Of Apricots, Sardines and Soldiers
By Sharon Heist
Night falls quickly in the Dragoons, and the high desert quickly cools down. The only light comes from a small campfire in front of an old canvas wall tent. You can easily transport yourself into the 1880�s, especially as a Black cavalry trooper comes to the fire in full uniform to fill his coffee cup from the pot simmering there. Beyond the fire, the only sounds come from picketed horses and occasional coyote calls. Overhead the milky way is so bright it almost glows.
The trooper is Linus Hinton, Sgt. and leader of E Troop, Tenth Cavalry. This group was in the Dragoons as part of their continuing pursuit of authenticity and historical accuracy, not only in the clothes and equipment they use, but to get the feel of the actual sites where events happened. You won�t see western saddles or other inappropriate gear when these guys saddle up. They take this quite seriously. Most of them work full time jobs and have families, so their dedication means some real sacrifice in time, equipment and expenses. This is not a weekend dressup. They really and truly care-whether it�s riding in a parade, making a presentation to a group, volunteering at historic sites or working on their gear-and they have a good time at it!
Setting up camp at Dragoon Springs, walking where the stage stop was, visiting the confederate graves and riding up into the hills is all part of what makes them so good at what they do. They understand how it feels to be wearing wool uniforms in the hot sun, climbing narrow mountain trails that may be treacherous with slick shale, landslides or sunning rattlesnakes. They can easily visualize ambushes from bandits or Apaches as they traverse open areas with way too many hiding spots for enemies.
True, today they aren�t worried about ambushes from hostile tribes-but razor sharp rocks can take their toll as Bobby Boone can attest to as he changed a brand new tire on his horse trailer, and horses and people always have the potential for injuries. Sitting around the campfire telling stories, laughing and singing, they don�t need sentries keeping watch-but believe me, if a horse on the picket line makes the slightest wrong noise, one of the guys is there to see what�s up and make any adjustments.
Most of the troop have been together for a long time, and each has a specialty that adds to the whole. Linus is the organizer and a stickler for detail. Wes is the �horse doc�, with a lifetime of training and doctoring experience. Bobby is a true cowboy, champion roper and all around �hand.� George Taylor is a Seminole Negro Scout descendant, a great source for information on most any subject. While others may come and go, this core group ensures that what and who they portray is not only accurate, but serves as an inspiration for everyone who sees them.
Authenticity doesn�t just apply to what the public sees. They carry foods on the trail that would have been used in the Indian Wars-including dried apricots and sardines-Linus favorites, although I really hope he doesn�t eat them together�They have their share of cactus thorns, aching bodies, mishaps and triumphs. When you hear the pride in their voices as they talk about events they have attended where they are praised for their authenticity, or about kids they have inspired, you know that it�s all worthwhile.
Can you blame them? They are taking the opportunity to do what few people have the chance to do-to recreate a time and place more than a hundred years gone by. What is sleeping on a little cold ground, or having to shake out your clothes and boots before putting them on, to evict any new inhabitants when compared to that?