Black Powder Saturday

U.S. infantryman greeting the tour group.

“Halt! Proceed and identify yourself!”

For a brief moment, the small group of tourists appeared confused by the challenge from a U.S. soldier. But they quickly realized that they had become a part of the monthly living history event.

As Palo Alto Battlefield continues to develop living history interpretation, it seeks to make events more active and interactive for visitors. In the initial season, living history coordinator Rolando Garza focused on recruiting, training, and equipping the troops. Now, with these logistics in place, Daniel Ibarra is taking over a strong program and moving it to the next level.

The tour group immediately saw the change. In the past, visitors would have approached, observed a demonstration of 19th century weaponry, and received a brief lecture about the equipment and the men who used it. This group received a much more intensive experience. They initially met the officer in charge of the military camp then proceeded to a series of conversations with and demonstrations by “real” 19th century U.S. and Mexican soldiers. They even experienced a brief scene where a U.S. deserter was tracked down, arrested, and brought to justice.

Private Carney is led away under arrest.

Visitors heard and saw much of the same information that they would have received last year but, rather than listening to someone in a costume giving a lecture, they had the opportunity to enjoy true “living history.”

The development of this program is largely a credit to the members of the park’s “Chaparral Company” who assist with the events. In the past, these volunteers still were learning their roles and how to adopt the persona of an 1846 era soldier. With years of experience now behind them, they are now much more comfortable with staying in character and providing interpretation—not just information.

The experience was also evident during a demonstration of flintlock muskets. A group of eight soldiers participated in the drill but, when it came time to pull the trigger, only two muskets fired. A short time ago, this type of occurrence would have prompted groans and embarrassment. This time, the troops took it in stride, using the experience to discuss the shortcomings of the weapon and the hazards of misfires in the course of a battle.

The changes have generated a positive response. The tour group departed after several hours, its members grateful for an informative but entertaining afternoon. Many vowed to come back next month for another show.

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The public is encouraged to participate in Palo Alto’s living history program. Visitors can enjoy upcoming events on March 6, April 3, and May 8 (the anniversary of the battle of Palo Alto). The Chaparral Company is also interested in adding new troops to the ranks. If you are interested in joining the Company, please contact coordinator Daniel Ibarra at (956) 541-2785 x324.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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