh-Koh-Mah.

"It's comfortable," he said. "It really does feel like family, and this is my first day here."

Morris said he wanted to make sure Fraley knew what all the fuss was about when others started sharing stories about all the good times they had at the event.

"I figured I'd bring him to the best," Morris said. "Since it's the last one, I needed to bring him up here so that if someone ever brings up Koh-Koh-Mah, he can say he was there for the very last one."

Jim Gish, assistant principal at Northwestern Elementary School, said he was sorry to see the reenactment leaving the county. He said students there have been attending the event for around 15 years, and it provided a rare opportunity for hands-on learning.

But Tiffany Myers, principal at the elementary school, said she just feels fortunate that such a stellar learning opportunity was only a 15-minute bus ride from the classroom.

"We're just lucky and thankful that they've done this for as long as they've done it," she said. "I know it takes a lot of time to make it so authentic, so our students have been lucky."

Bob Auth, 67, who organizes the event on his property with Pat Scott, 73, said the decision to end the reenactment wasn't easy, but it had to be made.

"I'm old. She's old. The energy levels are down," Auth said in a earlier interview.

Auth said he also had always planned to end the event on a five-year increment. Last year's event was canceled due to COVID, so this year marks the 20th season.

Reenactor Morris said he's known Auth ever since he started coming to the event, and knows just how much love and care he put into organizing it.

And now that it's ending, Morris said, it's tough to put into words what Auth has meant to all the reenactors who have become like family.

"Bob is such a nice guy, and he goes out of his way to make this happen for everybody," Morris said. "He knows and appreciates how much all of his work means to us, but deep down, they probably think more of this than he knows."

And Auth felt the love on Friday as he played his fiddle and mouth harp with two other musicians, singing 18th-century tunes in front of the more than 1,000 students before the battle began.

As the last song ended, the guitar player introduced Auth. The kids, parents, teachers and others there erupted into applause, some giving him a standing ovation.

"You all are going to bring tears to my eyes," he said.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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